The hip-hop and rap music industry has long been criticized for the degrading and highly sexualized images of women it perpetuates in many of its lyrics and videos. Until recently, though, that criticism was not coming from young, African-American women, even though they are the ones most often portrayed in the music. As VOA's Maura Farrelly reports, black women and girls are starting to speak out against the misogyny in rap music and their voices are carrying.
Earlier this year, the hip-hop artist, "Nelly," was forced to cancel an appearance at Spelman College, an all-women's, historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia. Nelly had wanted to come and talk to the students about bone marrow donation, an issue he became aware of after his sister developed leukemia. However, Spelman's Student Government Association told him he couldn't come unless he was also willing to field questions about a video he recently made, in which he slides a credit card between a black woman's buttocks and sings about money and ejaculation. Perhaps not surprisingly, Nelly elected not to visit the school and Spelman's students were hailed for their actions by women around the country, including a group of ten, African-American teenagers in Boston who just six weeks earlier had launched their own protest against Nelly and other artists like him.
?Hey, y'all. What's going on? This is your girl, Melissa, holding it down at Radio LOG, on your 540 AM dial?
Radio LOG first went on the air in February. The station broadcasts out of Dorchester, a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood in Boston that has high rates of violence and teenaged pregnancy. Right now, the station has a fairly limited broadcast range of about two kilometers, but the girls running the station have an ambitious agenda and it's one that has been attracting the attention of Boston's local politicians and media leaders.
Melissa Martins, 16, is an announcer and a producer at Radio LOG. ?I want a say,? she said. ?I want my voice to be put out there and I want to emphasize the fact that it's not right how media is misrepresenting and disrespecting women.?
Three days a week, after school is out for the day, she comes to the women's center in Dorchester where the station is located and helps to put together a list of songs that will be played between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. Some of the songs are rap; some are reggae; some are soul. There's even an occasional country song in the mix. As far as genre is concerned, there really aren't any guidelines for the station, but when it comes to content, Melissa Martins says, the rules are clear. ?We're playing music that does not have [sexually] explicit lyrics, that are not degrading women or anyone, or has swear [words] or anything,? she explained.
The girls who run Radio LOG are supervised by adult volunteers at the Log School Settlement House, a neighborhood cultural and educational center that's been serving residents in Dorchester since the early 1970s. It was through the Log School that the girls were able to secure financial support from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. The Log School also arranged for reporters and announcers from some of Boston's media outlets to meet with the girls and serve as mentors, but advisor Larry Mayes is quick to emphasize that Radio LOG is still an idea that originated entirely with the girls. ?This is definitely, if you will, the weakest taking on the strongest, in terms of a whole culture out there that supports music and fashions and other things that are anti-girl in many ways,? he said.
The girls who run Radio LOG say they aren't against the entire rap music industry, just some members who have taken the industry in a negative direction. However, it isn't artists or producers or marketing agents that these girls are trying to reach when they go on the air each afternoon. Maria Xavier, 17, says they're trying to reach consumers and they have one very specific consumer in mind.
?Teenaged girls or pre-teens, because right now, some of them don't really respect themselves, and there's a lot of things going on,? she noted. ?But we're trying to bring up their self-esteem. That's why we have little things that we say to help bring up their self-esteem, like everyone has something different that they say.?
Maria Xavier says every time she's on the air, she tells her listeners to "smile and walk forward." That sort of message seems to be in line with the mandate posted on the front door to Radio LOG. All visitors are advised upon entering the studio that "positive attitudes only" are allowed.