Posted: June 4th, 2021
For the past 10 weeks of the Fall 2004 quarter, I’ve had the opportunity to work as intern for Contrabandit.com. Contrabandit ran by West Coast political and cultural editor of the Source Ryan Ford aims to provide an uninhabited voice for the hip-hop community as well as inform most of the Minority readers of politics, social and educational news and issues that occur in the world. As a History major, with my interest in Film and Television journalism, Contrabandit has allowed me to study contemporary and cultural history through the medium of Hip-Hop music. I looked at this internship as a starting point to acquiring work experience and possibly advancing into working within the field of entertainment journalism. But as an African-American student at UCLA, Contrabandit has allowed me to chronicle events within hip-hop as they happen and apply the broader historical significance as they occur.
Being an African-American student, I view hip-hop as not only just a musical art form, but also as a voice and representation of an entire community. Unlike Jazz and R&B, Hip-Hop was a genre truly formed out of the African-American community after the post-civil rights movement and really feels uncorrupted by mainstream pop culture, where it sets the trend, instead of following the pack. When covering the medium of Hip-Hop music, I discovered how far reaching and expansive it has become and with my education at UCLA I’ve been able to view hip-hop from scholarly approach.
The main theme I’ve noticed throughout my internship has been Hip-Hop music’s growth and the changes that become of it as it has become an acceptable musical genre generating billions of dollars for the recording industry studios. The three biggest new stories that I was able to cover were the Eminem-Michael Jackson confrontation, Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network’s Presidential voter registration campaign, and the violent incident that occurred at the Vibe Awards. On the surface there just current events that needed to be covered to feel up space on the website, but with little probing they actually had far reaching and historical impact on the website, Hip-Hop music and with me in developing my critical writing skills and applying historical analysis from my UCLA course and history major.
Jackson boots Eminem off BET (published October 12, 2004)
That article resulted in an immediate phone call from my editor, as well as a lecture from him on the role and responsibility of a journalist. He proclaimed my article was blatantly bias and that I was leading the reader to take one point of view or side on the issue, but my job instead was to report the facts in a news story. Which, as my editor expressed to me, is something that’s continues to occur since he beginning of entertainment, and its should not be allowed despite the fact Eminem makes a very good living off of doing “Black Music” much like Elvis, but again, difference being, Elvis never insulted a African-American musical icon like Michael Jackson, like Eminem has. I’m sure this issue will be glanced over, much like the controversy of the tapes being made public by Hip-Hop magazine “the Source”, where what occurred was an investigation into why Eminem recorded these racist lyrics, but the Source was attacked for bringing this issue to the public.
I must admit, just looking on the surface of the controversy I was quick to pass judgment upon BET for what I saw as its hypocrisy by stating it would not air videos disrespectful of any celebrity. Considering that’s how they made their notoriety during the whole east coast-west coast beef that many attribute to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie” Wallace. But my editor expressed to me that I needed take it into context along with Eminem’s previously uncovered studio recording where he’s referring to African-American men as “niggers” and African-American women as “black bitches” in a derogatory manner, is not possible to let this pass as artistic and playful expression. Again he’s shown disrespect to a community that he continues to make million of dollars off of through doing their music, and can be argued is allowed to get away with such offensive behavior because he is a white. Not just with the African-American community, he’s come under fire for his anti-gay remarks from the Gay and Lesbian community, but continues to get way with or at least not suffer any ill effects, whereas if a comparable black celerity had done similar offenses, they would find it difficult to maintain the type of celerity that Eminem enjoys.
Working alongside Ryan with Contrabandit, I was able to view the controversy as bigger than Eminem just poking fun and having a laugh at Michael Jackson’s expense, but greater historical, racial, and industry-wide ramification that this cause. The images of Eminem done up in “Black face” and portraying Jackson as buffoon and monster have long term consequences upon not only his image but that of African-Americans as they see one of their longest musical icons ridiculed in a way not only personally but racially offensive. And even more importantly with no consequences or accountability from Eminem.
Russell Simmons; HSAN proclaims 21 million registered youth/minority voters for 2004 election(published November 4, 2004)
In the aftermath of the national presidential election, it brought into prospective the efforts of voter registration among young, minority voters. The day after the election, a press release went out from Russell Simmons Hip-Hop Summit Action Network proclaiming that 21 million registered voters from 18-35 voted in the 2004 election, up from the 18 million that had voted in the 2000 election. Although that’s encouraging it was disappointing to know that the voter registration campaign and awareness of the importance of this Presidential election that still George Bush was re-elected. But looking at the numbers and statistics shows a deeper issue and problem arising in America.
Working with Contrabandit got me access to covering Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network fundraiser at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Co-sponsored by Sony Playstation, the fundraiser was an entertainment industry party to bring awareness as well as funding to the organization for needed increased minority voter registration and education. Despite their efforts, the hip-hop community that was being courted by Simmons’ HSAN paled in comparison to those of the voters in the Midwestern states. I always felt it was flawed to try to reach out to the hip-hop community as despite the growing numbers of minorities, who will soon grow to be an almost equal number to the majority of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) constituents, some of those minorities are turning towards the conservative ideology. Also there is no unity among this minority group. With more WASP senior citizens living longer, that aging
Considering that ultimately the Presidential election was determined by the Midwest, as the Democratic Party hasn’t carried southern states in years, where as California and New York (with a combined 86 electoral votes) are perennial Democratic strongholds. Interestingly, the Midwest won the election for Bush and to me it was a shame that the backlash of gay marriages and abortion (as reported by news affiliates as the determining reason for voting for Bush) were more important than the situation in Iraq, terrorism, and the turbulent economy. I never want to question anyone’s beliefs or morals, but gay marriages and abortion should be an individual’s choice.
Most important to take from this election is hopefully maintaining the interest of registered voters beyond this Presidential election, as there are more issues that will arise within the coming years before the 2008 election. In California on the ballot was the repealing of Proposition 187, the 3 strikes law. I understand the “spirit” of 3 strikes, incarcerating repeat violent offenders from 25 to life sentence in jails, but continually in the years since passage as laws, many third strike offenders have been non-violent repeat offenders. Some argue the old adage don’t commit the crime, won’t do the time, but there’s a bigger issue of privatized prisons making hundreds of millions of dollars off the incarceration of young prisoners and the prison system being made up of predominately African-American and Latino men. Conservative republican fan base are carrying the votes.
Melee breaks out at the Vibe Awards(published November 17,2004)
Lastly there was the violent altercation that occurred at the, the Vibe awards On November 16. During the four hour taping inside the hangar at the Santa Monica Airport an incident broke as Quincy Jones and Snoop Dogg were presenting an award to Hip-Hop producer Dr. Dre. An unidentified man attacked Dr. Dre, who was later assaulted y several members of his entourage and left him stabbed, later identified as rapper Young Buck by authorities. With the Vibe awards, it is yet another black eye on Hip-Hop as well as on black-themed award shows. The incident alone won’t spell the end of Hip-Hop or these musical award shows, but my over all perspective is the necessity of these award shows.
Within the entertainment industry its become a joke that there are too many awards shows. Yet when it comes to black themed award shows, they are usually relegated to lesser channels like UPN and BET, and more often than not are taped delayed events. Such events as the NAACP Image Awards, BET Awards, Soul Train Awards and Soul Train Lady of Soul, Vibe Awards, and the Source Awards all fall into this category. And incidents like this further perpetuate the stereotypes of the safety issue that constantly trouble hip-hop events. Amazingly events like the Rock the Bells concerts a week earlier at Anaheim Stadium that I covered for Contrabandit(and the Source)doesn’t garner the positive press as when chaos ensues at televised events. At that event, despite some illegal drug use, the show went off without any violent altercation or incident, in front of a mostly diverse White, Latino, and Asian audience. Myself being the only amazed at this diversity and more so shows how far hip-hop music and their artist have developed with such a diverse crowd and the artist being so comfortable in front of them.
But dealing with the coverage of black themed awards shows their two sides to the argument. Those that feel that its alright that the awards shows are tape delayed and marginally watched by non-blacks because its for Blacks and its best that we have a awards show tape delayed then none at all. As a matter of fact, the NAACP dubs its annual awards “Black America’s answer to the Oscars, Emmy’s, Grammy’s, and Pulitzer, as it continues to honor overlook performances by African-American entertainers that the mainstream Hollywood community pass over. But on the other hand there is the argument that by not being a live broadcast somehow relegates it as meaningless shows that don’t really count.
For starters, with most of the United States having access to the numerous channels available through cable and satellite television, and at least 5-10 music themed channels, viewing music, film and television entertainers is a lot more accessible then in any era prior to the 1990’s. Before then, it was rare being able to view entertainers outside of movies, therefore making movie and television award shows the only place to see them. Likewise for most, seeing their favorite musical artist perform “live” at awards show provided a free experience to catch them performing if they were unable to go to a concert to see them performing and this is remembering that MTV didn’t debut till 25 years ago in 1981. But with the emergence of MTV, BET, VH1, and even E!, it has provided a near 24 hour access to view these entertainers and even more so, know them beyond their music or the characters they portray on screen and films. Awards was more than just a night of honoring actors and musician, but that rare opportunity to view them live and has human.
Speaking with my editor Ryan, he allowed me to go further with this topic and try to give our readers some prospective and insight behind awards show and why they exist. Working for the Source, he gave me some inside information about the motives behind events such as the Vibe, Source, BET, and Blockbuster Awards shows: MONEY! By organizing one awards event for on night, the sponsorship and advertising for the event generates more money in one night then the magazines do for the entire year. Even the awards presentations are staged, as more then likely the winner is determined by the artist that will appear, more than who deserves to win. When you look at the BET, Source, and Vibe awards, what they provide great revenue and backlash towards to the mainstream (white) award show are not able to properly honor the hip-hop artists that were annually disregarded for their work. Honestly for the most part the Grammy’s and American Music Awards do base their nomination, and I’m sure, there awards recipient on mainstream success. But whereas the NAACP Image awards and Soul Train music awards were created to make up for these lack honors to Black performers, these proliferation of the other awards show, seems to be purely done as promotion.
The experience that I take from my time working with Contrabandit, has been invaluable in applying the classroom knowledge I acquired from UCLA towards real world situations. Without the historical significance and ramification of events as they occurred and relating them to past events, I would not have been able to elaborate upon them in my writing for the website or convey the importance to my audience at the site.
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