Gangsters Rapped

By Maria Di Mento ’03 / January / February 2004
June 8th, 2007
“I just want young minds to stop accepting everything that is spoon-fed to them,” said filmmaker Spike Lee. Wearing a knit Yankees cap, Lee strolled back and forth across the Salomon Hall stage, harassing Red Sox fans in the capacity crowd before turning serious and focusing his talk on film, the media, and gangster rap. Lee called the media an opiate and begged the rapt students before him to think about the images they consume.

Lee criticized Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson, who recently sold the network to Viacom, for broadcasting degrading images of African Americans. “Bob Johnson is one of the most brilliant businessmen around, and at the same time, if we’re talking facts, BET did a great disservice to black people. There’s no getting around it,” Lee said to thunderous applause.

But he reserved his harshest criticism for gangster rap: “I’m not up here berating all rap artists, but some of this gangster rap stuff is not doing anybody any good, especially the large majority of young white kids who buy rap and buy into thinking that all African Americans are like that,” Lee said.

The room fell silent when he called gangster rap a form of genocide and admonished the rapper 50 Cent—repeatedly spelling out his name as “f-i-d-d-y cent”—for glorifying thug life and for the guns-and-drugs images in his CDs and videos. Lee told the crowd that, when he was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s, education and athleticism were valued, and smart kids weren’t ridiculed . “You have young black adults today who equate being intelligent with being white,” he said, “so if you’re on the corner drinking a forty, or pulling your privates, then you’re from the streets, then you’re from the ’hood, and you’re black because you’re living that thug life, so this is really genocide.”

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January / February 2004