Pillbox

"It's not sweet in the streets"

Rob ?Biko? Baker didn?t take long to lose his sweatshirt at his talk last Wednesday. Underneath was a blue T-shirt that read, ?Kanye was right.? But Baker wasn?t there to bash Bush, who Kanye West famously said doesn?t care about black people. Rather, Baker was there to bash 50 Cent. In the wake of the Waterfront Loews Cineplex shooting, Baker, author of The Source?s article, ?G-Unot! Is Corporate Rap?s Top Unit Fading Fast??, decided to speak at Urban Youth Action about the image of ?gangsta? rap and hip-hop.

Baker started right in on his criticism of rap?s image. ?A lot of those things you see in the videos, the chains [and] the rims... they?re rented,? he said.

Baker wrote on the board behind him a diagram of all the people that make money off 50 Cent ? including shoe stores, record labels, and Jacob the jeweler. ?Everybody is making money off of 50 Cent,? he said, ?And 50 Cent is making money off of you.?

He believes that the reason 50 Cent?s image is so appealing to young people, especially those living in the poorer areas of cities, is because it tells a story familiar to these youth. ?50?s telling the story of you,? Baker said, addressing the crowd of about 70, most of them inner-city youths.

He said he was disgusted with some of what he saw on TV and heard in songs. ?You go to the club and you don?t even think about [the lyrics],? he said. At one point, Baker started a chant of the Mr. Magic song ?I Smoke, I Drink.? After a few lines, the chant dropped off and Baker laughed, saying, ?You don?t even want to finish it.? The crowd was hesitating on the line ?I?m a dog/I love hoes.?

While Baker wouldn?t go so far as to directly connect the violence at the Waterfront shooting with the film, he did say that 50 Cent was responsible for what was being portrayed. ?The fault is less important than the problem,? Baker said, referring to violence in American cities.

The issue of what effect media such as movies and songs have on violence has been debated since Marilyn Manson and the Columbine school shootings. It?s hard to attribute violence to media without feeling like one is shifting the blame. But it?s also difficult to look at the family of Shelton Flowers, the man shot at Loews after Get Rich or Die Tryin?, and not wonder if this wouldn?t have happened had Flowers gone to see Chicken Little or even Jarhead.

Flowers? mother, wife, and sister were all at Baker?s talk on Wednesday. His sister said she was happy that Loews had chosen to stop screening Get Rich or Die Tryin?.

Baker responded by saying, ?It is irresponsible of us to let this keep going on.... This [the current situation] is not normal.? He said he believed that 50 Cent puts out a lot of ?negative energy.?

Be assured that Baker does not believe the state of hip-hop is a complete wasteland that can only offer people a glorification of violence. He does think 50 Cent is talented. And some of his favorite hip-hop artists include Lil? Brother and Talib Kweli, who performed on CMU?s campus Friday night. Hip-hop, he said, came about because people were being creative. But, Baker noted, artists like 50 Cent are the artists that corporate America invests in, so they are more likely to have a wide following even if their messages aren?t positive ones.

              Michelle Bova
Assistant Pillbox Editor