Is Hip-Hop Getting a Bad Rap?

The headline scare stories say it all. “Rap Bloodshed!” . . . “Rap Riot!” . . . “Rap Melee!”

In fact, hip-hop concerts are sometimes hazardous to your health. On Sept. 10, a young fan was stabbed to death at a Dope Jam rap concert at New York’s Nassau Coliseum (while trying to recover a stolen gold chain). On Aug. 17, 1986, a Run-D.M.C. show at the Long Beach Arena was marred by a series of pitched battles between black and Latino street gangs, causing 40 injuries and mass arrests.

Meanwhile, hundreds of hip-hop shows have gone off without incident. But the rap riots have drawn most of the media attention, prompting civic officials to propose rap concert bans and scaring many promoters away from booking major rap tours.


Is hip-hop, today’s most popular new teen music, getting a bad rap?

Billboard magazine black music editor Nelson George says “Yes!” To combat what he called sensationalist media coverage, George has organized a coalition of rap performers who’ve recorded a musical response, “Stop the Violence,” a 12-inch single due for release by Jive Records next January. Aided by Jive exec Ann Carly and other concerned rap supporters, George landed such hip-hop heavyweights as Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D, KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions, MC Lyte and Stetsasonic.

“I was really enraged by the New York media coverage of the Nassau Coliseum show,” he said by phone from New York. “It was all ‘rap violence this’ and ‘rap violence that.’ It didn’t deal with any of the real issues. No one ever mentions that rap artists offer lots of positive messages or that the incidents are sparked by a few bad kids preying on other kids.”

According to George, proceeds from the “Stop the Violence” record will go to National Urban League programs geared toward fighting black-on-black crime and inner-city illiteracy. But George also wants to use rap’s high profile to fight violence by raising awareness in the black community.

“These kind of incidents only give ammunition to people who’d like to see rap shut down,” he said. “So we need to take a stand before the violence destroys the music.”

Jive Records is sponsoring a contest for high-school rappers while Word Up, a black fanzine, is soliciting essays from school kids on the meaning of violence in their lives. George is also raising money to shoot a long-form video (rap interviews interspersed with documentary crime footage) which would be serviced to local schools and community groups.

Not everyone is convinced “Stop the Violence” will have an immediate impact. “It’s a great idea as far as it goes, but you need more than a record to prevent hip-hop violence,” said Monica Lynch, president of Tommy Boy Records, a respected rap label. “We had a rap show at the Garden last year and for a whole week before the show, rap guys went on local radio telling everyone to chill out and come in peace--and there was blood all over the place.

“The emphasis has got to be on security. Metal detectors cost big bucks, so rap managers and artists are going to have to use their influence to persuade promoters to foot the bill.”

George agreed. “Improved security can make a difference,” he said. “Run-DMC had full-body metal detectors on its recent tour, which was relatively incident free. At the show here, they found a pile of knives and razors outside the show because everyone knew they couldn’t bring that stuff in.

“So we’re advocating that artists insist on full-body metal detectors at all shows. It should be in every concert rider--and management people need to check out the concert ahead of time to make sure it has appropriate security.”

And if the promoters’ security doesn’t measure up? “Then the artist should cancel the show,” George said. “It’s better not to have a show than have one with violence. If that keeps happening, soon you won’t see any rap shows in this country.”