Watch and Learn
BET is 27-years-old, which makes the most-dominant network targeting African-Americans, all grown-up. Yet, critics would say the programming still has the mind of a child, or rather, the children in mind. But tonight, BET is hoping that perception will change with the debut of a three-part special, Hip-Hop Vs. America. The show is a lively discussion, hosted by BET personalities Jeff Johnson and ToureÂ´, on the state of hip-hop within its own birthplace. Featuring a wide-range of panelists, that include everyone from Dr. Michael Eric-Dyson to Nelly, Hip-Hop Vs. America is just the kind of shot in the arm BET needs to give to not only itself but to the hip-hop community at large.
Jeff Johnson took the time to discuss what he feels is important about the show, why the artists are just as important to the discussion as the intellectuals, and why it's just as important to talk the talk as it is to walk the walk.
KING-MAG.com: How will Hip-Hop Vs America be different from all the other discussions people have seen or attended about the so-called problem with hip-hop?
Jeff Johnson: I think that it's multi-generational, and it makes sure it brings people in from all kinds of disciplines. So you don't just have a group of hip-hop artist on there, but you also don't just have a bunch of academics. So the mix, I think makes it great. If we could do it all over again, I don't know what I would do different. If we had more time, it would've been great to have audience interaction, but we spent time getting questions from regular folks.
In my opinion, this is one of the most significant shows BET has produced in a long time, and in an ideal world, it will be one of it's highest rated, but what are your hopes for the show?
My first hope is that people will tune in who normally may not watch the network. I think there's some space here for some older people who question hip-hop and who are even critical of hip-hop, but have never engaged in this kind of discussion. I hope young people tune in to see that there are people who are not only willing to defend hip-hop, but also are a part of hip-hop, they want to see hip-hop held accountable, so it's not this one-sided kind of discussion, and I think those like Chuck D and MC Lyte are great for that. But all in all, I hope that this is the model for the kind of television that we can do around a wide-range of issues that have nothing to do with hip-hop.
Considering the range of panelists featured in the show, there is sure to be people who take issue with certain people who were absent. Were there any people in the hip-hop community you had hoped would attend and did not?
That question is a double-edged sword because to say that either way does a disservice to the panelists that were there. Let's take Russell Simmons for instance. I think Russell could've added a great deal of perspective to the discussion, but the problem is, every time we have a discussion, we pretend like Russell's gotta be there.
When Oprah did her special on hip-hop, Common was the lone MC on the panel. Hip-Hop Versus America has actually taken a different route and gone with artists that some would deem "less safeâ€ was that deliberate?
I think it's important to mention that this event took place the day after the BET Awards, so tons of artists who were invited. The Commons, the Kanyes, the others, were invited, so it's not as if everybody that was there were the only people invited. I think they were the ones who were willing to be there, they were the ones that were willing to contribute, and they were the ones that had time in their schedule to do so. If there was a certain demographic that wasn't better represented of us not wanting them there, it's just a reflection of the reality that putting together that many people in one place at one time, is no joke.
What about artists like Mike Jones and T.I.? Sure they're popular, but some would say having them on this sort of panel is just some sort of gimmick.
Let's be straight up, I'm not mad at the hook. At the end of the day, nobody knocks down the door to come to a broccoli dinner. You gotta put some hot sauce on that joint or some chicken on the side of the plate to come eat the broccoli, and if the artists are the chicken or the artists are the hot sauce, then so be it. What I love to see is when people expect the artists to be the hot sauce, and they actually are the broccoli.
Were any of these artists on the panel surprise you?
It wasn't a surprise to me that Nelly was smart. What was a surprise to me was how well he was able to battle those who would attempt to just straight up come against hip-hop without getting angry, and just being focused and poignant.
Are we doing too much talking and not enough walking? Instead of having a show that talks about this problem, why don't we just change our programming to air more shows that don't contribute to the problem?
There are a lot of people that won't have these discussions without the panel discussions taking place. There are people who don't have a certain level of insight. They gain a level of insight from these panel discussions. It's not even a necessary evil, if it's a part of the formula that leads to action. It's only an evil if it becomes a part of the sum total of what it is we're engaged in. It can help lead people to organizations they have never heard of or resources that they've never heard of that somebody brings up. I think that is the role it plays within the broader solution.
But these are discussions we've had for a while. Do you think BET has come to this problem late in the game?
I think we're right on time from the stand point of everybody else has had an opportunity to say what they wanted to say. You know, Oprah who's not hip-hop, got to talk about hip-hop, we allowed Imus to be too much of the conversation, when in many cases he was as much of a pawn in this as anyone else. So I think that now is the perfect time for hip-hop to have its own discussion, and I think its perfect that BET is part of that discussion, because whether people support BET or don't support BET, BET is as much of a part of the hip-hop community as anybody else. The real question is do people allow this to further the catalyst to have discussion off air? That's what's going to really matter.