When I was growing up, most of the black boys I knew from school or church had idealized Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show) as the prototypical father. Not me though. I was always a James Evans Sr. (Good Times) type of kid. But then again, I never needed a father-figure for my father to emulate because my father was the best, and only, father I knew. My dad was an entrepreneur like George Jefferson, intelligent and funny like Dr. Huxtable, and fierce, proud, and definitely Black like James Evans—not ‘Black’ as in being as dark-skinned as James, my father was a beige or taupe-colored man, ‘yella’ (yellow) as some Black folks call it, Black as in being proud of his heritage and instilling the same ethnic pride in my sisters and I. Sure, I was lucky to have a nurturing and present father, but many weren’t. Sure, all of us listened to Rap music, but we didn’t look for those young men for guidance. We looked to our fathers, uncles, pastors, deacons, and Boy Scout leaders for models of manhood, not Eazy-E or Ice-Cube (though the reconstruction of Ice Cube in his Hollywood films make Heathcliff Huxtable and those numerous references to Black History during The Cosby Show era look like a Black Panther). The rapper entertained, and, in many cases such as ‘real’ Gangsta Rap and dope-ass Conscious Rap like Poor Righteous Teachers, KRS-One, Public Enemy and BDP (Boogie Down Productions), informed us of sociopolitical and socioeconomical deficiencies within our nation’s fabric. But it didn’t raise or rear us. The Black men we could touch, feel, see, and converse with did.
Proverbs 23:24 (NIV) states, “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.” Is that not what all fathers want in their sons—and even daughters? We want to cultivate humans that maintain a wisdom that aids and assists them in navigating carefully and safely through the tumultuous pitfalls of life. We want them to digest words of wisdom and integrity and love and humanity that allow them to leave the world a better place than when they arrived in it. But, the question is ‘Does the idolization or the creation of rappers as role models and father-figures and fathers hurt our young Black men?’ I guess it all depends on what rapper it is that squats more often in their IPod or PC or MP3 playlist.
Now, in no way am I questioning the artistic talents and expressions of your prototypical stereotypes of Black Hip Hop artists (i.e. Gucci Mane, Lil’ Boosie, Meek Mill, Yo Gotti, Lil’ Wayne, or Drake or the young yet washed-up Soulja Boy), but I am questioning their messages of misogyny, gratuitous vulgarity, unwarranted tomfoolery, and their rhetorical/lyrical shucking and caricature-like jiving that posits African American Millennials as carefree idiots that endorse criminality for profit (i.e. drug trade, pimping, prostitution), but I am questioning their societal contribution and ethnospecific responsibility.
On the contrary, there is Wise Intelligent (Poor Righteous Teachers), Mos Def, Talib Kweili, Nas, Scarface, Jay-Z, Kanye (on a good day), Common(sense), and numerous other Black male rappers that I wouldn’t have a problem “kickin’ knowledge” or “spittin’ science” to my only son. Who knows? I would maybe even let them babysit him—while I’m in the other room. But being an educator for a decade now, I see too many young Black males who seem to emulate the attire, attitude, and aspirations of their favorite Hip Hop artist. The visual and psychological seem to have been coagulated with the gratuitous messages from mainstream ‘Trap Music’ or ‘Gangsta’ Rap that not only endorses but mandates the listeners’ incorporation of promiscuity, misogyny, wasteful spending, and materialistic one-upsmanship into their everyday lives.
I have had students, both current and former, who believe they are entitled to live a life of excess and irresponsibility. And they believe education or obtaining a vocation or a trade or studying or saving is frivolous and the benefits thereof are miniscule if not fictitious. The rappers that they patronize exhibit to them a life of expensive cars, international vacations, mansions, jewelry and all the accoutrements associated with American wealth. These rappers become the fathers that are basically raising them via the bars on a Rap record and the videos on 106 and Park (BET). Why should they believe that the father, if he is present in the home, or the uncle or the pastor that lives on a financial budget has better advice for their futures? And if the males in the community aren’t vested enough in mentoring of our young males, then how is a child, particularly a young boy, to know what ‘truth’ to believe? One has to be in a child’s life from the beginning to teach them how to discern fantasy from reality, good from bad, and up from down. If no father is present, then whose job is it? Yes, the mother can do it, but the child also needs a masculine or a man's perspective just as they need a feminine critique and deconstruction of the nuances of life. I am almost positive no rapper signed up for the task of raising our kids, but if the children buy their music, listen to their songs, buy into their messages, and become disciples of foolishness and return customers of commoditized Art, then don’t be upset when Rick Ross is a child’s ‘father’ and 2 Chainz is his step-daddy.