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Every generation of young people has had to endure the collective sighs and hand wringing from an older generation that decries their taste in music, clothes and their overall bad attitude.  Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D has recently entered the fray as a potential elder statesman with his recent comments about Hot 97, a New York City radio station that promotes itself as the place “Where Hip Hop Lives”.

He reacted to their June 1 Summer Jam Concert by stating,” what a sloppy fiasco (the station) has made of Hip-Hop.”  During his interview with Billboard, he went on to express his frustration with the overuse of the N-word, stating “If there was a festival and it was filled with anti-Semitic slurs… or racial slurs at anyone but black people, what do you think would happen? Why does there have to be such a double standard?”. He was also disappointed about what he felt was a lack of diversity in programming, including under-representation of other ethnic groups and local artists. His comments sparked a spirited Twitter debate about the current state of hip hop and music in general and the responsibility radio stations have to the public.

Chuck D has long been an outspoken political activist, serving as a lecturer, producer and radio host among other roles, and this was not his first time calling out the actions of those in the music industry. As a response to the popular Jay Z and Kanye West song “Ni**as in Paris he wrote on Twitter “Blackfolk are hangin on a cliff in the USA. Calling us NGR & making youth think its normal & diggin it is like pushing us off it. It pay$ well.

ChuckDChuck D is on a self-described crusade to save urban radio in the US, calling it a “Malignant cancer” that has misrepresented the face of hip-hop and “disrespected” its own African-American audiences. But is he on this mission on his own? How many others are bold enough to call out powerful players in their same industry? In addition to the casual and frequent use of the N-word, there’s also the issue of violence and misogyny promoted in much of rap music.

How much responsibility do the artists themselves have for the content of the music that often seems to pander to the lowest common denominator? And what about the other media outlets besides radio that reward the artists, such as BET and MTV?  There is a thriving community of independent artists in hip-hop, but conscious rappers don’t get a lot of radio play in the most popular radio markets in the US.  Clearly there is a media machine that profits from perpetuating certain stereotypes and promoting some types of music above others, but ultimately the public shares some of the blame for not demanding more.

Why, in the era of streaming music, where tunes from all over the world are available at our fingertips, does it seem that radio has gone in the opposite direction?  The Internet has changed the musical landscape, but radio has always been and continues to be a powerful medium and it still has the power to mobilize and inspire people, and to do harm as well as good.

Some radio stations and organizers seemed to have reached a tipping point and said enough is enough. Last year a leaked version of Lil Wayne’s Song “Karate Chop” caused an uproar with its comparison of rough sex to the racially motivated beating and murder of Emmitt Till. That same year, in “You Don’t Even Know It.”  Rick Ross rapped “Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” As a result, several radio stations pulled Little Wayne and Rick Ross completely from their rotation, and they both lost endorsements. Epic Records ultimately released Lil Wayne’s track without the controversial lyrics.

Regardless of how one feels about hip-hop today, the music has undeniable global reach, and as such, performers serve as cultural ambassadors. Hip hop culture, as it is often called – was truly a creation of the people for the people, with a focus not just on rapping but in scratching, street performing, conveying a message, lyrical battles and street art. It was a way for inner-city youth to talk about their struggles and frustrations, in an often creative, playful way. What started out as a local grassroots art form in NYC has grown into a billion dollar industry. The powers that be have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo that generates this profit. But what do the people want?