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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's an exaggeration to say that 15 years ago hip-hop music spoke mostly to racial and cultural pride, to political and social issues, and to nonviolence. There's always been at least a thread of violence and sexist bluster in rap. And it's also an exaggeration to say that today hip-hop just focuses on sex, violence, putdowns and materialism, but clearly something has changed.

To find out what, filmmaker Byron Hurt decided to focus on the men who make the music and the way that hip-hop defines and describes the male as a player, as hyper aggressive, as dominant. And in interviews with some of the biggest names in the business, Hurt asks why so many rap lyrics include sexual and homophonic slurs, about the celebration of violence, and bling.

Later on in the program, Calvin Trillin tries out the car that parallel parks itself. But first, the changing face of hip-hop. If you love the music, how do you deal with the contradictions? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Byron Hurt's documentary "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes" premiers tonight on PBS as part of the "Independent Lens" series. And Byron Hurt joins us now from station WLIR in Ronkonkoma, New York, on Long Island. Thanks very much for being on the program with us.

Mr. BYRON HURT (Director, "Beyond Beats and Rhymes"): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And you begin the film by saying that you were a fan of hip-hop, that you are a fan of hip-hop, it greatly influenced you life. But when did you start to listen to lyrics critically and why?

Mr. HURT: Well, you know, I - you know, there were - I went through several different stages, or I went through a process where I began to question, you know, rap music and hip-hop culture. Like you said, I've always been a fan, I've always sort of participated or listened to it, partied to it, danced to it, what have you. But it wasn't really until I started to learn more about race issues, number one, when I went to college and started to take a lot of African-American studies courses at Northeastern University. But then when I graduated in '93 from Northeastern University I went through a program called the Mentors and Violence Prevention Program founded by Jackson Katz, and that program is designed to educate boys and men about sexism and men's violence against women. And that really changed the way that I listened to hip-hop. I mean, you know, I started really thinking deeply about sexism and misogyny and masculine identity. I started to challenge my own ideas about, you know, manhood, what it means to be a man, how I have been socialized to be a man. And so naturally I started to question some of the lyrics that I was listening to. It became really apparent to me that there were some issues that needed to be addressed.

CONAN: And these issues came up as you were speaking with young people, going around to schools. We should say that you were a star quarterback at Northeastern University there in Boston and went to this program through, I guess, the lens of sports, which was how you were talking to people as you went around to school.

Mr. HURT: Yeah, well, the whole idea was to use the status of male athletes to reach other men, using the profile of athletes and the credibility that athletes have as men to sort of get other men to challenge men's sexism and men's behavior toward women. It's kind of like when Miller Lite started their Taste Great, you know, campaign, you know, using all these athletes, you know, to kind of get guys to drink Miller Lites. It was the same concept. Not that athletes, you know, have a bigger problem, you know, with violence against women, but that men could - athletes could be used to sort of change guys', you know, guys' ideas about what it means to be a man.

CONAN: And in those conversations with young people at high schools that you visited, they asked you and say, well, wait a minute, that's not the message I get from my music.

Mr. HURT: Yeah, well, I mean it is the message that we get from the music. I mean we can - I think through the music you sort of get a sense that these ideas are very common, you know, these are common themes that we're conditioned to accept. You know, we almost associate maleness with violence and sexism and homophobia on a certain level. At least we don't think about it critically, and that's what my job has been over the last 10 years working with boys and men and sort of trying to get guys to look at it from a different perspective. And also with this film, you know, it sort of challenged the representations of manhood in the music but also connected to the larger culture.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HURT: Yeah.

CONAN: Now you, in the course of this film, speak to a lot of the big rappers in the business: Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, and many others. How hard was it to go up to these big interviews and challenge them about, well, the moral aspects of their lyrics?

Mr. HURT: It really wasn't as hard as most people think. I mean, you know, I basically came up with a long list of people who I wanted to interview within this film. And, you know, I came up with an A list, a B list, and a C list. And then I just went down my list and made phone calls and expressed what it is that I was trying to achieve with the film and, you know, we just pounded the pavement. I had a great co-producer named Sabrina Gordon, who was also my editor and, you know, she was very helpful in helping me get a lot of these interviews. But mainly, you know, we just made ourselves visible, and we went to many of the places were hip-hop artists are - hip-hop events, you know...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HURT: Wherever we could find hip-hop artists, that's where we went. And we found them. We tracked them down.

CONAN: Well, here's an excerpt from the interview you did with the rapper Fat Joe, asking him about machismo in hip-hop.

(Soundbite of documentary "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes")

Mr. FAT JOE: It's to be hard. Everybody wants to be hard, and this is one of the things I told you, one of the flaws in like being from the hood. Like everybody wants to be hard, you know what I'm saying? And it's like that. You see people - forget Fat Joe, because you see other people just grab the mic and they transform into a whole different person. When they walking around the club, I'm wondering why we can't just walk around and smile at each other.

CONAN: And Fat Joe talking about machismo in hip-hop music there, an excerpt the new documentary "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" that premiers tonight on public television. Its writer and director, Byron Hurt, is with us from Ronkonkoma, Long Island, in New York.

And it's interesting, you're asking Fat Joe about, you know, this impression. There's a wonderful line - I'm not sure who says it - near the beginning of your film, who says because of hip-hop every black man in a situation thinks of himself as two people, one of them himself, the other the gansta' he thinks he's supposed to be.

Mr. HURT: Yeah, that was a line by Minister Conrad Tillard, Rev. Conrad Tillard, you know, who was very poignant in many of the things that he had to say in "Hip-hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes." And I think that he's right. I think that there's this duality, if you will, this duality of consciousness where guys feel very much trapped inside of a box, that they have to perform a certain kind of masculinity in order to be received or validated as a credible, a street credible rap artists, you know, or a street-credible guy, you know?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HURT: And, you know, it's that type of notion that I really wanted to try and break down in this film.

CONAN: Our guest again, Byron Hurt, writer and director of "Beyond Beats and Rhymes." If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Max. Max is calling us from Phoenix, Arizona.

MAX (Caller): Hi, Neal. How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MAX: I'd like to just sort of weigh in. I'm a, you know, underground artist. I have been doing it for some years now. And it's really - I really agree with your guest that, you know, if you look at the mainstream of course, you know, it's all violence, all misogyny, and just, you know, really bad role models and that sort of thing. But it's really sort of in the ear of the listener. Like I think people will sort of seek out and find the kind of stuff that they, you know, feel that they should emulate. And I mean if you really - there's a whole culture in hip-hop that is completely missed by MTV and the radio and everything that, you know, that people outside of hip-hop trying to get a viewpoint on.

And that from inside, it's really frustrating to be trying to do something meaningful with it, and there's so many people that are both, you know - and some of them are even well-known, but - and Mos Def, you know, is a really good example, Guru from Gangstarr. They're people who, you know, they're really masculine, they're very, you know, intimidating in a way, and at the same time they're very conscious and very socially responsible. And I think that it's important that we don't overlook that element.

CONAN: We don't necessarily hear a lot of that music, though, do we, Max?

MAX: No, and I think that what really has changed since the inception of hip-hop - when it started, it was all underground. Now it's gotten to the point where it's big business and the corporations that sponsor Clear Channel and MTV and the venues in which you hear all this violent stuff, it's what they market because they feel that that's what's going to sell and not the, you know, the -you know, showing the dark side of that...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MAX: ...kind of lifestyle. They think that that won't sell, so they're afraid to promote that.

CONAN: Now Byron Hurt, the marketing and, as Max suggests, the consolidation of the hip-hop industry, that's one of the things you address.

Mr. HURT: Yes, I think the consolidation of corporate media and the corporate control of hip-hop is actually killing the music, is actually killing hip-hop music. And I think that there are a lot of hip-hop fans like myself who are very pissed off at the direction that hip-hop is going right now. And I think more people than is widely known are upset about these images and these representations. I mean I've been showing this film all over the country, at colleges and universities and in front of, you know, local grassroots organizations and, you know, in front of, you know, local communities, and people are really starting to tire of these very narrow and limiting representations of not only black men and Latino men, but also black women. And, you know, I think the tide is turning a little bit.

But in response to the caller's comments about underground hip-hop not being sort of getting enough attention, I think he's right. I think he's absolutely right. You know, I went to the Black August concert, you know, which is held every year in August, sponsored by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and it's an incredible, incredible concert. I mean it's just - I love being there. You know, the artists that they highlight, you know, don't get a lot of airplay on MTV or BET or on mainstream radio. And it's real hip-hop, and it's good hip-hop. I mean Talib Kweli performed, the Roots performed, Dead Prez, the Juggaknots, Brand Nubian, C.L. Smooth. And, you know, it's a very political and politicized hip-hop concert.

I was at the Dave Chappell block party, you know what I mean? I was there. And, you know, it's great hip-hop, you know. And I just wish that there was much more diversity in what we see and hear on the radio and what we see and hear on mainstream music television, and we're just not getting that. And I really do believe that corporate media has sort of force-fed, you know, the hip-hop culture and American culture - inundated, you know, the culture with these very reduced images of black and Latino masculinity. And I think that, you know, we have to confront that and we have to challenge it. At the same time, I think that we also have to make connections to the larger culture and say this is not just, you know, operating in a vacuum; this has larger implications. And, you know, hip-hop is not the problem, it's just part of a larger problem.

CONAN: Let's thank Max for the call. Appreciate it, Max.

MAX: Thank you, Neal. Thanks, Byron.

Mr. HURT: Thank you.

CONAN: And we're going to take a short break. We're talking with Byron Hurt about the impact of the rap music culture on the men who listen to it and who create it. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join the conversation, or zap us an e-mail: talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about the changing face of hip-hop music and about a new documentary called "Hip-hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes." In it, filmmaker Byron Hurt asks some of the biggest names in the business why so many of their lyrics include sex and slurs and celebrate violence. Byron Hurt is with us today. He's the writer and director of "Beyond Beats and Rhymes."

Of course, you're welcome to join us. If you love hip-hop, how do you deal with its contradictions? 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's talk with Malik(ph), Malik calling us from Augusta, Georgia.

MALIK (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen.

CONAN: Afternoon.

MALIK: Thank you.

Mr. HURT: Good afternoon.

MALIK: Max sort of stole my thunder, your earlier caller. But I think in your response to him you raise an excellent point. I think this is a manifestation of a larger phenomenon in America. If you ask yourself why is wretched music so popular, I think the answer has to be is because we have wretched taste. And more specifically I think there's a taste for wretched images of black people, and I think we have to examine why that's so. It's not just about the music. I mean if it were just about the music, I mean why wouldn't we be doing documentaries about country music, which has just as many images of hyper-masculinity and criminality and violence and so forth?

CONAN: And alcoholism, but moving right along, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Get a response, Byron Hurt?

Mr. HURT: Well, I agree, and I think it's a point well taken. You know, I focus on hip-hop music because I'm emotionally connected to the music and it's the music that I grew up with. And it's also the most dominant art form of our generation, my generation and a generation older than me and slightly younger than me. So, you know, for that reason I thought it was really important to sort of deconstruct hip-hop.

But I agree with the caller. You know, and I think the fact that, you know, hip-hop music and its chief storytellers are black and Latino males, I think it makes a lot of people very uncomfortable to hear the sort of hyper-aggression and, you know, the misogyny and the homophobia that comes out of, you know, black men's mouths. But I think we should be clear that a lot of what is said, although crass and blatant and, you know, in many ways over the top and very problematic, I think it speaks to the sensibilities of a huge culture out there that condones aggression and violence, and sexism and misogyny, and homophobia and crass materialism.

CONAN: Yet you seem to suggest, Byron, that the hip-hop culture contributes to the very large number of black-on-black murders.

Mr. HURT: Well, it doesn't do anything to critically challenge it in any real, significant way. I mean I think it reinforces notions that, you know, that black men are violent, that black men are hyper-aggressive, hyper-sexual, and all these different things, which again I think feed into long-held stereotypes about black men. You know what I mean?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. HURT: So, you know, I don't know - I don't have any empirical data that says that, you know, hip-hop is contributing to or is the reason why, you know, there's so many black men who are dying. But I think I'm more concerned with the fact that this sort of hyper-aggression is so normal, that we just listen to it, we digest it, we buy it, we support it, we dance to it. And it's normal to hear, you know, 50 Cent talking about, you know, shooting somebody, you know, from, you know, another, you know, rap group. You know what I'm saying?

You know, that should not be okay and that should not be normal, even though I understand that it's competitive, rivalry and competitive - it's like - it's almost like a competitive sport in a way. But I think it's really problematic that we accept it, that we embrace it. And I just want people to think critically about these things. That's why I made the film, and I'm really glad that PBS and "Independent Lens" have supported this film, because I think it took a lot of courage on their part to air this documentary because this is a really controversial documentary. And I'm really hitting on a lot of serious issues in hip-hop, and it's a hard-hitting documentary. So I've got to give props to "Independent Lens," ITVS, and the National Black Programming Consortium for supporting me, and also the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for supporting me as well.

CONAN: Malik, thanks very much for the call.

MALIK: Thank you.

CONAN: And before we go on, I need to ask you, Byron Hurt, well and good that's it on public television tonight. Are you trying to make efforts to see that it gets perhaps broadcast by BET or MTV, a venue where you might reach a wider young black audience?

MALIK: Well, ironically, even though the film criticizes BET, BET has seen the film and they have mentioned that they would like to air the film at some point. But what I decided to do was sort of engage in a really extensive outreach campaign that started well before the broadcast, that was supported by ITVS.

It was a huge community engagement program where we went out to local communities and we showed the film. We drew in a large audience of color. I have a huge e-mail campaign trying to bring audiences of color to the PBS broadcast tonight. After the broadcast, Firelight Media is going to begin an extensive outreach campaign, you know, for nine months after the broadcast to engage audiences of color. And the Ford Foundation has funded me to do a historically black college tour with this film, you know, next semester, next fall. You know, so I'm doing the best that I can to reach out to audiences of color. I think that, you know, black people watch PBS when there's something on there for them to watch. They get on the phone, they call their friends, they e-mail each other, they text each other. So I'm hoping for a very big turnout tonight, you know, people tuning in to watch this film tonight.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, author of the book "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity." He's with us today from a studio on the Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina. Good to speak with you again.

Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (Author, "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity"): Good afternoon, Neal. How are you doing, Byron?

Mr. HURT: What up, Mark?

CONAN: And Mark is one of the people who appears in the movie. And Mark, it seemed remarkable as you look at this film how very conscious black intellectuals like yourself, and some of the other people that are cited in the movie, seem to be of these issues and how relatively unconscious a lot of the rap artists themselves are about the content of their own lyrics.

Prof. NEAL: Well, I think part of the problem is that there's this assumption that once you become, quote, unquote, "a university professor," a scholar, that somehow you're untouched by the world that's out there. And, you know, I'm 41 years old. I mean I was growing up on hip-hop music. I've been listening to hip-hop music for 30 years, you know, born and raised in the Bronx. And I think there are many of us who are doing work that intersects around issues of gender and sexuality, misogyny and homophobia within the black community. So it would almost be obvious that we would look at hip-hop, you know, critically in certain kinds of ways.

I think part of the pressure on the artists, though, is that the artists are really feeling pressure from the labels, from the radio stations, from the fact that, you know, the average rank and file artist - we're not talking about the Jay-Zs or the 50 Cents - but the average rank and file artist really does not make a lot of money. They usually - the standard deal that they sign guarantees them about seven percent of the royalties generated from any recording. Within that context, they're often paying for studio fees and production costs and a range of things. Sometimes the most money they'll see is when they get a signing bonus.

So that when the record labels are telling them that we need a hit from you, we need for you to be on regular rotation on BET or on MTV or VH1, you know, one of the Viacom channels, and they're telling them, you know, you have to - this is what's hot right now. And you're going to have to do something that is as hot as this is, and you're going to fall into this little template and do this cookie-cutter performance. And the artist in that context really does not have a lot of say over what they want to do, and I think very often they're in positions where they give up on artistic integrity simply to do what they need to do to get a record out there, to be visible, and to be able to support themselves financially...

CONAN: Yet...

Prof. NEAL: ...That's why - yeah?

CONAN: ...the film also challenges some people who are not in that position. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the film in which Byron questions Russell Simmons about the prevalent misogyny in hip-hop.

(Soundbite of documentary "Hip-hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes")

Mr. HURT: But how do you respond to the women at Spellman who are speaking up and who are challenging the images in rap music videos, where women are being sexually objectified and, you know, all of those different things, in particular...

Mr. SIMMONS: I think we have to challenge sexism as a whole, as the way it stands in the community, not the poetry that's a reflection of it.

Mr. HURT: But what are you doing personally as a political force...

Mr. SIMMONS: But I can only do as many things as God has given me great opportunity to do. I can't address every issue because I'm not - I don't have the equipment.

CONAN: Russell Simmons does not have artistic license to pursue this point?

Prof. NEAL: Well, to be quite honest, I think Mr. Simmons is being disingenuous. Mr. Simmons, who's worth more than $400 million and has argued that hip-hop has the capacity to elect governors and mayors and maybe even one day a president, clearly doesn't see that the issue of misogyny and sexism within hip-hop is a critical issue. Particularly when you consider that hip-hop - you know, Russell Simmons' empire has largely been built on him actually being one of the folks who exploited women and rappers in the context of what we see in hip-hop today.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on - by the way, Byron Hurt, good question. Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HURT: Thank you very much.

CONAN: This is Tanya, Tanya with us from Phoenix, Arizona.

TANYA (Caller): Yes, thank you for having me...

CONAN: Sure.

TANYA: ...answer my questions on I just want to know - make a statement that I can't wait to see the show today.

Mr. HURT: Thank you.

TANYA: I really think that hip-hop needs to be challenged. Even the hip-hop artists themselves know that they need to be challenged, or they feel the same way we feel. We love hip-hop, but what's being promoted today is really - it's really not progressing our minds, our children.

We know where we come from. Most of the artists know how it was before hip-hop was popular and made money. So I hope that this documentary will spark minds and get artists thinking. And I that it makes other people do other things to help us as people who love hip-hop grow.

CONAN: And I take it, Tanya, you are among those who would love hip-hop.

TANYA: I love hip-hop. I grew up on it. I grew up in the Bronx. I was six years old going to gyms, hitting it, you know, break dancing and, you know, I support it all the way. But I don't support the same problems that we've always had with money, with the promotion of money, clothes, disrespecting each other. And I think that's what hip-hop is doing now.

CONAN: There's an interesting moment in the film when Byron Hurt talks to women at a hip-hop event and says, when you hear these lyrics denigrating women, do you think it's about you. And to a woman, they all say no, no, no, that's about other women, that's not about me.

TANYA: Yeah. I think people are getting confused with this money. I think it distorts morals. I think people are getting confused because they support it and, you know, they separate themselves from what's popular and what makes money. In my opinion.

CONAN: Ok. Thanks very much.

TANYA: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call, Tanya. I wonder, Mark Anthony Neal, the way she talks about the, you know, women and hip-hop - this is, as you suggested, maybe a lot of the artists involved don't see this as an important issue.

Prof. NEAL: Oh, I think part of the thing we need to do is we need to broaden the conversation. I mean, what we're really talking about is rap music. You know, that's what we're really responding to, what has happened to rap music over the last 25 years.

Hip-hop culture is something that is much broader. And when you expand and talk about hip-hop culture around things like break dancing and turntableism and graffiti and particularly, you know, what folks call consciousness, you know, intellectual production within hip-hop, there's clear that there's a wide influence within that that's not just black, that's not just Latino, that's not just male, that's not just heterosexual.

So the fact that we can talk about the fact that there's now a generation of hip-hop feminists both male and female. I mean, Byron and I would consider ourselves male feminists. The same way I would think of someone like Joan Morgan or Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, or Gwendolyn Pough or Bakari Kitwana.

So there is an example of looking at hip-hop as a broad based thing, and women are clearly having an influence on the culture, and I think at this moment probably a unique influence. We just don't see that reflected in what's happening in terms of rap music.

CONAN: We're speaking with Mark Anthony Neal of Duke University and with Byron Hurt, writer and director of a film that debuts tonight on Public Television called "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Byron Hurt, your film is very consciously descriptive. It describes a lot of what you perceive to be problems in rap music. It is not prescriptive. It does not say what you think ought to be done.

Mr. HURT: Well, that was intentional, you know. During the editing process, you know, we were trying to figure out, you know, the best way to end the film. And so, you know, I did a lot of consultation with Stanley Nelson, who was the executive producer of the film, and my editor, Sabrina Gordon. And we decided that we wanted the audience to take ownership over, you know, what they felt was appropriate to be done and to sort of, you know, do some work.

I mean, I did a lot of work with this film, you know. There was 250 hours worth of material that we had to cut down to 60 minutes. I think the act of making the film itself was an activist act. It was what I considered something to do in order to make my own personal statement.

And I think - you know, I don't underestimate the fact that, you know, people have ideas of their own that they can put into motion. And so my goal with this film was to create something that could be used as a tool for people who are already doing great work, you know, using hip-hop as a platform, you know, to have larger conversations about race, class, and gender. So I'm just happy and proud of the fact that, you know, this film is contributing to hip-hop culture in that way.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last call in. This is Kaleel(ph). Kaleel with us from Oakland, California.

KALEEL (Caller): Hey, Neal. I hope you're (unintelligible) great topic.

CONAN: Thank you.

KALEEL: I'm hearing about a contradiction in hip-hop, and I have to disagree. There is no contradiction in hip-hop. Hip-hop is an expression of a community, and this element that we see currently has always been in our community.

However, what you have to ask yourself is why one particular element is being expressed so largely. And I would say part of the reason that is is because you have to look at who buys hip-hop. And it's not black kids or black people. When 50 Cent sells 10, 11 million albums, those are mostly middle and upper class Caucasian females, and then to a certain extent males, buying those albums.

So record companies see this and say hey, there's a guy who's going to sell 10 million albums; that's going to make us a lot of money. So this is what we need to promote if we want to have success from a business perspective with hip-hop. So they go out and they recruit these artists. So then in the black community that's what's seen as what you need to do to get on.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KALEEL: So I would say you have to look at who is really behind promoting this particular element of hip-hop and then you get to some of the actions. But as far as hip-hop being contradictory - no.

If you look at most hip-hop artists, the variety of hip-hop artists who you'll never see, who will never be on MTV, who will never be on BET, they're just like common everyday people who have an experience and a story to tell. And those people will be the people you never see. Thanks for allowing me to talk. I'll take my comment off the air.

CONAN: Ok, Kaleel. Thanks very much. And in the film, Byron Hurt, I forget who says it, but somebody says after the first 700,000 copies it's not black people buying it anymore.

Mr. HURT: That's right. That comment came out of the mouth of Jadakiss of the rap group The LOX. He's also a solo artist as well. But, I mean, Jadakiss was somebody who, you know, was very candid in his comments about, you know, how he feels about hip-hop. And, you know, I respected the fact that he brought such honesty to the documentary.

CONAN: What does that have to do with it, the audience, do you think, Mark Anthony Neal?

Prof. NEAL: Well, I think we have to be careful. You know, there's lots of data that's been out there. We've heard this report over and over again that 70 percent of the consumers of hip-hop are white kids. But of course when you sit down and talk to SoundScan - I mean, SoundScan does not, you know, look at the numbers coming in for recordings. They're not able to say which group of people are buying the recordings. But they can tell you where sales are occurring or consumption is occurring in terms of a regional basis.

So the assumption is that if, you know, sales - if there are a high amount of sales in malls in upscale neighborhoods, then obviously that must be white kids. But of course that presumes that first of all that black kids don't live in those upscale neighborhoods also. It also presumes that like, you know, poor black kids have never heard of the bus or drive a car that go out to those same malls to buy things also.

But I think the point is made that it's clear that one of the reason why hip-hop has succeeded the way it has financially and economically is because there is a significant amount of young white audiences who are now consuming hip-hop as part of popular culture and pop music in general.

CONAN: Mark Anthony Neal, thanks for your time today. We appreciate it.

Prof. NEAL: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture at Duke University, author of the "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity." Byron Hurt's film "Beyond Beats and Rhymes" debuts tonight on PBS. We thank him for his time as well.

Mr. HURT: Thank you very much. And please check out my Web site: www.Bhurt.com and myspace.com/beyondbeatsandrhymes.

CONAN: This is NPR News.

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