I’ll hold my hands up and admit that at heart I’m a rock chick, however due to a fairly eclectic upbringing I can’t really pigeonhole myself into a ‘rocker’ category as I listen to anything and everything as the mood so takes me (although country music has yet to grip me in its plaid-covered claws). I cannot deny that music with a heavy bass line and pounding beat has, at times, an irresistible appeal, which is why I do enjoy a little hip-hop now and again.
There are a few hip-hop songs that will forever remain stored on my MP3 player as they are reliably good at getting my toes tapping and hips swinging, and with my recently carrying out some temporary office work I need songs with a lively beat to motivate me and keep me going otherwise I’ll turn to coffee for energy, and coffee turns me into a hyperactive monster that no-one can handle, therefore I’m always looking to add to my collection of favourites. Which is why when I heard the heavy bass of the Riding’ (more commonly known as Ridin’ Dirty) song by Chamillionaire (real name Hakeem Seriki) blasting out of a car as it drove past, I wanted to hear more: I downloaded the song (legally), uploaded to my MP3 player and put it into one of my MP3 playlists.
Now I freely admit that I’m no longer ‘down with the kids’ because I don’t stay on top of the music that’s circulating in the charts, instead choosing to listen to what I like when I like it, and therefore this whole complaint of mine is about 10-years too late as Ridin’ Dirty song was released as a single in 2006 and featured on Chamillionaires 2005 album, The Sound of Revenge. But I’ve only just got around to properly listening to it, so it’s all new to me.
Over the course of a week I enjoyed the soothing tones of N*E*R*D, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins, Kelis, Jay-Z, House of Pain, Kanye and so on, all helping to get me through the working day. Ridin’ Dirty was listened to many, many times and I got the chance to listen to the lyrics in more detail.
For me, the catchy bass line suddenly wasn’t so appealing and the song became a hypocritical mess putting out a mixed message. It seems to focus on Chamillionaire’s complaint that he as a rapper, hip-hop artist and young black man, was being racially profiled by the police who were keen to catch him ‘riding dirty’ with drugs or weapons in his car. He seemed to be understandably angry about the stereotype that black people driving cars with music loudly playing will almost definitely be carrying illegal substances and/or guns around with them.
I can sympathise with Chamillionaire’s feelings to some extent as, back in the UK, a young black friend of mine works for Mercedes, and has a great job package whereby each time a new car rolls off the line he has the option of upgrading his company car; therefore this young black man, who just so happens to have what would stereotypically be considered to be a young black man’s taste in music, would be driving around the city with hip-hop, rap or R&B music playing in a very, very, very expensive car.
He deliberately drove safely, refused to drink and drive, and closely followed the laws of the road as he could not afford any points or fines on his driving licence as it would ultimately affect his job. Out of interest, he made a note of each time he was pulled over by the police, and eventually shared his results with us over dinner. It turned out that he was being pulled over a ridiculously high amount of times monthly: each time being asked to present his car and drivers paperwork, and at no time was he told that he had been pulled over for anything specific – so no traffic violations, no speeding, no dangerous driving. It would appear that the police found something suspicious about a young black man driving a car that, to all intents and purposes and without knowing his job situation, should be right out of his price range by their estimation, and therefore they suspected some sort of wrongdoing.
In interviews, Chamillionaire justifies his song by saying that, “…it ain’t about everybody, just the cops who try to catch you ridin’ dirty…somebody had to speak on it. There are cops who be racially profiling. They’re acting like (racial profiling) is new. Once somebody starts exposing it to the mainstream, they start complaining.” I believe that he has a valid point as racial profiling unfortunately does occur, and some groups of people – ethnic or otherwise – may feel that attention is directed towards them more than others.
However, my problem is that although Chamillionaire complains about it existing, he doesn’t personally do anything to avoid racial profiling: in his music video he dresses himself in what would be considered by others to be hip-hop gansta’ clothes, and he contradicts his big profound message by allowing his guest rapper, Krayzie Bone, to sing about not being able to drive too well because he’s been both drinking and smoking drugs; that he’s keen to get home before the police realise he’s driving under the influence; that he’s driving the aforementioned vehicle with loud music at 100 mph while he smokes a weed blunt and simultaneously rolls himself another one, all the while being forced to take the back streets to avoid drawing suspicion to himself and his vehicle. Now stop me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t all this completely fit the racial profile that he’s claims the police are pigeonholing him into?
Then they ironically state that they have “…no regards for the law we dodge em like f*** em all…” and Chamillionaire later sings, “This a message to the laws tellin’ them WE HATE YOU.“
To me, the song is no longer about racial profiling. His complaint that just because he fits a certain stereotype the police are wasting energy trying to catch him riding dirty, energy that could be better spent elsewhere focusing on true crime, is an empty one; instead he and his buddies are bragging about being antisocial thugs, driving under the influence at high speeds with a you-can’t-touch-me attitude, and complaining that if only the police would leave them alone they would be free to continue being antisocial thugs. Personally I’m very much in support of The Law in this instance as someone driving in the above condition should not be behind a wheel.
Chamillionaire is crying wolf and shouting about racial profiling, which in itself is a legitimate and big civil rights issue, just so that he and his friends can get away with dangerous activities that no-one should be free to get away with. He and his friends in the song admit that they are driving dangerously, under the influence of alcohol and drugs and that they know they’re doing wrong as they’re taking back-roads to avoid notice, however they then complain about the police targeting them because they are black and start waving around the racial profiling card.
It just make no sense, and Riding’ Dirty comes across as ridiculously hypocritical.
While hip-hop music has the power to portray artists, their communities and their music in a deep, profound way that rises above common stereotypes and misconceptions, sadly hip-hop has become synonymous with a certain way of life and is guilty of portraying a negative image of the black community.
Rappers and hip-hop artists for the most part refer to women negatively, as something to be used and nothing more than a commodity; they frequently reference their valuable jewellery and diamonds; the rap about the huge amount of drugs and alcohol consumed; they show off concerning the sheer volume of impressive guns that they own and keep upon their person; and boast how while carrying out all the above they cleverly managing to evade the law; they sing about their big cars and huge houses, the expensive drinks they enjoy, the people who follow them because of their money, success and luxurious lifestyle, the women who flock to them and so on.
The problem is, it’s become acceptable for hip-hop and rap artists to depict themselves as pimps and drug dealers, to promote the lifestyle that they enjoy and to empower themselves by prolifically using ‘N’ word when referring to each other – which admittedly can help to take the sting out of the word as what better way to remove the strength of a negative word than by embracing it, giving it your own meaning and using it freely – but dare someone outside the music community refer to rappers as thugs, pimps or drug dealers – the very lifestyle that they for the most part boast about living – or dare someone in law enforcement take them to task for the drugs and guns part of their lifestyle, then suddenly it’s racial profiling.
Hip-hop artists and rappers need to take more responsibility for the message they communicate to others, both to those within their community as well as those outside of it, as these are people who view it as something appealing due to the constant references to wealth, power, success and sex which are a heady, potent combination. Artists need to reassess how they themselves come across to others, whether they are promoting the sort of lifestyle that could lure a young, impressionable person away from a straighter path, and whether or not they in any way are supporting or living up to negative stereotypes: if they are guilty of continuing the sad spiral of negativity and hate then they don’t really have the right to claim racial profiling or to complain that they are being viewed or treated in a certain way.
Ultimately, the music industry needs to stop commercialising hip-hop and stop focusing on profit, instead using its power to promote positive social and cultural messages. And pigs might fly. Although there are organisations and groups (like H2A, HSAN, Hip Hop Congress and so on) who try to promote the power of hip-hop as a force for positive change, and some artists actively focus on messages about political, social or economic issues, sadly the music industry doesn’t give them a lot of attention as people are drawn to mainstream hip-hop with heavy radio play because of the attraction of the messages contained, as mentioned above. Fortunately, some artists like The Roots, Mos Def and Common are gathering mainstream attention which combines beautifully with their positive lyrics, and there are some are already established artists who choose to include positive messages in a scattering selection of their songs.
As much as I love the bass line on Ridin’ Dirty it really grates me to hear it as, even though clichéd content has become the inescapable norm for popular hip-hop, Chamillionaire’s complete contradiction of the very issue that he claims to be drawing attention to really, really annoys me, and for that reason it’s coming off my playlist for now. I doubt Mr Seriki/Chamillionaire will lose any sleep over my decision, but I feel better within myself which is the main thing.