In his latest and most interesting act of what I shall refer to as an “on-going masterpiece of unadulterated ignorance,” the rapper Soulja Boy wrote some lyrics that were clearly disrespectful of American troops risking their lives fighting overseas.
In his song, “Let’s Be Real,” the rapper says:
“[Bleep] the FBI and [bleep] all the Army troops/ Fighting for what? [Bleep] be your own man,”
Of course, the lyrics didn’t win Soulja Boy many new fans. There are groups calling for a boycott of his music, and also asking that he’s banned from military bases. It also led him to issue an immediate apology:
“Sometimes there are things that we feel, things that we want to express, and when we put them on paper and speak them out loud, they can come out wrong,” he said.
In fact, I think that we should hear him out:
As an artist, I let my words get the best of me. Sometimes there are things that we feel, things that we want to express, and when we put them on paper and speak them out loud, they can come out wrong. When I expressed my frustration with the US Army, not only did my words come out wrong, I was wrong to even speak them. So, I write this to give my sincerest apology to all members of the United States military services, as well as their families that were offended by my most recent lyrics.
As a young man who grew up in the post-9/11 era, I have watched our country fight two wars that seem like they are never going to end. I have seen thousands and thousands of our brave men and women get killed in battle and often times, I think for what? A lot of people in this country are struggling to make ends meet and I think a lot about what if we had never gone to war. Where would our economy be? Our schools, our after-school and work programs, our streets? I mean, damn, 48 people got shot in New York City just this past weekend … in 3 days … I’m not saying that it is just because of a bad economy, but at a certain point we have to take care of our own people.
In no way would I ever want to offend those who are protecting our freedoms … a lot of homeboys who I grew up with, a lot of people who come from the neighborhoods we live in … In no way do I want to hurt any of our honorable soldiers who put their lives at risk, regardless of how they feel about the two wars we fight in. I am just frustrated that we haven’t been able to bring you all home quick enough and my frustration got the best of me. I am deeply sorry.
I love the fact that with all of his ridiculous behavior, Soulja Boy is smart enough to have a publicist who can write statements in clear English. His peer, Bow Wow, issued a far more interesting statement after the birth of his daughter, using phrases like “With out yall i wudda been left the game. For the past 3 years i been batteling life.” Statements like these serve as clear reflections of where young Black men are headed today. I really hate having to go “Bill Cosby” here, but some would say there are a slew of non-racial reasons that we have the highest unemployment rate in the entire United States. Yes, that last statement might get me into trouble with those who think that white folks are the only reason that we choose to do some of the silly things we do, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit that some of us have bought into the recipe for our own self-destruction.
Now, we can’t quite correlate intelligence with grammatical skills, at least I can’t. I found myself on the failing end of far too many English classes during high school. But we have to take a moment of pause when we see brothers embracing ignorance in a world where the cost of ignorance is slavery, humiliation and death. Yes, the school system, modern media and American racism serve to glamorize a life of marginalization, hoop dreams and incarceration, but we also have the opportunity to decide if we are going to make ourselves into the clowns of our society.
With that said, it has been Soulja Boy’s commitment to ignorance which leads me to continuously shake my head in exasperation. It started with his statement in 2008 glorifying slave masters for bringing his ancestors to America. Then, there was the remote control, diamond-encrusted car that he bought a couple of years ago. Oh, and the car also doubles as a massive chain that he can put around his neck. Soulja Boy is clearly a living, breathing manifestation of the counter-productive, anti-intellectual behavior that has come to characterize an entire generation. We have Bob and Sheila Johnson at BET to thank for much of that.
But I’ll admit that I see potential in Soulja Boy. During his public feud with the rapper Ice-T, Soulja Boy had been accused by older artists (perhaps correctly) of helping to degrade the value of hip-hop in American society. Personally, I felt that it was a bit harsh to blame a 17-year old kid for the destruction of hip-hop. I also sought to remind folks that just a year earlier, Soulja Boy was a struggling young man trying to feed his family. After receiving his attacks from Ice-T, Soulja Boy actually defended himself quite well, and even explained that older artists should spend their time mentoring young rappers rather than chastising them.
My point is that in spite of what others may think, Soulja Boy is not dumb. However, like so many other young men in Black America, Soulja Boy has chosen deliberate buffoonery, because being an intelligent Black man has simply gone out of style. In fact, I would argue that you have to be a genius to act as ignorant as Soulja Boy does on a daily basis. This is a sad and pathetic waste of energy.
But in keeping with Soulja Boy’s request that older men supplement their criticism with sound advice, I thought I would share a few thoughts with the annoying little kid that my daughters seem to love so much. In fact, I have nightmares that I could end up becoming his father-in-law. On the night that Soulja Boy marries one of my daughters, here are a few things I would say (partially in jest):
1) Don’t say things that make white people mad. They have a lot of power, and can destroy your career. Black people might get upset, but they even forgive artists like R. Kelly, so their attention span tends to be incredibly short. Angering white folks, on the other hand, might put you in the poor house. By speaking against the troops, you are hitting a very sensitive issue, like when Michael Vick killed some puppies and a host on Fox News wanted to give him the death penalty. Also, you may have all the fans and some of the money, but like other hip-hop artists, there is some white man out there who owns you. Unfortunately, many of us so-called “powerful Black public figures” think we have independence, when the glaring reality is that we do not.
2) Go pick up a book and take on the responsibility that God has given you with your public platform. You are shaping millions of minds with your repetitive, artistically-weak, yet incredibly catchy music. If you are affecting so many minds, it is up to you make sure you are influencing them in the right way. Important issues such as mass incarceration, poverty and educational inequality are destroying Black families across America, and the last thing they want is for you to rap about bling that most Black people can’t even afford. I understand that being young creates a natural inclination toward social deviance so, use that social deviance to change the world for the better and to liberate your people from the bondage of oppression. In fact, go make up a corny song about it; it could be your next hit.
3) Stop wasting all your money on airplanes, jewelry and other silly stuff. Most rappers don’t last very long in the industry, and it’s hard to go back to Burger King after being one of the hottest artists in the world. Find a way to make better decisions and stop embarrassing yourself and your family in public. You, my brother, are becoming the new Flava Flav. That’s not cool, and it’s not even “gangsta.” It’s just stupid. Do you really want to be like Flava Flav when you get older? I didn’t think so.
OK, I’m done with my tough love lesson for Soulja Boy. But in the event that Soulja Boy isn’t hearing this (money tends to make us deaf, dumb and blind), I encourage other young Black men to reclaim and reshape their destiny into an image of their choosing, and not some manifestation of corporate-created coonishness. Just like Soulja Boy, our potential is infinite. But it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t wake ourselves up collectively.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
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