Culture Watch: A Stumble Over Hip-Hop
Some say Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is going too far in trying to protect us from rappers’ lyrics.
Mike Scott says the language Ludacris uses incites violence.
It seems Lee County Republicans have a mixed relationship with hip-hop.
On one side, you’ve got U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, of Fort Myers. The freshman Congressman has made somewhat of a name for himself nationally for his impromptu Twitter reviews of popular albums (@treyradel), for frequent mentions of the Biggie-Tupac feud and for swapping rap lyrics with fellow Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio.
And on the other side, there’s Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, who publicly called out Florida Gulf Coast University President Wilson Bradshaw this summer for allowing students to select rappers Ludacris and Kendrick Lamar for a concert that was to be held on Nov. 24 at JetBlue Park. (The concert is still on, but now it’s at Germain Arena and Lamar is off the bill.)
It seems Scott has a problem with the number of times Luda drops the N-bomb in his lyrics. In an email to Bradshaw, who is black, Scott called the racial epithet “perhaps, if not absolutely, the most corrosive, divisive, hurtful, painful word that anybody can use in our vocabulary.”
And depending on its usage, Scott has a point. But what Scott doesn’t note is that in this situation, like most every other, context is king. After his email exchange with Bradshaw was written about in local newspapers, Scott told The Naples Daily News that he asked Bradshaw to “explain how Paula Deen uses the word 30 years ago and gets nationally excoriated and these people use the word every single day, every other word out their mouth in every song and we are going to welcome them to a county park with the endorsement of FGCU.”
I’ll just let it sink in for a minute that an adult doesn’t know the difference between an older white Southern woman and a younger African-American Southern man using that word.
“We would hope that in 50 years, that the ‘n-word’ won’t cause the same feelings when a white person uses it,” says James Muwakkil, president of the Lee County NAACP chapter. “But right now it still causes hurt. But when a black person says it, there is an intimacy with the word that they understand.”
Muwakkil says he agrees with Scott that racist and misogynistic language has no place being used by people of any race or ethnicity. But he thinks Scott calling out Bradshaw over a decision made by students is a slap in the face to black people in the community. “It’s unbecoming of an elected official,” Muwakkil says of Scott’s public denunciation of the event. “It’s unbecoming of someone wearing that badge.”
Scott’s broader point is that the language and imagery of hip-hop promote a culture of drug abuse and sales and violence, especially toward women. But he needs to consider which came first—the violence, drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the African-American community or the music that describes and, yes, occasionally glorifies that world.
Similar charges have been levied at every form of secular music since Liszt, if not earlier. Yet, Scott makes a point to mention to Bradshaw that he’ll be much more concerned about the activities surrounding a hip-hop concert than a “Carrie Underwood concert.” Have violence, substance abuse and other criminal activities not long been part of the country music vernacular?
What would his level of concern be if Jimmy Buffett were the featured performer? After all, he encourages his fans to consume incredible quantities of alcohol in his songs. Presumably, they aren’t all calling a cab to get home. (Not-so-fun fact: Nearly as many people died in 2010 from drunken driving collisions—10,228—as from firearm injuries—11,078.)
Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker says he does think hip-hop concerts warrant extra scrutiny from law enforcement. But it’s not the content of the music itself that is the issue; it’s the fringe elements of society that might identify with it.
“I think the culture of hip-hop appeals to people who are involved with (gang activity) in their personal life,” he says. And because of that, the possibility for an incident that could harm a large number of people is greater, he says. It would be the same if it were a metal group that had a large following among white-supremacists.
Baker admits that some of the issue is optics. While a concertgoer is just as likely to kill someone by driving home intoxicated as by using a firearm, “we see those kind of things happen every day.” But violence, especially gang-related acts, at a concert would draw a lot more public attention.
Muwakkil disputes that argument, saying that it’s all just thinking in the hypothetical. “We haven’t seen these incidents at other concerts involving the university,” he says.
To his point, in April 2012, FGCU students hosted rapper Wiz Khalifa at Germain Arena without serious incident. Khalifa’s lyrics are just as suggestive of drug use, if not more so, and also use the language to which Scott objected. There wasn’t much public outcry or concern over that show. Other previous Eaglepalooza musical guests have included rappers Young Joc, Busta Rhymes and Pitbull.
Local history suggests the concert will go off without much in the way of issues. A few minors will get busted with alcohol, a few people for drug possession. Basically what you would see at any concert, well, ever.
Scott’s job is to police offenses such as those throughout Lee County. It’s not his job to police Constitutionally protected speech, especially when it’s as delicate as this.
Must-See of the Month
Naples International Film Festival, Nov. 7-10
It seems like only yesterday that three local guys started the Naples International Film Festival by hosting weekly screenings in a now-defunct art gallery in Tin City.
A lot has changed since then. The original founders are no longer involved, but their baby has gotten its feet firmly planted is now looking to make some noise. No one will be confusing it with Cannes, Sundance or Toronto just yet, but there’s little reason not to believe that NIFF can be a high-quality second-tier festival in the years to come.
This year’s festival kicks off with Hank & Asha, a long-distance love story for the Internet age that won audience awards at Slamdance and the Portland International Film Festival as well as first prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
“Hank & Asha charmed us from the first frame. It’s a true independent film, made by a husband-and-wife team, with wonderful acting and a thoughtful, original take on the romantic comedy,” says Ellen Goldberg, NIFF’s program director.
The biggest-named films in the festival are special screenings of likely Oscar contenders August: Osage County, the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play-turned-film; the Idris Elba-starring Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; and One Chance, a true-life story of a shopkeeper-turned-opera-singer who wins Britain’s Got Talent.
Make sure to carve out some time to head to Silverspot at Mercato to catch some of the fun, quirky films you likely won’t get a chance to see in theaters otherwise.