Early this morning, I got a call from a close friend. He had tuned into Radio One’s syndicated morning show hosted by Rickey Smiley. Smiley was on a rant explaining to his audience why he was sick and tired of the media distorting the efforts of #BlackLivesMatter. His rant was over, and then Boom! To close it out, Smiley immediately played another song that black radio celebrates filled with lyrics about drugs, sex, violence, misogyny, and making street money. The lyrics obliterated every positive thing that Smiley said. My friend said he wondered how Smiley could end a message about the media distorting images of Black people with a song that distorts images of Black people. The words “hypocritical” and “irresponsible” came to my mind.
Historically Black Radio was the one place where people of color could find positive messages. We learned to be “Black and Proud” by listening to James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, and Marvin Gaye. We understood that we needed to be productive when we heard Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sing “Wake Up Everybody.” We knew we were smart and worthy and talented when Donny Hathaway sang ” To Be Young Gifted and Black.” There are so many positive songs from that era that we don’t hear today, but I think these examples make the point. Hip-hop has a proud history of lyricists, from Public Enemy, to KRS One, and even more recently with The Roots, John Legend, and Melanie Fiona’s rendition of “Wake Up Everybody.” Conscious hip-hop is out there; unfortunately, Black Radio decides not to play it.
Consolidation ended an era of positivity almost 20 years ago. Today, Black radio for the most part is a mockery. It’s a strong signal that promotes the destruction of people of color. Black radio hosts have become minions for the corporate music industry that hijacked hip-hop and flipped it to commercial rap. Take the time to read a lyric sheet: Desiigner, Future, Rick Ross or OT Genasis, all in the spotlight, are each promoting the dark side of Black life.
I was excited that radio stations around the country stopped the music to host town halls and to discuss real life issues on live broadcasts. But, after all the conscious talk, what is the final message to the listener when Black Radio consistently plays content filled with negative messages? It can’t stop with a town hall. Black Radio needs to drive the message home with personalities and lyrics that are consistent and positive. It is time to repeat history. Black radio can actually change the narrative. Conscious content is needed out there, now more then ever. We need to hear lyrics that uplift the people.
Be bold. Be responsible. Be proud. Be Black, radio, Listen to the lyrics before you play the songs, and if necessary, find alternatives. Promote lyrics that complement our struggle. Maybe next time, Smiley will back up his positive message with some positive music.
Update: Rickey Smiley responded below to this article on Twitter. (check tweet)
Paul Porter is the Founder of Rap Rehab, Program Director of The Wire 98.5, WHPB serving Pine Hills and Orlando. Community radio launching August 1st. Like The Wire on Facebook.