Bling Bling…Hot Sex, Cool Violence, and Radio

by Tanya Cromartie Twaddle

Radio. Our youth are tuning in. Real Life. A community talent show. She is “droppin’ it like it’s hot.” Her legs are spread and she is gyrating…grinding…pumping her hips in a sensual fashion. This is not cultural-heritage day-African dancing. She is twerping, mimicking a sexual act. Hold up…wait a minute…she is only 11 years old! A young man with evident public speaking skills is rapping about who he can smack down and pop! Who he’s better than…and he’s got the bling bling and bang bang to prove it. He is no more than 14 years old. Why? Seems to me that too many of the “artists” on our airwaves are intent on sharing their quest for hot sex, expensive cars, and money. Too many tunes on the radio glorify violence, sexism, sexual exploitation, drugs, and materialism. My own daughter’s favorite genre, hip hop, dominates youth popular culture. The hip hop music my generation grew up on was full of history lessons and social consciousness as well as body-moving beats and hot hooks. Today’s offering of mainstream music is a far cry from this. But wait. There are lessons to be had! Thanks to radio, most especially between the weekday hours of 2 and 7 p.m. (when youth are mostly likely to be listening) our kids know how to be player pimps, freak nasty ho’s, and beloved thugs. I can’t listen to local mainstream radio stations around my 9-year-old. I have tried to tell myself, “it’s just music!” She’s only listening to the catchy beats. They’re just words. And that dance that looks like humping, well…that’s Mother Africa at work in her blood. But I know better. Mother Africa wasn’t a raunchy showgirl. I know my child is hearing this stuff when I’m not around. She is certainly influenced by the residue it leaves on her peers. Radio has the biggest influence on youth popular culture. It is the sharpest marketing tool. Kids look to pop culture icons for identity. And what are they getting in return? Nothing. Not a damn thing that will lift our youth, especially poor urban youth, out of the rut they are in. Nothing that will make their lives better or help them on the road to a brighter future. But hey, they are getting disqualified at talent shows! Or at least at the ones in our neighborhood… We grown folks are leaving them confused. On one hand they have open access to this music and its destructive messages. We allow them to soak it up. Then when they express the “talents” that are derived from and inspired by this exposure, we tell them it is wrong, deviant, inappropriate. Our children don’t have easy access via radio and television to artists who are creating positive message music. The industry won’t allow it. Why should it? The status quo keeps pockets fat. Social responsibility isn’t sensational. It doesn’t sell. There is little money in stimulating the cerebral matter of 12-17 year olds. A friend of mine is a school teacher. She is daunted by the fact that her third grade students know the lyrics to dozens of misogynistic and violent songs. They know them so well, yet can’t read on grade level or retain yesterday’s lesson. I am aware that we can’t shield our children from every influence…but we shouldn’t be spoon feeding garbage to them either. I’m all for Freedom of Speech. I believe that parents are ultimately responsible for what their children watch and listen to. But this billion-dollar music industry certainly doesn’t make it easy to raise smart, productive, socially conscious citizens. Censorship is a scary issue. I don’t want to Tipper Gore you; I’m just seeking to understand why radio isn’t used more often for positive social-marketing. Let all artists have their say, but Radio, can’t we balance it out? Give some of these “mainstream airwaves” to the underground folks with relevant, soulful substance to share with this generation. Stop saturating them with the glorification of negative behaviors. Blast their speakers with hooks they can use to build on. Make the beats addictive and get them hooked on consciousness. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003