Rappers Say Family Values Important
By Anita M. Samuels - July 9, 1992
Behind the facade of a traditional-looking four-bed-room house in Jamaica Estates. Queens, the sound of the "Christian pianist," Dino Kartsonakis, blares on an elaborate stereo system. “At home we listen to cool-out music," declares the owner, Rev. Joseph Simmons — Reverend Run of the rap group Run-DMC.
Simmons, at the breakfast counter of his black, white, and red art-deco-style kitchen is trying to get his 5-year-old son, Jo-Jo, to stop gulping fruit juice. Nearby are his daughters, Vanessa, 12, and Angela, 7, and his 5-month-old son, Daniel. Jo-Jo starts to cough. “Stop drinking it so fast," Simmons admonishes him, as his wife, Justine, pats the child's back.
This scene is typical in many families. But in a society that often perceives rap songs as the stealth missiles of smut and rap performers to be angry, misogynistic, and perhaps even criminal, such a family portrait would not sell records.
Which is why rap artists, perhaps more than other performers, have two distinctly different personalities: a public one and a private one.
Rap artists see themselves differently, at least when they are at home. They say society fails to realize that they, too, are trying to raise their children with “family values.” Though in public they tend to put on a tough edge, many rap stars express the same fears for their children that other parents experience.
Of a dozen rappers interviewed—among them the Notorious BIG, from Brooklyn; Hammer, based in California; and Monie Love, who lives in Secaucus. NJ—most said they exercise what they see as their parental right to screen what their children see and hear. Often, that means their children do not see their own videos or hear their music.
Two who consider themselves hard-core rappers—Notorious B.I.G. who is awaiting trial on assault and robbery charges; and Kool G Rap of' Phoenix, AZ—say they are struggling to leave their gangsta personae at the front door and walk through it as old-fashioned fathers, shielding their children from the life that they rap about. They argue that in rap they can call women “hoes” and “bitches” and support the slaying of police officers without affecting their own children. and say it is the responsibility of other parents to explain to their children that the world includes bad women and bad police officers.
“I would advise parents to not be lazy and expect the media to raise their kids and stop looking for a scapegoat whenever things go wrong,” said Monie Love, 26. who has a 4-year-old daughter and lives in Secaucus. N.J. She tries to keep the child away from the more profane lyrics and lewd videos. "But if something slips through the barriers and she starts asking questions, I tell her this is not for you." Love said.
Darlene Powell Hopson, a clinical psychologist and author with her husband, Derek Hopson, of the book, Different and Wonderful: Raising Black Children in a Race Conscious Society (Simon & Schuster), said parents who are also rappers often display compartmentalization, by “explaining away” or denying the negativity of rap's messages.
"They shouldn't really focus on certain types of lyrics and expect it not to affect the kids," Hopson said. "As parents we can't just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk."
This is a telling time for the world of gangsta rap, as it is attacked by politicians like Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who has called it a destroyer of the nation's social fabric. He has chastised Time Warner for its ownership of Interscope Records, which produces gangsta sap artists like Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur, who have particularly violent messages (Shakur was convicted of sexual abuse and is serving a prison term; Snoop Doggy Dogg is awaiting trial on charges that he participated in a drive-by murder.) Time Warner is trying to sell the label.
Many rap stars who have been sensitive to the issue say they do not want their children — who range in age from several months old to the early teens — to adopt their lifestyles. Like many parents, they say they want their children to go to college and have careers. And for them, rapping is not a 365-clay-a-year life style.
"I am not hip-hop 24 hours a day and I don't play my music in the house." said the Notorious B.I.G. who says he does not know who Dole is. "When I am home, I lay around, snuggle up and play games with my daughter." His wife, Faith Evans, says that the girl, who is 2, picks up "little words here and there," but adds "that's where parenting comes in." Evans does not think rap music is dangerous. “If there weren't guns and drugs there would be nothing to rap about.'' she said.
Simmons's children are limited to listening to the versions of rap music that are played on the radio, which have no profanity. “I can't have them listening to the craziest gangsta rap, it's crazy to me." he said. His own group, Run-DMC, is known for its relatively innocuous rap lyrics.
KRS-One, who weaves mini-lessons about black history into his songs, and MC Shan, a veteran known for his braggadocio, said they allow their children to hear and see all types of rap performers as long as they are followed by explanations from the parents.
Hurricane, a rapper who lives in Atlanta and is the disk jockey for the Beastie Boys, said he explains to his four children, the oldest of whom is 10, that what they are hearing is just a record, or a video, that it doesn't mean it's actually happening. "I let them know that a camera is there and that they can't just listen to a song and go bust someone in the head."
Both he and his wife, Dawn, insist that their children follow their value system. which includes staying in school and "picking the right friends." They enforce those values with spankings, and the loss of video-game privileges. "They al-ready know, once they start disrespecting us, it's time to go," he said.
Some rap artists are taking an active stance against negative messages. A new album, "Jazzmatazz" (EMI) by the rapper Guru, recorded with other artists, addresses the issue head-on, saying in one song, "Watch What You Say," that rappers who put out songs with negative messages are "weaklings" whose words are "pointless."
Hopson thinks all rap should offer positive messages, encouraging listeners to do productive things. "Rappers should attempt to show some degree of social consciousness in their music." she said. "It's hypocritical in music to have certain attitudes perpetuated. While their own kids know what they see is not real, how do others distinguish between the two?" she asked.
KRS-One, who lives in Englewood, N.J., doesn't find the way he is raising his two sons hypocritical at all. "I show them the good and bad of society," he says. "If you just show one aspect of rap, it's damaging because they are not getting the truth, but rather a made-up version."
What about rappers' misogynistic references? How do their wives react? Faith Evans, who is married to the Notorious B.I.G., doesn't object. "Now that I'm married to him I really see what happens with groupies and women in general. I'm not offended. If the shoe fits, wear it," she said. If his daughter should ask why he does this kind of rap music, he said he would tell her, "It's just a job to me."