Critic Attacked; Ice Cube Defended

Hitsville was surprised, at a recent panel discussion on gangsta rap, to find an extreme tolerance of anti-Semitism among what was otherwise a pretty smart assemblage of hip-hop-loving youth. The scene was the usual Guild Complex Wednesday session at the HotHouse; besides a few disappointed poets (there was no open mike that night) the crowd was mostly black kids interested enough in the subject to turn up on a cold night to hear owner of the Triple XXX record store Bobby Sox, writer Rosalind Cummings, rapper Duro, and me talk. Hitsville’s relatively mild disapprobation of certain of hard-core rap’s more pungent subjects–which include vicious misogyny, insolent homophobia, and occasional racism against whites–didn’t go over that well; but while I was at pains to say how infrequent anti-Semitism actually is in rap, it was this subject that provoked the most opposition from the crowd. A cordial “Fuck you” was one audience member’s response; others went to some length to explain, rationalize, or gloss over Ice Cube’s infamous line, “You let a Jew / Break up my crew.” (The line was directed at his bandmates in N.W.A., and referred to the band’s manager; the epithet is to my knowledge the one unquestionable instance of such sentiment in a rap song by a major artist.) Defenders of the lyric argued that the word “Jew” isn’t necessarily negative and that, anyway, Cube needed it for the rhyme. At times the room erupted into general shouting; while a few people applauded Hitsville’s position, most of the room was against me. No one challenged a woman from the audience who yelled out, “Are you a Jew?”

Barring an apology, of all the possible responses to one person’s objections to another’s prejudice, “Fuck you” is probably the most dogmatically consistent. I can respect it. But “Are you a Jew?” is a bit more bizarre. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it–or something very much like it–uttered under such circumstances. When Chuck D of Public Enemy wrote a song about the to-do over his doltish anti-Semitic bandmate Professor Griff, he rapped, “So-called chosen frozen”–i.e., “The Jews got mad at me.” Last week Louis Farrakhan, in the process of disciplining a Nation of Islam nitwit who’d delivered a diatribe against Jews, nevertheless defended the remarks as “truths” and immediately went on the attack against the Anti-Defamation League.

Obviously, the problem here is that when you oppress someone–say, by making an anti-Semitic remark–it’s hardly cricket to demonize the group further when they call you on it. Everyone’s offended by anti-Semitism, not just Jews. That’s what I said at the panel. But you could make the argument that the responses I’ve cited–Farrakhan’s, Chuck D’s, the woman’s at the HotHouse–trump even traditional white racism. Even the stupidest redneck would never take refuge in logic like, “Well, you’re just offended by my remark because you’re black.” Bobby Sox and Duro, pained at the course the discussion ran, sensibly stressed that a much more important problem is guns and violence in the black community and that most criticism of rap is beside the point. Hitsville thinks so too. But who can make common cause with unrepentant bigotry?


From a recent Pollstar: “Tower Records has apparently begun a slow phase-out of the cassette tape format. The 87-store chain has reportedly reduced its inventory and orders in the format, and may discontinue them entirely by 1996.”…Unconfirmed rumors out of New York have it that Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville tops the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Critic’s Poll. If she does win, Hitsville bets Nirvana’s In Utero and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic will be close behind, but the expansion of the poll (this year a record 500 voters across the country were solicited) makes handicapping difficult….The Tribune is finally taking some steps to compete with the utter dominance of the Sun-Times’s Robert Feder in the field of broadcast reporting. The paper’s twice-a-week sports-media columnist, Steve Niditz, will soon start writing a twice-weekly general broadcasting news column as well, probably in the front section, probably in early March. As things stand now, the Trib has no place to put breaking media news: Arbitron reports get buried in the business section, other tidbits go into “Inc.,” and so forth. While the paper’s “Overnight” page of arts reviews seems a likely spot for the new column, the section has a major problem: despite its title, most home subscribers get day-old reviews. (It should probably be called “Night Before Last.”) In the meantime, free-lancer Dan Kening, who now does a weekly radio column on page two of Tempo, takes over the Friday magazine Concert Line rundown, a demanding assignment previously done with no little panache by Chris Heim. In a move unrelated to the Tribune shake-up, Heim recently scored the position of ‘BEZ music director, and she’ll still contribute features and other stuff to the Trib. No word on what’s going to replace the Tempo radio column….Speaking of the Overnight page, a small item last week about Diana Ross receiving some award sported the embarrassing headline, “Will they dance in the streets?” That was Martha and the Vandellas, kids.