Friday, February 24, 2006

Rappers, as a Rule, Do Not Sing By CLYDE HABERMAN

February 24, 2006
NYC
Rappers, as a Rule, Do Not Sing
By CLYDE HABERMAN

SINCE some members of the Hip-Hop Nation seem to regard themselves as belonging to a separate land, perhaps we need creative ways to deal with the criminals among them. New York officials might want to check out Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

It says, among other things, that no state shall "enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power." At least no state may do so, Article 1 says, "without the consent of Congress."

Why not have New York ask Congress for permission to strike a deal with the Hip-Hop Nation?

If Washington gives the O.K., arrangements could be worked out with recognized leaders of that nation: Russell Simmons, Sean Combs, whomever. They get to go about their business, maybe with a tax break or two thrown in as a sweetener. But they must agree to extradite any of their own who egregiously violate our laws — say, by killing someone.

Just a thought.

Alternatively, we could get real and make clear to certain rappers that they do not belong to a separate nation. They are citizens of New York and the United States, and are expected to tell what they know about a violent crime or go straight to jail, bling and all.

This seems to be the direction in which the Police Department and the Brooklyn district attorney's office are headed in a case involving Busta Rhymes, the nom de rap of a performer whose real name is Trevor Smith. But their progress has had all the speed of ketchup from a newly opened bottle.

About three weeks have passed since a bodyguard for Mr. Smith, Israel Ramirez, was shot to death outside a warehouse in Brooklyn, where his boss was shooting a music video. The basic details are all too familiar in the rap world. There was a typically brainless argument. Nasty words were exchanged. Someone pulled a gun. Shots were fired.

And Mr. Ramirez, 29, the father of three small children, lay dead.

A plainly disgusted Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, estimated that 30 to 50 people were at the scene but were unwilling to tell what they saw. They include Mr. Smith, who has been as faithful to Mr. Ramirez's memory as Enron was to its shareholders. Help catch the killer of a loyal employee? Not Busta Rhymes.

The police have been left in the ludicrous — or, to be true to this topic, ludacris — situation of practically having to beg for information. So the next step may be to force witnesses to testify before a special grand jury or else face jail time.

"Right now the detectives working the case have met the D.A.'s staff with the notion that they'll be using an investigative grand jury as a vehicle to induce witness cooperation," said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman.

That sort of grand jury is not commonplace. It is also not clear when one might be formed. But if that's what it takes to make people do the right thing, so be it. The same tactic had to be used to make recalcitrant witnesses talk in the case of Mark Fisher, the Fairfield University student murdered in Brooklyn in 2003.

AH, but we should be more culturally tolerant, some say. It is very difficult, they say, for a big-time rapper to cooperate with the police. He would be seen as a snitch. He would lose credibility on the street. Worse, album sales might suffer.

Poor Mr. Smith. What an ordeal this must be for him.

It is this sort of mind-set that has led critics to dismiss some hip-hop performers as "updated minstrel figures," to borrow from the essayist Stanley Crouch.

The film director Spike Lee has singled out 50 Cent, the glowering rapper who, as a result of a shooting, has more holes in him than a Dunkin' Donuts shop. In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Mr. Lee referred to a movie in which 50 Cent starred. "That whole mantra — 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' — for me that's criminal," he said.

There are other signs of rejection, including talk of an anti-Busta boycott, unless Mr. Smith talks to the authorities.

Thus far, his public remarks have been confined to a written statement in which he expressed his condolences to the Ramirez family. Naturally, he said nothing about the culture of violence that infects the Hip-Hop Nation and explains why his own bodyguard is in the ground.

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com

2 Comments:

Blogger Christopher King said...

Dude, I dig your post. It spawned a post of my own. Meanwhile, when you talk about lynching look no further than New England NAACP:

http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/02/bustas-bodyguard.html

http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/02/northeast-naacp-is-corrupt-network.html

Here's to Peace. And old school hip-hop. My fiancee and I threw hip hop shows in Cleveland to benefit my first non-profit, BTW.

4:59 PM  
Blogger jenny said...

hey, thanks christopher! I will come on over and check out your posts. Peace to you. First non-profit? I'd love to hear more. Cleveland rocks! and hip hops!

9:42 PM  

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