Letters from the Issue of March 18, 2004

Civic demons, bad dentistry, and hip-hop culture crash

a Candidate?

You only need one vote, and that's for Marta: Though I was pleased to read Tristram Korten write about Carlos Alvarez's position against the influence of powerful lobbyists in Miami-Dade politics, I was disappointed that he didn't mention Marta Perez as a candidate for Miami-Dade mayor.

As a member of the school board, she has proven that she too stands firm against corruption and will not be influenced by big-money interests. As a teacher in the Miami-Dade school system and a concerned citizen, I have watched Ms. Perez stick her neck out by taking unpopular positions against those who seek to undermine the county's taxpayers and ultimately the education of our children.

Her record in education is exemplary. She is an intelligent forward-thinker and an honest, caring, and ethical person. She should be given careful consideration for the position of Miami-Dade mayor by voters and by New Times.

Darron J. Burke


A Hip-Hop Education

I want my students to understand there's more to it than materialism, misogyny, and misrepresentation: Man, do I have qualms with Mosi Reeves's column about hip-hop's negative messages ("Mind Games," February 26). Not because I think he's wrong, but because I think he's absolutely right.

As a young Latino male growing up in the Nineties as a military brat, I identified more closely with hip-hop than with my Latin roots. Hip-hop became my culture. I knew about break dancing, popping and locking, and graffiti, as well as DJing and emceeing. When I heard Chuck D's quote about hip-hop being the young black man's CNN, I took that to mean "the young urban man's CNN." To me it was language, culture, philosophy, emotion, catharsis, revelation, and many more things all at once. Now I'm a twenty-something hip-hop male, digging real hard to find something of relevance in my culture.

As a high school teacher, I find Reeves's essay relevant on multiple levels. I see how hard it is to find music that explores the deeper themes of being human in this world, and I see the effect that mass marketing and consumer capitalism are having on today's youth. It seems wrong to me that Mos and Kweli, today's most widely known "conscious" and skillful rappers, are still relegated to spots behind rappers like Loose Change and Smelly.

Every day I'm trying to expose my kids to new and relevant music. I give them journal topics from songs like "How Real It Is," in which New York native and former school teacher J-Live says, "A lot of kids wanna show they've got heart/So they wild-out, skip school, and trade book smarts for street smarts/But ask yourself, 'Even if you've got one target, ain't you better off with two darts?'"

Or Kweli's lyrics from "K.O.S. (Determination)," where he says, "At exactly which point do you start to realize/That life without knowledge is death in disguise?" My kids, as interested in hip-hop as they all are (regardless of color, creed, or culture), just aren't able to decode the meaning of those words. They don't know they're supposed to think about what they're hearing. As far as they're concerned, music is only about shaking ass at the clubs until you're ready to go home and shake the bedboards.

In the remix of "School's In," J-Live says, "What the hell does choppin' trees have to do with culinary/That's the spirit kid/Analyze the lyric from the moment that you hear it see/Cuz most don't have the skill to/Utilize their ears' function as a garbage-filter." To me, that's a prime example of what's going wrong with hip-hop these days. We have an art form based primarily on language being mass-marketed to an audience that, for whatever reason, isn't capable of decoding that language. Couple that with the hip-hop industry's extraordinary penchant for materialism, misogyny, and misrepresentation, and what you get is a society of kids who can dance well, devise plans to get rich quick and hit lots of skins, and acquire ridiculous amounts of material goods while being utterly lost when it comes to getting along in the world without the help of others. It's a damned shame.

My students seem to be hypnotized by the fallacy that minorities can only make it in two ways: as entertainers (rap stars and athletes -- let's give credit for this one to America's media conglomerates) or as hustlers. But how are lowly high-school teachers going to battle the radio and television for influence over the kids' minds? My pudgy, dreadlocked, pierced, nondesigner-wearing self isn't going to compete with J-Ho's ass or Shitty Scent's gems or a Gucci gun belt.

I've said nothing here that Mosi Reeves doesn't already know, but I'm aware of how valuable it is to be aware that someone is reading your words and feeling your quandary. No doubt about that -- I see it every day. Take heart, though. There are those like Reeves and myself who are out there trying to make some changes. And there are emcees out there like Kweli and Mos and J-Live and a whole army of others who are taking quiet, careful aim at the hip-hop industry and blowing off bits and pieces where they may.

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