Audience Takes Issue With Hip-Hop Mogul Russell Simmons

Tell Me More host Michel Martin and producer Lee Hill, the program's "digital media guy," comb through listener feedback to conversations heard throughout the week and offer important news updates. This week they sound off about Martin's commentary about a controversial Pepsi ad aired during the Super Bowl. Also, one listener takes issue with the program's recent interview with business and hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons. Plus, former guest and R&B crooner El DeBarge tells fans he's entering rehab.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get to hear from you, our listeners.

Lee Hill, our digital media guy, is here with me, as he is most Fridays. Hey, Lee, happy Friday, what's up?

LEE HILL: Hey, Michel. Well, the blogosphere is still buzzing about that controversial Super Bowl ad for Pepsi Max. I'm talking about the one that features an African-American couple. The woman gets physically rough with her man as she tries to control his eating. And Michel, on your Valentine's Day commentary, here is what you had to say.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

MARTIN: I guess I just have to conclude that this is what Pepsi thinks of black people. They - we - are people who just can't keep their hands to themselves. So please don't be shocked if I just manage to keep my hands to myself when I pass that aisle in the grocery store.

HILL: Now, lots of people had lots to say about the ad. And on our website people responded with whether they thought the ad was funny and whether they agreed that it was laced with racial undertones.

And Michel, I'll read a post here from Matthew. He writes: What bothered me even more about that commercial was not just the domestic violence, but that during the commercial I was the only one in the room who wasn't laughing, and that the majority of the people in the room were African-American and were mainly middle and working class. It's bad enough when Madison Avenue feeds us this garbage. It's worse when we spoon feed ourselves.

MARTIN: Thanks, Matthew.

Lee, we also received some feedback on the conversation we aired this week with business and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. I asked him to address criticism that too much of rap music is misogynistic and degrades women. And this is what he had to say.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. RUSSELL SIMMONS (Music Producer): Rappers are far less sexist than their parents. I think they're far less homophobic than their parents. They're far less racist, certainly, and they're less gangster than their government. I don't know what you want the poets to say. You know, they don't have to use language - semantics is not a question for me. It's intention.

MARTIN: Well, that answer did not cut it for many of our listeners. And many people thought I let him off the hook too easily. Lindsey(ph) posted this to our online forum and here's a language alert: Some of the language in this post is probably not appropriate for all listeners. So here's what she has to say.

I was really taken aback by Russell Simmons's complete unwillingness to examine how the use of bitches and ho's language in rap music and hip-hop may have real world effects on real women and real male/female relationships. This was especially unbelievable in light of his self-congratulatory language regarding his involvement in social and political causes and the way he outlines his own journey toward mental stillness, peace and sweetness.

Thank you, Lindsey.

And I take the criticism from those who didn't feel that I pressed him hard enough. I take your point. Anyway, Lee, what else?

HILL: Well, we have an update on a long and complicated legal battle. We first reported on this two years ago when the people living in Ecuador's rain forest filed an environmental lawsuit against the oil giant. The suit accused the oil company Texaco, which was then purchased by Chevron, of failing to clean up billions of gallons of toxic waste produced during its involvement in oil production in Ecuador.

Well, this week a judge there ordered Chevron to pay $8.6 billion to the plaintiffs. It's being reported as one of the largest environmental judgments ever. Chevron has already filed an appeal.

And, Michel, in other news, legendary R&B singer El DeBarge has entered a drug rehabilitation center. Michel, it wasn't too long ago, just last December, in fact, that we talked to him about his musical comeback. But he also talked to us about his struggle with a 22-year-old drug addiction and how it landed him in prison.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. EL DEBARGE (Musician): Before I even got locked up in the California state penitentiary, I had already been devastated from the drug addiction. I'd already been devastated because of what the drugs had done to me mentally, emotionally, psychologically. That was the real prison.

HILL: And this week, El DeBarge released a statement. It reads, in part: I hate to disappoint my fans, but it is necessary for me to take the time to work on me so that I may continue to share my music and my story with everyone.

And, Michel, I know we're wishing him all the best. I'm a huge fan.

MARTIN: I think we all wish him the best. And certainly this is a tough fight. And I think we wish him and certainly everybody else who's struggling with these issues, we wish them the best as well. Lee, thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Once again, that's 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. You can also find us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE, NPR.

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