Artistic Responsibility: Option or Obligation?

“told her all p*ssy’s the same, she got a super one…all we do is smoke and f*ck”

“I got that Archie Bunker. And it’s so white I just might charge you double.”

“this for my broke niggas. this for my rich niggas. i got a hundred on the head of a snitch nigga”

“I might wife you and buy you nice whips, Ma, but you really gotta ride nice d*ck”

These are the words of millionaires. Words from some of the world’s best success stories. You know the rags-to-riches tales that we all love to hear – born into poverty, single-parent household, forced to partake in illegal activities to survive…then sold a million dollars worth of music and lived happily ever after. These are the people that entertain us. They provide the soundtrack to our lives. But when the song is over, they are also fathers and daughter and role models and leaders. The men and women that schools full of kids look up to, admire, and aspire to be. And did I mention that they were also millionaires.

Collectively, we – fans, artists, media – have come together to create a monster. We participate in the circle (or circus) of entertainment. We have set a standard of what we consider acceptable. We’ve somehow placed value on these types of messages that can’t be ignored. Young boys and girls across America are being raised by these messages and messengers. Their young minds are being groomed to believe that nice-to-have’s are now necessities. If you’re not wearing $300 jeans, you’re losing. If your whole circle isn’t carrying a $600 bag, “y’all ain’t getting it”. If you haven’t popped a pill or smoked yourself into a light coma, you’re not living.

Before I continue, let me say that I love music. Some people (including me) may even go as far as to say I’m addicted. So this is by no means my crusade against the industry, the artists, or the fans. And let me also point out that the blame doesn’t solely rest upon the messengers or their messages. Raising kids starts at home. Parents have to get more involved in their kids lives. But the truth of the matter is that we’re in a generation where parents who grew up on Hip Hop are raising their kids on it without actually raising their kids. A generation where young men and women take the majority of their social cues from their immediate social circles. A generation where young men and women learn most of their life lessons through the stories of their favorite rappers.

So where is the balance? As artists, their job is to entertain. As an audience, we decide what’s entertaining. That’s the cyclical reality. They create. We consume. We consume more. They create more. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed and private jets to fuel. And that can’t happen if they’re creating from the heart. So, naturally they create what audiences will consume. And we consume whatever the media exposes us to the most. The media gives the most exposure to what audiences consume.

There’s no secret why Lil Wayne sells more records than The Roots. No mystery why Rick Ross gets more radio spins than Mos Def. It’s economics. Sex sells. And so does drugs and guns and more sex. T.I. can talk about his sexual exploits and go back to his wife and kids and enjoy his millions while young Jermaine, who doesn’t have his father around to teach him better, listens and learns and desires to emulate the rapper life. A life that only exists on record. Their kids get chauffeured to and from their private schools while public school kids in Chicago opt to “ride around and get it” over going to class.

I think there needs to be some sort of balance. My no means do I feel like artists shouldn’t be allowed to express themselves and flex their creativity. But if, as an artist, you’re aware of your reach and influence, you should be careful about the pictures you paint and in the some cases the weapons you load. The young minds of this new generation are empty chambers waiting to be loaded. Everything these days is immediate and “reality”. So if you say “I never needed school because I moved a thousand pounds of coke a day” in your music, that’s putting a bullet in the chamber. And then when you follow that up with YouTube clips of you making it thunderstorm on sweaty strippers, that’s another round. And then there’s the radio and TV interviews where you assure us all that everything you say is as real as it gets (conveniently omitting the fact that you’re college educated and happily married and you only say the stuff you say because it keeps the bills paid) that’s assisting in pulling the trigger.

Now, the media? They need to do a better job at telling the whole story. Not supporting the dark, fairy tale, “increase-my-ratings-and-website-traffic” side of the narrative. They need to do a better job at providing alternatives. There is more to music than gun-busting and gangbanging. All positive music isn’t acoustic-heavy variations of kumbaya. And every artists isn’t out making exotic dancers rich and disappearing in a cloud of kush smoke. Some of these artists are out volunteering and changing lives through their non-profit organizations and raising healthy families.

And the parents have a stake in this too. Parents need to start being parents again. You can’t follow your child around 24 hours a day and you can’t control everything their exposed to. But you can create a higher level of understanding. You can instill values and morals that will help them identify and discern what’s real and what’s just entertainment.

What are your thoughts? Is there a solution? Should artists be more responsible with their messages? Should parents be more diligent in controlling what their kids listen to?

“…how could you be so selfish? Forgot about the kids that want to do just what you said you did…”