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Art and life: grim projections

We should define ourselves through the arts. That’s their purpose. But what happens when art projects an ugly reality — and how do we correct it? The writer has a few suggestions, and will use two current events as examples.

1. Nourish the community … give them hip-hop beef.

Three years of friction between Royce da 5’9” and members of D12 have ignited into a full-fledged war following an exchange of disses over WJLB-FM 97.9 and WDTJ-FM 105.9. A few weeks ago, D12 went on WJLB-FM and dissed Royce. The next evening, Royce returned the favor by dissing D12 on WDTJ-FM. The war of words has since escalated beyond reason, and a lot of people run the risk of getting seriously hurt before all is said and done.

The perspective: This beef is complicated. It started three years ago as a rift between two people — Royce and D12’s Bizarre — and grew into a tree of many branches. Entire camps are now involved. Even the great Eminem is forced to sit on the periphery and watch his current (D12) and former (Royce) potnas battle it out. The crazy thing is that the root issue in this tiff is music — and perhaps jealousy (between Royce and some D12 members) over who was to be next in line for a career push from Eminem.

Before any readers rush to judgment and criticize Royce or D12 for allowing an issue to escalate that shouldn’t be so deep, consider the senselessness of the war in Iraq, and the number of issues threatening us on this side of the Atlantic that could be addressed as fervently as the Saddam question. President Bush recently requested more than $20 billion to continue the war in Iraq. Meanwhile, Detroit Public Schools honcho Dr. Kenneth Burnley announced the closure of 16 schools due to a lack of funding. See any correlation here?

The suggestion: The artists can use their beefs to do something that Bush has yet to consider. People on both sides of the hip-hop conflict have stated that they’d like to see this thing end without bloodshed. As opposed to waiting for cooler heads to prevail, how about WJLB-FM and WDTJ-FM coming together (which itself would be unprecedented) and sponsoring a charity MC battle between members of D12 and D-Elite, Royce’s crew? The rappers involved (and their armies) could agree to only strike each other verbally (from this point on, at least). Since they don’t get along, they can get it on, and battling might ease some of the tension. But the prime accomplishment will not be the peace accord struck between the two; the youth will be the biggest winners, as all proceeds would go toward the school system. All parties involved can truly represent Detroit, set an example for conflict resolution and take hip hop back to its community roots by holding education first, not altercations.

2. Make an example of Ole R-uh.

Undoubtedly, many folks were appalled at the news of R. Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse of minors, some of which was reportedly captured on video. Those allegations are now old news. But should they be?

In a society chock-full of hyper technology, sexuality and information, shock value has a shorter life span than it did, say, 10 years ago. Music buyers are extremely forgiving. That’s why Ole R-uh’s latest album Chocolate Factory is neck-and-neck with 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ atop the pop album charts.

What does this mean? Is R. Kelly absolved and forgiven or do people just separate the man from the music? Or do his actions beget huge fiscal return? The latter is downright nauseating.

The perspective: Granted, Kelly hasn’t been found guilty of anything. But y’all know how it goes. The real court is public opinion, and most who have seen “the tape” say it’s authentic, and Kelly is the star. Though Chocolate Factory is arguably his best album, his remix to the first single, “Ignition,” has spawned countless Internet jokes and parodies — and not because people think Kelly’s innocent. At least he’s honest enough to spout off about his shortcomings in said song: “It’s the remix to ignition/ Might be going to prison/ She was only 14, but she looked like 26, and/ I was on Coke and rum/ Got so drunk I got dumb/ Buffy’s on this weekend/ Me and baby girl gonna play jacks for gum/ Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, on my lap, bounce, bounce …”

If there is any justice, Kelly is in a position to be held accountable for his actions. The sick thing is that his music will remain hot. But how do we put this in perspective for more impressionable minds?

The suggestion: Treat the dude the way you would treat a suspected sex offender living in your neighborhood. You may not convict him prematurely, but you will certainly make a distinction between him and the rest of your neighbors. Frankly, this is not about being fair to Kelly’s reputation, and it’s not about music. It’s about declaring which examples are suitable for the younger, sponge-headed listeners who associate with his image. They come first.

The bottom line: I’m a liberal cat with slightly conservative views on community building. Chris Rock and I could hang. Whether we want them to or not, children grow up by watching what we do and emulating our moves. A young child who hears about grown men airing out their differences violently will not ask if it’s right or wrong. The kid will simply internalize their actions as the thing to do in a similar situation. If the same kid sees a grown man jizz on a teenager’s face, then his sense of sexuality is warped unless someone places it in context for them.

People judge us by our actions, not our intentions. We may have hearts of gold, but so do hard-boiled eggs. Where do we hold ourselves accountable?

We often hear glittery celebrities reject the notion that they are role models. Do they have a choice? It’s true, the world needs better parents. But what’s certain is that music and entertainment shape generations. What if more artists and entertainment conglomerates not only recognized that, but also took greater responsibility for it?

Sound too much like change?

Khary Kimani Turner hips and hops for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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