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The Tao of Hip Hop’s PR Revival

The Tao of Hip Hop's PR Revival


That was Howard Stern’s pitch in a movie aimed at reinventing himself. But as far as celebrity PR makeovers go, a handful of hip-hop artists are stand out.

Take Marketplace’s interview with Robert Diggs — better know as RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan — on his new book “The Tao of Wu”:

“RYSSDAL: So here you are, 15 years after you started the Wu-Tang Clan, you are successful and rich, and you’re doing well, and you’ve got a great organization behind you, and yet, just to back up to something you said a moment ago, you’ve written this book, the new book “The Tao of Wu,” as a way to get kids figuring out a good way to attack this society. What does that mean?

DIGGS: I don’t like to say that I’m rich. I like to say I’m rich in the heart.

RYSSDAL: Fair enough.”

That seems to me a pretty soft question for a man behind a band that once wrote:

“My Wu-Tang slang is mad [redacted] dangerous And more deadly than the stroke of an axe Choppin through ya back *swish* Givin bystanders heart-attacks.”

The first time I heard Wu-Tang’s music, it was in a juvenile detention facility for felonious youthful offenders. I worked there — fulltime — during my senior year of college as a means to finance my own education.

The kid who shared RZA’s lyrics with me for the first time was locked up for assaulting his mother. With a table lamp. He was 11 years old at the time.

There’s no doubt in my mind his choice of music had a direct impact, among others, on his life’s direction.

It’s hard to draw a line and say where art starts and where it ends. There’s a good argument to be made that says that line shouldn’t be drawn.

Even so, it’s far too easy to justify that argument and dismiss it all in the same line, which makes the authenticity about interviews like these suspect. After all, “music is a reflection of self, we just explain it, and then we get our checks in the mail.”

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Fast forward a month later I heard this interview on Fox News about Ludacris’ Other Side, where Fox reported on the Ludacris Foundation to “help youth and families.”

Not one question to the fact that Ludacris has sold 24 million records in part by writing lyrics such as, “I’ve got ho’s in different area codes.”

So how exactly does one reconcile a decade or more getting rich by glamorizing drugs and violence and misogyny on the hip-hop charts?

Here’s what Diggs’ said in an NPR interview:

“As I grew older, and got into the late teens and early 20s, I wanted to be a voice of the people,” RZA says. “You know, getting locked up all the time, and going through so much oppression and seeing it all around myself, I wanted to be a voice for it. And also to have a knowledge of myself, I realized that the word was powerful, and I could use this power to help enlighten others.”

Ludacris and RZA aren’t the only rappers doing a turnaround —  though some have been more successful in selling their stories than others. In the case of the latter, changing your name might be a good way to start. Just ask Puff Daddy.

It is my sincere hope these guys are for real and that media interviews like these aren’t just PR ploys to sell a book or another song. They’ve got the resources — and the influence — to have a meaningful and positive impact on what still amounts to some pretty mean streets in America.

Who’s next? Will the Real Slim Shady please stand up?

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Photo credit: Flickr, Malmo, “Non-Violence” (CC BY 2.0)

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