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Rhymefest gets his activist on

A couple weeks back, I wrote on the debate over hip-hop and gun culture. Anyone who spends any time tracking press coverage of hip-hop knows that when it comes to this issue, absurdity rules. In one corner of the ring: hysterical politicians that know nothing about hip-hop, but are perfectly happy to condemn it. In the other corner: die-hard rap apologists that are determined to defend even the most regressive elements of the culture.

Joining the fray now is Rhymefest, steadfastly refusing to ride for either position.

In an open letter to David Cameron, leader of Britain’s Conservative Party—who recently attacked BBC radio for playing music that “encourages people to carry guns and knives”—Fest defends rap and, hilariously, offers to discuss the topic over a cup of tea.

The Chicago rapper challenges Cameron to spend some time exploring hip-hop, promising that he’ll discover that it’s much more than “murder music or knife culture.”

Fest doesn’t let rappers off the hook though. Far from it. He believes that the hip-hop community is “definitely in a state of denial about our complicity in the glorification of drugs and violence.” And, in an interview with the British press, he debunks the lines so-called gangsta rappers use to defend themselves against their critics:

1. I’m only reporting what I see on the streets.
“It’s old, it’s tired, it’s not true. It’s an excuse to keep making money off the backs of the people and keep doing what I call poverty pimping.”

2. I gotta eat.
“I understand that but do you have to eat at the expense of my child? At the expense of minds and souls? It’s the same mentality as selling drugs. That’s why a lot of rappers are ex-drug-dealers. Even though you’re not killing us with crack you’re killing us with music.”

3. If you don’t want your kids to hear it, turn it off.
“I say to that: black families are born to a 70% illegitimacy rate. The father’s not in the house, the mother’s working or on drugs, so who’s raising the kids? You, the community, TV, radio. So what you’re telling them is how they’re [learning] who they should be when they walk out into the street. So does rap affect the behavior of children? Yes it does.” 

As extreme as some of these statements may be (I don’t like the generalization that single moms are always at work or on drugs), this is the closest I’ve seen yet to carving out a middle ground in the hip-hop and gun violence debate.

And, personally, I just love the image of Rhymefest sitting down for a tea party with David Cameron. This is either the oddest publicity stunt ever or a refreshing approach to dealing with C. Delores Tucker-style rap critics. It’ll be interesting to see if the politician invites him across the pond. He would have to be an idiot to turn down a photo op that golden.

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