The challenges of hip-hop and black radio in parenting

Jan 09, 2012

What do you do when your 7 year old begins parroting offensive hip-hop lyrics? What about when their favorite hip-hop radio station regularly runs ads for the local strip joint? Ask Abdul Ali and Natalie Hopkinson. They both recently wrote articles touching on how hip-hop has presented challenges in their parenting recently, and it affects the black community.

Join Abdul and Natalie as they discuss conflicts as parents as it relates to not only hip hop, but also the lower standards in how hip hop and other black pop is broadcast.

Ask questions, give your opinion, and share your stories now.

- Farewell black radio
- Parenting in the hip-hop age of Lil Wayne, wife beaters, domestic violence and misogyny

Good afternoon, everyone. Really excited to be here with Natalie.

I have really appreciated for all the Tweets, feedback and questions about Black Radio. I'm ready to hear your thoughts about black radio, hip-hop, parenting, etc.. And of course I want to hear what you think of the name of hip-hop's newest royalty Blue Ivy Carter!!

We did not have cable, fios, direct tv for most of our child's life. No cable for 15 years! We didn't listen to the radio stations that had that type of music disrespectful, rude, racist sexist music. . Brittany Spears rise as a Disney star, her adult escapades, etc., were not part of our child's life. Funny how if you don't include it in your life the exposure your child has to it is a learning experience for parent and child. Fast forward to college life. Does she listen to hip-hop? Yes. Is she a big old school fan? Yes. Actually limiting her exposure to the negative aspects gave us the opportunity to expose her to other positive experiences. She is appalled that other African American students don't know Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, A. Phillip Randolph, and other notable and famous African Americans. In the Washington DC area there are too many positive FREE venues to reveal to all children. When I was little the word was "Turn off the boob tube." and "It's 10 PM do you know where your child is?"

You are better than me! I think its important to engage to challenge what's on the airwaves because not every kid has  great parents like you. I remember the wonderful poet Sarah Jones was fined by the FCC for a piece that satirizes all of this. Where were they while there are ads for the strip club on the radio???

I realize that the "Stadium" commercial was the event that sparked your banning black radio in the home, but is the *only reason why? If PGC were to take those commercials off would you allow your kids to listen again?

The Stadium was the last straw. But the current rotation is nothing but stripper music. I would love to come back to PGC. I just need them to clean it up for good....

Is it really hip hop that's the problem or the fact that parents are not instilling in their children the skills to discern what's real or not, what's positive for them or not, what's worth listening to or not? Do we really need to BLOCK children from listening to offensive and exploitative hip hop, or just teach them how to discriminate between the good and the bad?

this is a great point. As I mentioned in my other answer, I agree. It is part of the reason I don't completely tune out. I think we can do both teaching criticial thinking and media literacy, AND have some basic standards for decency on public airwayves.

I am the white adoptive mother of a black 8 year old boy. He loves music and is very musically talented. He loves listening to hip hop. I have always encouraged his love of music, and his love of hip hop in particular. He listens to songs on the radio and youtube. I worry about the lyrics, in particular the very explicit sexual references. I worry about the fact that the first things he hears and learns about sex are things like Rihanna singing: Can you get it up, Is you big enough. He hears these things before he has learned about sex in any other way. I usually answer his questions as honestly as I can, but when he asks me what Rihanna means (or similar questions) I say I am not sure. I want him to learn about sex in a more 'wholesome' (for lack of a better term) way first, but don't want to rush discussions about the particulars of sex either. What are your thoughts about this?

My initial thought is that you will have to be in the driver's seat to expose your son to "wholesome" conversations about sex. Sorry to say, but you may not find it in Hip Hop. It's far too tied to corporate interests. I'd like to also point out that you share with your son that "Hip Hop" is only a slice of our culture not all of it. It's easy for young people to forget that. My daughter adores the Cosby Show, which is far more wholesome than today's Hip Hop. But at the same time not totally representative of the African American experience.

Mr. Ali and Dr. Hopkinson, thank you for raising the issue of what influence local radio and music can have on kids. As an occasional WKYS listener, it bothers me that the station actively reaches out to middle school and high school listeners with prize packs in the one hand while promoting so many questionable songs in those time slots with the other. However, the "solution" of allowing kids to listen to white/mainstream pop stations is no solution at all. While the dearth of rock on pop radio has made it harder for Nickelback and their ilk to get an audience for their brand of misogyny, LMFAO's electronic-assisted lyrics are disgusting. Katy Perry treats drunken exploits and threeesomes like normative behavior. And those "unthreatening" boys in Hot Chelle Rae are demanding that girls take their clothes off at their party. Coarse lyrics are not limited to one or two radio formats (and never really were). I think Mr. Ali's method of talking about lyrics when he knows that his daughter has heard them is the only possible solution, because parents can only limit so much exposure.

Thanks so much for your comment. Sometimes it's easy to forget that sex and sexism is being commodified at served up to all of our children over the airwaves. But what's different, I think, for young black boys and girls is that we're not allowed to step outside of that narrative of hypersexualized beings like other groups can. It's not a contradiction for a young white girl to be an A-student and like Brittany Spears. But it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about children of color and "racy" music.

No doubt, white pop stations are crass too. But they don't cross the line as far or as often as the black stations. They have more sunny, optimistic songs mixed in with their "pay for sex" lyrics. That's in Chris Brown's latest song. I actually try to stay off the grip as much as possible. But the question is why do I have to? Aren't these public airwaves?



Why are you even letting a 7-year-old listen to hip-hop in the first place? The content of that genre of music (though I enjoy it tremendously as an adult) is too suggestive and mature for his/her developing brain and psyche. Turn off the radio, and the behavior stops! It's magic.

It stops until they get to school, go to the playground, walk outside your circle of influences...then the magic ends.

What are the solutions? I know neither of you are magicians, but what are things we can do in order to demand better? Boycott? We see how well C Delores did with that and the impact it had on our culture. Things have gotten worse. I mean let's be real, the slipping of standards is not something that is specific to black pop culture. So where do we begin, understanding that this is something in the American cultural landscpae?

I think number 1, the FCC needs to do its job and not allow strip club ads on the air. I hate to keep harping on it, but I think sometimes when you live with dysfunction so long you forget what "normal" is. 

C. Delores I hate to put my name in the same sentence with. But I did because I think some of the conversations she began were important. What kind of chance does a girl have if all she that's all she hears? As the previous commenter noted, media literacy and teaching criticial thinking skills in the schools is crucial. The radio is not the only bad actor. Without them in the picture, it is just as bad and worse online and and elsewhere. So kids need some tools to help them cope. 

I'm curious about how a 7 year old responds to your conversation with her? I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't have the convo; i'm curious how it goes over because it seems to me that 7 is young to have these sorts of pop cultural conversations

I think we don't give young people enough credit. My 7 year old is very able of making connections. Just the other day, she raised the question "Why do we sit in the back of the bus, this isn't back in the day." In my particular case, I didn't want her to think that a "wife beater" was an actual t-shirt. She needed to know this so she wouldn't continue that sexist term. Believe it or not, young people have engaging in pop culture conversations subliminally all the time, whether we're having those conversations with them or not.

a website or a book that explores these issues, particularly from a black perspective? What would you guys recommend

You should definitely check out Natalie Hopkinson's "Deconstructing Tyrone" a look at masculinity in the Hip Hop era. I think that's mostly where the problems stem from. Hip Hop is mostly the creative space of the male and that's a lot of hang up and myths about what it means to be a "real" black man. As parents we need to have these conversations with our children listening to this music.

Thanks for the plug, Abdul. My co-author Natalie Y. Moore and I did explore a lot of these issues in Deconstructing Tyrone. I'm going to think some more on some websites to suggest...There are so many out there. Progressive podcasts, webzines, etc.

How different is it than movies? Don't you just have to be present when they are at that tender age? They'll hear cuss words and such from their peers but isn't it our job to protect them from damaging "adult" content they're not ready for? It seems pretty cut and dry to me. Which means unless I'm prepared to explain what I'm singing along or liking as adult content, then I shouldn't be permitting them to listen to it on their own, and my radio station should be turning to kids stations on satellite, or community radio or R&B...anything but rap.

It's easier for me to control which movies my daughter see since it's usually her mom or I who takes her to the theater. I don't take her to see rated R movies. Music seems more ubiquitious than movies. It's everywhere, cars driving through the block, television, radio, etc.

Aside from the question of a seven year old suddenly singing offensive lyrics in public, isn't there another disscussion that needs to take place between the parent and child? Does the seven year old understand what the offensive lyrics mean? Further, since music mimics life, when is it time to explain some of the facts of how people life that are reflected in the songs the young people hear?

I think you raise a good point. I'm constantly contextualizing the images and lyrics that my daughter is exposed to. Pointing out the less glamorous aspects so that she knows nothing is as it appears in these commercial fictions of "reality".

i usually just pray my kids don't understand what they are singing. I know that I didn't when I was their age...But these kids are so smart. I don't know...

Natalie, don't know about you, but the overwhelming majority of tweets and comments that I've gotten from my article were from women/mothers/and self-described feminists. It was a tad disheartening that only one dude responded to my article. Why do you think this is? Do you think some of us guys are still having issues with being critical of hip hop given that it's mostly a male-dominated popular form?

Abdul: Not sure about that. My husband was the main one shaking his head at the Stadium commercial....And like I said, we are not prudes or anti strippers or hip-hop. Bottom line we all came from a woman, and many of us have daughters. This isn't a male or female issue. It affects all of us. Maybe it's because so much of the hostility is directed at women you are hearing more from women? Does anyone else out there have any ideas?

Natalie: you're right that we all come from women and that this isn't a male or female thing. That said, I find it interesting that men are largely silent on an opportunity to education our sons, brothers, friends, etc., about whack counterprogressive attitudes. I think it's not sexy for guys to talk about these things. 

particularly regarding the FCC, Dr. Hopkinson. But who's going to organize that? Sharpton? And there seems to be some much apathy out there: I can see Jesse trying something like that and people just rolling their eyes. Is this also an issue of how our leadership models are broken? Who would lead such a campaign in 2012?

Paul Porter of the media think tank Industry Ears whom I quoted has been an absolute soldier on a lot of these issues for years. He has gone after a lot of folks, with some successes.

But I don't think in terms of a single figure being a savior or deliverer. The picture is so complicated, we have to fight for our kids on so many fronts it is exhausting.  But I think it starts with each of us doing our part to call people out and hold them accountable. I'm waiting for the shame or denial to kick in from WKYS or WPGC. Waiting...

I'm a mentor and I am struggling to get my kids to read more and expand themselves beyond the neighborhood they live in. I'm wondering how we can make the pivot from lecturing young people about the music they are listening to and getting them to read a book or do something more constructive?

Great point. Lectures don't usually go over too well! I like to think about it as a conversation, a dialogue about what they are hearing. I think you can do the same thing with books and other information they are consuming. I love book clubs. And my kids have sort of set up informal book clubs among their friends.

I agree, lectures can be such a drag. But, I think at a young age biographies are especially helpful. My daughter was so excited to learn about Madam CJ Walker (and the fact that her great-granddaughter lives in DC.) I think the reading and engagement should happen organically. What are your young people interested in? What burning questions do they have? Begin with that and mix it up a bit.

Ok, I get that 7 year olds are smart. Thanks. But a follow up then would be how did your daughter respond to this specific line of questions regarding the word "wife beater"; and how has she responded specifically to your conversations were her about pop culture? I'm not trying to challenge your primise, I'm just looking for specifics.

Well, to be honest, I think my daughter's initial response was to blow it off as in "it's just a song". Then I had to de-construct "wife" and "beater" and help her make the connection to domestic violence. Then I let her know that it's not cool for Lil Wayne to use this term and here's why. And I also let her know how much I love her and would never want her to think that it's okay for her to become a "beaten wife".  I think my daughter got it. Since then, I monitor what music goes on her iPod. Her mother and I have had a series of talks about this. THat's how it went down, in an nutshell.

When I was around 7 years old, my parents made every effort to protect me from watching MTV, BET, and other cable stations, watching rated R movies, and listening to music w/ adult lyrics. However, they couldn't protect me from everything. I actively sought things out and actually wish my parents would have had conversations with me about those lyrics and why I shouldn't want to be considered "sexy" at 13. I don't have any children, but I have younger cousins who are telling me that they're having unprotected sex, watching YouTube videos, and everything else. Kids have WAY too much access nowadays! As an adult, I can see how it's very uncomfortable to talk about these topics with children, but it's better than your child learning about sex from hip hop lyrics and porn...seriously.

Yes, you make a very good point. The internet has brough the "world" inside our homes. But, I believe there are parent safety precautions you can use with home computers and your children's computers. 

I believe there are a few things we can do: One, parents ought to be more hands-on in listening to what they're kids are listening to. No one says you can't prevent your kid from buying the music but I'm a fan of confronting the devil rather than retreating. Also, like everything else, Hip Hop is a marketplace where there's nutritive artists out there and lots of junk. Perhaps, educating our children on what's good and why is as important as dismissing an artist. My daughter is doing a survey of 80s hits and enjoys all kinds of music. I don't mind her staying young and listening to Disney bands and the like. I even make playlists on iTunes for my daughter and put them on her iPod. My suggestion is to make music a collaborative thing. Let them know about protest traditions, vintage Hip Hop, the good stuff so they can tell the different between Whole Foods and lesser vendors.

How did we get to this point, y'all? I'm no prude, and I understand history: going all the way back to the blues, black music has been edgy and a lil more raw and that's fine to me, frankly. But can you guys break down how we got to the point that "stripper music" is the new mainstream normal. I really am curious, from an intellectual perspective, what y'all think

Honestly, I think we're seeing capitalism at its most nefarious. Black music--paritcularly--the Blues and Jazz, had at its roots an air of scandal, loose sexual mores. This has been exploited in Hip Hop several times over to sell alchohol, cigarettes, music, McDonald's. It's a question of us not owning the narrative that tells our story. I think it's really that simple.

My husband and I (not with the kids) were at a wonderful old hole-in-the-wall restaurant in DC this weekend. And on the jukebox they had none other than Mille Jackson. Scandalous! LOl. I'm guessing all those blues women were on the airwaves back in the day. But it seemed there was some artistry there. Some wordplay, coyness, some slick to it. Now it's just pedestrian in its filth. It's lame. Artistically these folks need to step up their game. And I think what Paul Porter was saying about deregulation, and Clear Channell, etc. means there is such a huge massic monopoly in radio, they don't have to. They can keep peddling the same formulaic tripe...Put on some personalities. Do a few contest/giveaways, and they can keep collecting their checks. Pretty soon, though, I think they'll find they have no audience left...

 As a postscript to my black radio piece: We were driving into DC from a roadtrip over the break. We were tuning into the radio. My 11 year old said, "Hey, I know we are in DC because Angie Ange is on the radio!" So I'm guessing he's gone underground with it despite my ban. Just as I suspected!

Thanks so much for coming on! I actually have to pick my kids up from school. Take care everyone!

Also there's the good old-fashion boycott. The students at Spelman dis-invited Nelly to do a concert at their school on account of his offensive song where men where swimping credits cards between women's butts. Perhaps, parents and young people should similarly band together and take a stand against ridiculous songs. The equivalent of audio crack.

Thanks much for this engaging conversation. I need to get back to work. Let me know how each of you are faring with your children and communities. I'm on twitter at @abdulali_. Take care...

In This Chat
Abdul Ali
Abdul Ali, a culture writer, has featured his essays and commentaries widely including The Root, NPR's Talk of the Nation, and the Washington City Paper. His creative writing has appeared in the anthologies It's All Love edited by Marita Golden and Full Moon on K Street edited by Kim Roberts. Ali is a fellow at American University where he is currently an MFA candidate ('13) and is managing editor of the literary journal, FOLIO. You may visit his blog, Words Matter, at In 2009, Abdul Ali received an artist fellowship in Literature from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Natalie Hopkinson
Natalie Hopkinson is author of “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City” forthcoming on Duke University Press in the Fall 2012. A contributing editor of The Root magazine, she teaches journalism at Georgetown University and directs the Future of the Arts & Society project as a fellow of the Interactivity Foundation. She is the author, with Natalie Y. Moore, of Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation (2006). She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland-College Park and lives in Washington D.C.
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