Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture

One of three reports written for the feminist newsjournal off our backs covering the Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Rethinking Activism conference held at Wheelock College in March 2007.

Beyond Beats and Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture
Byron Hurt reported by Samantha Berg

With a conference title like “Pornography and Pop Culture: Reframing Theory, Rethinking Activism,” one could assume some heavy-hitting feminist philosophizing about pornography was about to go down in Boston, and one would be right.

But kicking off the weekend’s educational seminars and slideshows was a decidedly nonacademic movie that didn’t mention feminism or even pornography, instead it dealt with issues of race and masculinity in hip-hop. The movie Beyond Beats and Rhymes featured quarterback/antisexism activist Byron Hurt taking a close look at hip hop’s soaring popularity in light of its increasingly sexist and homophobic content, intersecting qualities that coincide too neatly with pornography’s recent pop culture ascent.

Hurt interviewed prominent hip hop artists like Chuck D, Jadakiss and Russell Simmons to ask them how they feel about what today’s lyrics tell us about black men, black women and the new hip-hop generation. Between interviews and music video clips were alarming statistics such as that 61 percent of rape victims are under 18 and 49 percent of gunshot victims are black men.

Obvious comparisons between hip-hop videos and pornography quickly showed themselves to be only the first of several deeper levels of analysis Hurt made. When questioning why 70 percent of mainstream hip hop is consumed by white men, Hurt didn’t shy away from connecting the music’s virulent misogyny to what white male consumers want to see. If black women are overwhelmingly portrayed as bitches and ho’s while black men are portrayed as gangstas and pimps, it’s mostly because that’s how white male consumers driving the market want to see black people portrayed. His point was not to avoid black men’s responsibility for their complicity in objectifying women, but to recognize the radical idea that oppressions and oppressed people are more similar to each other than they are to the white men at the top benefiting from racist and sexist stereotypes.

The public face of hip hop is that of black men while the bulk of hip hop’s profits go to wealthy white men, and the public face of pornography is white women while yet more wealthy white men run off with millions in exploited profit. Exploitation means to benefit at another’s expense, and it would be hard to view corporate media’s appropriation of black culture and all colors of women’s bodies as anything but a one-sided win for capitalists.

Byron Hurt is a former Northeastern University football star and a long-time gender violence prevention educator. He is also the director and producer of the documentary film Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and produced the award-winning documentary I Am A Man: Black Masculinity in America.

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