When I saw the crawl across the bottom of my screen that hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons- the ORIGINAL hip-hop mogul, the mogul of all moguls- had been accused of sexual harassment I laughed out loud. Literally. I meant no offense by my laughter. It was not directed at or about the woman who came forward with her story of unwanted sexual advances or of sexual misconduct. It was directed at the fact that it was being reported as a part of the sexual misconduct purge that is sweeping the nation right now.
And let me be clear: this purge is a good thing. Our culture needs it and it is long over due. But it will be messy and there will be unfair casualties and unintended consequences to account for when it is all said and done. That is unavoidable in the fog of war- and it is fair to characterize this period as the early battles in a culture war against misogynistic nihilism. But the news media and femenist activists need to clue in to a hard reality right here and right now. There are segments of our society that are impervious to this purge. And Russell Simmons is a prime example of the cultural insulation that some men are going to benefit from when every woman has had her say in the light of day.
Here is why: Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. So if you have risen to fame and fortune on raw expressions of unchained masculinity and even predatory hostility towards women, charges against you that you were insensitive to women working with you or for you will mean absolutely nothing. That is like being offended at a snake for biting you. If you have been richly rewarded for saying “bitch” 25 hours a day and 8 days a week for decades the idea that you have behaved in some kind of a socially acceptable and enlightened fashion is nearly comical. Women hold a status in hip-hop culture as a commodity for the most part, save for a few artists that have broken out and become stars in their own right.
So this is not just about Russell as a singular figure. He wasn’t even a rapper or a hip-hop star. He was the mastermind behind commercializing hip-hop culture and has made hundreds of millions of dollars along the way and has created an industry that has generated billions and billions of dollars.
A majority of the mega-stars of hip-hop music rose to fame on artistic expressions that were flagrantly disrespectful to women or even became tied to violence against women in real life. Tupac Shakur remains one of the most beloved figures in hip-hop culture and he was convicted of raping a woman. The narrative that has endured is that Tupac was set up and was not guilty of the offense. I have no idea if there is any merit to that assertion, but what I do know is that when he got pissed off at rival MC The Notorious B.I.G., he kicked off one of his biggest hit songs with the line “that’s why I fucked yo bitch you fat mother-fucker.” You don’t have to look too far to find the searing hostility against womankind in that verse. The “bitch” in question was R&B artist Faith Evans and she has denied from that day til this one that it ever happened. But her word did not matter in hip-hop world because that has been a place where women remain as objectified as they are in any place in the free world.
You do not have to be a sociologist to marvel at the fact that Dr. Dre has become a revered figure in hip-hop culture and he once beat the brakes off of a woman named Dee Barnes in a night-club in front of several witnesses. The beating was so violent that she still reports trauma years after the fact. Yet Dre’s status never took even the slightest hit- while Dee was effectively exiled from the hip-hop culture altogether. She had been a well known and respected media figure in hip-hop music, but she ceased to exist after she sued Dre for her attack.
Dre is the same guy who produced NWA- a group that had a song on its first album that detailed a bank robbery where-in the group’s leader Easy E decides to rape a woman in the bank only to find that she is a transvestite upon removing her underwear. So in his anger he murders the transvestite by shooting her in the genitals. Don’t shoot the messenger, people. These dudes actually made these songs and were rewarded richly for doing so.
Need more? I’ve got a ton in my recall because I listened to rap of all genres almost daily for at least twenty years. Snoop Dog has become a nationally beloved media figure on his talent and charisma but when I first heard Snoop on Dre’s debut album, I got lines like this: “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks, so lick on these nuts and suck the dick- and get the fuck out after you’re done- so we can get ready for the next one.” Are you starting to get the picture? So please don’t expect contrition or apologies from any of these men now that they have matured and mellowed- and have accumulated generational wealth as a reward for putting that stuff out.
As always, women played a role in this ugliness too. Despite these lyrics, women bought the CDs, went to the concerts, and boomed the songs from their cars too. Some of them even went backstage to party. Justified with the rationale that, as Chris Rock joked to great affect, “they ain’t talkin’ about me- that beat be hittin’!” And I can dig it. I know all of this about this music because I grew up on it and with it and was impacted by it too. The fact is that when hip-hop culture took a turn toward criminality with the popularity of “gangsta” rap, all bets were off on decency or any established societal conventions. The more offensive you could be to mainstream society, the greater your reward in royalties. So don’t expect any heads to roll across the music industry in general but especially in hip-hop because denigrating women became a part of the foundation and the appeal. What kind of a protest is going to make a guy apologize for doing what gave him everything that he has ever enjoyed?
But it didn’t start out that way. Run-DMC didn’t go in for that bullshit at the dawn of the hip-hop era. For those of you who don’t know, Run-DMC front man Joseph Simmons, aka Run, is Russell’s younger brother. To be sure, it is not Russell’s fault that mysoginy and sexually nihilistic words and acts are cornerstones of hip-hop music and by extension the hip-hop industry. He simply channeled the raw energy that was out on the street and it grew on its own. Like what happens in those science fiction movies when a scientist’s creation grows out of control and becomes a monster.
In recent years, Russell has become a man of higher consciousness- writing books about clean and healthy living and projecting an image of respect, calm and order that reflect his adoption of Buddhism. Run is now known as Reverend Run because of the formal pastoral status he has attained. They may have been wild back in the day, but these men changed their own lives in their own time. And in this particular corner of the world, that is the only way that any change will come. #MeToo won’t mean a damn thing there. Maybe that is the best way for the change to come- from true personal enlightenment and development rather than through political expediency or economic self-preservation.