Trials of a Hip Hop Educator
It’s All About The YOOOOOUTH: An Educator’s Perspective on the Pursuit To Diss Souljah Boy
By Tony Muhammad
Even before Souljah Boy broke into the mainstream over a year ago with the song Crank Dat Souljah Boy along with the dance that came with it he has been both a cultural icon for young people and a subject of ridicule for many traditionalist Hip Hoppers. What’s changed in the past few months is that veteran limelight artists such as Snoop Dog are now going out of their way to publicly diss the 17 year old. Newer underground artists such as Naledge of Kidz in the Hall have joined the carnival by jumping on top of speakers at their concerts and frequently chanting “F**K SOULJAH BOY!” (I personally witnessed Naledge doing this at a recent concert at Club Cinema in Fort Lauderdale). As I’ve been sitting back and watching these displays I’ve been asking myself questions “Is all of this really necessary? Why are they giving so much negative attention to this 17 year old kid?”
Then came perhaps the most extreme case; the Ice T mixtape recording in which he blames Souljah Boy for “single handedly killing Hip Hop” and telling him that he should go “eat a d**k.” The 50 year old pioneer claims that he did not intend for the recording to be heard publicly. After Souljah Boy dissed the Hip Hop pioneer through Youtube, Ice T apologized through the same means. However, in reviewing how the “apology” was delivered, in my own assessment it was practically like saying no apology at all. Besides Ice T saying that he still thinks Souljah Boy’s music is “garbage,” Ice T’s son appears at the end and says that he thinks Souljah Boy should go “eat a d**k.” In great disappointment, I ask the question “Is Ice T really showing and proving that he is a responsible elder in this culture we know as Hip Hop?” At the same time I question how mature of an elder a man could be when he continues to try to (at least in image) re-live his childhood dream of being a pimp.
As an educator who grew up in the Golden Era of Hip Hop, I have my personal sentiments about Souljah Boy’s music, particularly the song Crank Dat Souljah Boy in which the immature yet misogynistic phrases “Superman that H*” and “Super Soak that H*” are chanted. When the song was being pumped heavily on the air waves at all hours last year, I maintained a very negative stance towards it knowing that little children were listening. I even called the FCC complaining about it. However, when school started in late August, I was confronted with another reality … MY STUDENTS LOVED IT! They especially loved Souljah Boy when he made a special guest performance a month later at a football pep rally at my school. Over half the students were on the gym floor hopping side to side to the hollow beat. I didn’t blame the students for jamming to the song; I blamed the adults that were in charge for allowing the song to be sung. Behind closed doors, I confronted those in authority over the issue.
When I close my classroom door after the bell rings each and every class, I am very protective of what enters my students’ eyes, ears and minds. Unlike other teachers who are much looser, I don’t allow them to listen to their ipods or PSP’s while they are working. However, I frequently engage them in questioning their likes, dislikes and world view in general. One day I was reviewing some reading material in my American History classes. When it was time for new students to read, I called on them by yelling “YOOOOU!!!” just like how it’s chanted in the song Crank Dat Souljah Boy. Needless to say, my students were enjoying the experience. After we read and discussed the material, I asked my students “You guys really like that song, hugh?” Most of them said that they did. I smiled in response and rhetorically asked “Yeah, it’s pretty catchy isn’t it?” I followed by asking “But is it responsible?” … “Do you think an elementary school student should be listening to the message ‘Superman that H*?’” Without judging them and just simply questioning them in what they believe to be right and wrong I achieved greater results in those few minutes than in years prior in which I constantly criticized their music. I had learned through hard trials that in order to get my students to listen to me I can not first destroy what they love.
Later on in the school year, when I covered the history of Hip Hop (which, by the way, they absolutely enjoyed and demanded more as we went further and further into it) I discussed with them the reasons why major record labels sign artists such as Souljah Boy, who owns these labels, what they are actually trying to sell and why practically the same set of songs are played on urban radio no matter where you go. To simply jump on a speaker at your concert and scream “F**K SOULJAH BOY!” to a group of white suburban “back packers” or broadcasting yourself on Youtube with messages about why you think an artist’s music is garbage is not addressing the real problems surrounding Hip Hop music and Hip Hop culture today. You are certainly not affecting the most critical audiences that would most ensure Hip Hop’s longevity. If conscientious artists truly wanted to change the current state of Hip Hop and youth culture, they would need to devote more energy towards collaborating on community projects that transcend music, speaking to students at schools and community centers and creating alternative marketing and distribution outlets for their products. In these endeavors young people should be included on an entrepreneurial-internship type level as Hip Hoppers such as Wise Intelligent is doing with his Intelligent Kids mentoring program and Dr. Roxanne Shante is doing in New York with an ice cream shop in Queens, New York.
One last thing, let us be mindful that Souljah Boy himself is just 17 years old and in definite need of mentoring, just like thousands of other youth who aspire to become artists. Instead of putting up barriers between themselves and what they believe is not “Real Hip Hop,” it would make more sense for veteran artists to work and serve as advisers to young artists such as Soldier Boy with the goal of steering them on a better path. This makes complete sense if your mission is to authentically improve the state of the music and the culture since it is young artists such as Souljah Boy who have the attention of the youth. Souljah Boy by himself is not the reason why Hip Hop is in such a low state. A huge part of the reason why things are the way that they are is because the older generations complain too much about the way things ought to be, yet they do nothing about it.
LET US NOT CONTINUE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AS OUR PREDECESSORS AND STAY DISUNITED AND DEFEATED! INSTEAD, MAKE MORE STRIDES TOWARDS WORKING TOGETHER IN UNITY AND IMPROVE OUR COMMUNITIES!
Tony Muhammad teaches American, African American and African History at an inner-city high school in Miami and is currently involved in efforts to reform The African American Voices Curriculum for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2008).