What If Hip-Hop Glorified Education?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Every now and again I publish a post that pisses someone off…I guess that’s the price you pay when you discuss something controversial. Now, I have never been one to shy away from a not-so-popular position because I was afraid of a little backlash, and I don’t think I’ll start today. With that said, I have a question that I would like each of you to ponder for just a few seconds: Would the number of women achieving a college degree increase if the Hip-Hop culture glorified education? Think about it for a second…I’ll wait….

Before I share my thoughts on what I think the answer to this question is, let me explain why I ventured to ask the question in the first place. I think it is safe to say that I am a product of the Hip-Hop culture. I think it is also safe to say that Hip-Hop as a culture has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. I won’t get into the many trends and changes that have occurred over this time, but I would like to focus on one specific change: the portrayal of women.

Obviously, the lyrics and the references to women in Hip-Hop have changed. It has almost gotten to the point where every song I hear on the radio somehow denigrates women…hoe this and bitch that…and let’s not forget the references to female body parts and the influx of lyrics graphically discussing the many acts that would be performed on this female. In addition to memorializing these lyrics on wax, video directors have treated us to a visual of these lyrics in the modern day music video. Or is it soft porn? I mean, there are usually scantily clad women dancing around in these videos…many of whom are happy to be videoed bouncing to the sound of the beat. And to make things worse, these women are usually cast in videos where the lyrics have nothing to do with an actual woman. But who cares, because it is an honor to pop, lock, and drop it in any Hip-Hop artists’ video, right?

The Boot Beyonce Made Famous!
Let me step back for just a minute. Remember back in 2002 when Jay-Z and Beyonce made their rounds performing ’03 Bonnie and Clyde? Think back to when the duo were on the television show 106 & Park performing the song, and Beyonce donned the Manolo Blahnik “Timberland-like” boots. Remember those? It seemed like every female in every urban city in America needed those boots. So much so that many other shoe designers began creating their own versions. Because Beyonce, an influential icon to many young women, wore those boots, everyone wanted to copy her...especially the young women whom she influences. The same logic applies when Kanye West, Diddy, Rick Ross, 50 Cent and other influential Hip-Hop figures mention or endorse a particular brand of alcohol, watch, footwear, vehicle, etc. If the product is good enough for these figures, then they almost instantly receive the stamp of approval from the people whom they are influencing. Need an example…think about what happened to Cristal once Jay-Z proclaimed he was through with that brand…think about how powerful Diddy’s “Vote or Die” message was for urban politics.

And now to my point. Over the past decade or so, the Hip-Hop culture has played an integral role in influencing women to pursue modeling careers. Now, when you hear the word “model,” you automatically think of Fashion Week and runways…Paris and New York…Vogue and W…Tyra and Naomi! But these women aren’t vying to be on the runway or in big fashion magazines. These women are vying to be in a Hip-Hop artists’ next music video. These women are aspiring to be on the cover of King and Black Man magazines. All while wearing as little as possible to show off as much as possible. The focus is not on the fashion designer; instead the focus is on the woman’s body parts. The video modeling profession has been gathering up a ton of speed over the past decade...so quickly, in fact, that the market has become overly-saturated with the growing crop of young women who have been grooming themselves to be the next big thing in video/male magazine modeling.

 Why do you think the market is over-saturated? My guess is that young women are starting to see the type of “influence” being a video model carries. When I asked my high-school-aged mentees what types of influence they believe these women have, they each agree on the following: these women are loved and revered by the boys in their class, as well as their male relatives; these women are always treated “nicely” by men; these women get into all of the popular clubs…the list went on and on. There was one thing, however, that these teenagers kept coming back to. The biggest “influence” these video models seem to have in the eyes of these teenage girls was that all of their favorite Hip-Hop artists love them! And they gave me names! Drake, Wale, Lil’ Wayne, Big Sean, Rick Ross…this list went on and on as well. When I asked them how they had come to this conclusion, they gave me a list of music videos to check out on YouTube. This is when it all came together for me. Follow me for just a second…

It appears to me that many popular Hip-Hop artists have turned the women who have made a career in video modeling into somewhat of a brand. Like the many brands that popular Hip-Hop artists endorse in their lyrics and their videos, the video model has received the stamp of approval from the individuals these artists influence. As a result, there are many young women who have made it their business to prepare themselves to enter the video modeling profession. Isn’t it amazing how powerful influence can be?   

What would happen if Hip-Hop artists started glorifying education in their music and in their music videos? What if a woman with a Bachelor’s Degree was just as sexy as a woman with a big butt? Now, in no way am I saying a woman who has chosen video modeling as a profession is not educated…in fact, I know many women who make a pretty good living as video models, and who also have college degrees. My question focuses on how these women are perceived.  What would happen if Hip-Hop artists focused their lyrics on the fact that these women are educated, and not her physical attributes? What if these artists endorsed a woman’s intellect just as emphatically as they endorse a woman’s cleavage? What would happen?

If we followed the logic discussed above, my guess is that young women who are influenced by these artists would aspire to do the popular thing…which in this hypothetical would be to educate themselves. It would be sexy to be smart! And this sexiness would remain intact even when the woman decides to wear a business suit instead of a swim suit. As I said before, influence is a powerful thing.

I am a huge proponent of education, as it has made an unbelievable impact on my life. As a mentor to many young women, I spend a lot of time steering them in the direction of investing in their education. I am well aware that college isn’t for everyone, but the truth is that we live in a world where many employers look at a college degree as the standard…I would be an irresponsible mentor if I didn’t advocate the standard. But to be completely honest, I am constantly fighting an uphill battle when competing with the influence of the Hip-Hop culture. Which is why publishing this post has been nagging my spirit for so long. I am willing to bet a shiny new nickel that my conversations with my mentees regarding education would be easier if I had Hip-Hop on my side. While there are many dynamic and successful business women working behind the scenes in various sectors of the industry, these women are not often displayed and/or praised by the influencer…the artist. But what would happen if these women were branded by artists? Would there be more young women vying to be executives? Vying to educate themselves as voraciously as possible to break any glass ceiling they encounter? Simply put, the Hip-Hop culture is currently failing in showing young women different sides of the proverbial coin. Does any of this make sense to anyone but me?

That’s my spiel! As I always say, these are merely my opinions. I love for the Chronicles to serve as a medium for open dialogue for controversial-type issues like this. On that note, let’s discuss!

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