"Who the fuck is this? Paging me at 5:46 in the morning..."
- "Warning," the Notorious B.I.G.

Gentlemen, the vultures are circling. If you weren't concerned when Nas said it, trust that now, if hip-hop doesn't get its act together, its death may come soon. After the Imus debacle, there were loud calls for his removal; there were also calls for another kind of reform. After all, the lack of diversity in the newsrooms was what allowed an Imus to fester for decades unchecked. Suddenly, voices surfaced pointing out how homogeneous the mainstream media is; Media Matters, a watchdog group, even released a special report about it. Just as quickly, though, talking heads from Fox to MSNBC—as well as much of the blogosphere—were gesturing at the real reason Imus flipped his nappy wig: Hip-hop made him do it.

What's next, then? Will they "discover” that a distant relative of 50 Cent was in fact on the grassy knoll in Dallas where JFK's killer stood in '63? Will they identify Baby and Lil' Wayne as suspects in a secret plot to demolish the New Orleans levees? Evidently, the same folks who say hip-hop needs to take responsibility for Imus' attack know how to shirk that burden themselves.

It would be easy for hip-hop to play the victim. But demanding times require that we stand up and acknowledge the way we all have allowed our art to be perverted to the detriment of our community. Our tales from the streets have yielded a twisted formula: The more guns that are clapped yield more chips to be stacked, but at what cost? This is precisely why the "blame hip-hop” defense works so well:

We allow it to work without repercussions. But here's the b-side, and here's how to strike back.

While no one in their right mind will defend vulgar lyrics or videos or the degradation of black women, we're not going to fix it by making brothers the architect of the horror. In case no one noticed, the degradation of black women predates hip-hop by something like four centuries. If you have labored, as I have, in any aspect of the hip-hop game, you have most likely been guilty of or at least exposed to misogyny. There is a fine line between entertainment and exploitation, and for hip-hop the standard will continue to be scrutinized, and rightfully so.

During times of conflict and criticism, there should not be less hip-hop, there should be more. For that, we need to expand our definitions. We have to be very clear in speaking about our culture, in all of our discussions about what hip-hop is. Our music is far greater than the worst of what gets played on the radio. For every
"Go Getta” there's a "Get By.”

Long before there was mo' money and the requisite mo' problems, before there were stacks, chips or cheddar, we all simply had fun. Whether you are a world-class MC, a $150,000-per-track producer or just a loyal fan, we all have a favorite song, beat and moment. Battling and competition are the founding principles of hip-hop. Degradation and violence are virulent strains of Hip-Hop 2.0, and despite what the record companies want, it's time to upgrade the system.

Russell, Diddy, Jay-Z have all demonstrated an ability to mobilize crowds; Kanye is fearless; Latifah has grown into a renaissance woman. Hip-hop now has elder statesmen who continue to focus on the culture's power to move young people of all races to the polls. Hip-hop delivers young minds, and if we can find a way to work together, we can elect the president. There is no shame in supporting people who support you—and actively not supporting those who are hostile to your interests. It's not a conspiracy.
It's democracy.

In its 30 years, hip-hop has weathered its share of attacks. From shareholders meetings and episodes of 60 Minutes to unsolved murders and profiling by the NYPD, it has persisted. We have even faced internal battles, during which we seemed determined to take our own selves out. But for all the times we've hemorrhaged, we've never bled out. Perhaps all the years of talking about haters has finally brought them to the front door. And they come with a taste for blood, a demand for change, rage in their eyes and a noose in their hands. You still sleeping?

As featured in the July/August 2007 issue of KING Magazine, on newsstands now!