Unfair and Unbalanced
In the early days of rap, way back in the 1980s, every touring artist was a bullshit magnet. Pillars of the community -- mayors, the cops, the PTA -- all voiced Grave Concern whenever a 2 Live Crew or even a Public Enemy would come to town. Often promoters buckled, and shows were canceled at the last moment. Eventually, though, most of these people realized that contrary to what they believed and fervently hoped for at the time, rap wasn't going to simply shrivel up and die, and the do-gooders of the world moved on to the next scourge of youth.
That's all in the past, right? Ludacris -- who performs this week at H-Town Arena Theatre -- might tell you another story. A while back, following the success of his album Word of Mouf and his Disturbing tha Peace posse record Golden Grain, he was signed by Pepsi as a spokesman. Pepsi filmed a commercial and was all set to release it until Fox News's Bill O'Reilly got wind of the deal.
O'Reilly knows a good way to divert attention away from the fact that Bush and company are screwing conservatives just as hard as liberals when he sees one, and he saw a golden opportunity in Pepsi's attempt to get hip with the street kids. According to O'Reilly, Luda's music "is demeaning just about everybody, and is peddling antisocial behavior" and his message is "Be an outlaw. Take narcotics. Abuse people. Punch people. Hurt people." O'Reilly urged his viewers to boycott Pepsi.
Redefining the phrase "craven capitulation," Pepsi caved a day later, without even officially informing Ludacris. The ad was canceled. A few months later, Ozzy Osbourne was signed as a Pepsi spokesman. O'Reilly was strangely silent. Russell Simmons urged the hip-hop nation to boycott Pepsi. Eventually, a compromise was reached wherein Pepsi agreed to pay Ludacris's charitable foundation a few million, and all boycotts were off. (Until recently, when Luda and Snoop Dogg accused O'Reilly of letting the nasty-ass hos in their room on his latest album, Chicken-n-Beer. )
What's to be learned from all this racial brinkmanship and corporate bullshit? One, O'Reilly was partially right about Luda's message. Want antisocial behavior? How about these lines from Luda's hilarious but shocking little ditty "Move Bitch": "I'm doin' a hundred on the highway / So if you do the speed limit, get the fuck outta my way / I'm D.U.I., hardly ever caught sober / and you about to get ran the fuck over." Want narcotics? Well, if you consider weed a narcotic, there are plenty of examples of Luda extolling the pleasures of sticky-icky to choose from, and women who find the terms "ho" and "bitch" demeaning can also find plenty of selections. (Though Luda admits that most men are hos, too.)
Still, O'Reilly whiffed. Shit, the guy's named Ludacris for a reason. He's a joker, a human cartoon character, rap's foremost court jester. The very essence of his humor is its Richard Pryor-like "Did he really just say that?" outrageousness, an absurdity that matches the 'fro that leaps a foot in all directions when his cornrows are unbound. That's Ludacris. The guy behind that character is named Chris Bridges -- and he's the guy behind the Ludacris Foundation, the one that "provides gifts, grants and scholarships to foster care shelters, stay-in-school and high school athletics programs, book drives/reading and art appreciation programs and many other initiatives."
"We applaud Pepsi's decision, but there's a bigger story here," O'Reilly intoned after his victory, "and that is our growing trend in America to reward disgraceful behavior." But where was O'Reilly when Pepsi signed Ozzy? Sure, he's America's favorite dad and all that, but he's also the fucking prince of fucking darkness, and only Satan, Sharon, his doctor and his pharmacist know what was coursing through his veins on the Osbournes set. Jeez, talk about "disgraceful behavior" -- this guy once snorted a line of ants, this guy once bit the heads off a bat and a dove, this guy once pissed on the fucking Alamo. Then there was the time he guzzled four bottles of vodka on the flight home from Moscow and then tried to strangle Sharon. And somehow O'Reilly thinks he's a more wholesome spokesman than Ludacris? ("I see that Eminem gets in trouble for singing about killing his wife," Sharon noted in the Guardian. "At least my husband actually tried to do it!")
For many of the same reasons he got Ludacris canned from the Pepsi deal, O'Reilly also managed to kill Snoop Dogg's appearance in the film A Very Muppet Christmas. And yet somehow, O'Reilly zipped his lip when Alice Cooper got a similar Muppets gig. Hell, O'Reilly's an Alice Cooper fan. "I always thought the guy could -- wrote pretty good songs, you know," he said in 1999. Pretty good songs? Maybe he was thinking of "I Love the Dead," which could have been penned by Jeffrey Dahmer and goes a little something like this: "I love the dead before they're cold / Their blueing flesh for me to hold / Cadaver eyes upon me see nothing / I love the dead before they rise / No farewells, no goodbyes / I never even knew your now-rotting face / While friends and lovers mourn your silly grave / I have other uses for you, darling." Cooper revisited the necrophilia angle with a song about his refrigerated lover Ethyl. "One thing / No lie / Ethyl's frigid as an Eskimo pie / She's cool in bed / Well she oughta be 'cause Ethyl's dead."
And just a month or so ago, he raised another stink when Lil' Kim got to endorse Old Navy. O'Reilly called her "a street person who traffics in obscenity." Well, O'Reilly claims to be from the wrong side of the tracks, and as for obscenity, he need look no further than his own novel Those Who Trespass, which amid scenes of violence that would do the Geto Boys proud also finds time for some bad Penthouse Forum-style eroti-drivel: "Then he slipped her panties down her legs and, within seconds, his tongue was inside her, moving rapidly."
We can only guess why O'Reilly would give himself a pass, praise Cooper and pan Ludacris, Lil' Kim and Snoop. Maybe O'Reilly sees necrophilia as a victimless crime. Maybe he would have brought the hammer down on Cooper had he called Ethyl a ho. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because Cooper's a rocker and Snoop, Luda and Lil' Kim are rappers. And O'Reilly has said time and time again that all rap is bad rap -- including stuff by white artists. Eminem and Insane Clown Posse are two more of his favorite targets. To O'Reilly, there's no difference between Scarface and the Roots, Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas, the Ying Yang Twins and Public Enemy. They're all rappers and they're all out to corrupt your kids and it's as simple as that.
And in that area he's more than a little like the white separatist group the National Alliance, which vehemently opposed Ludacris's appearance last month in Casper, Wyoming. That organization leafleted Casper with handbills denouncing the show as well as the December 2003 appearance of Mystikal. (Mystikal was sentenced a month after that show to a six-year prison term for committing sexual battery on his hairstylist. Since Exhibit A for the prosecution was a videotape Mystikal made of the sordid event, it could be said that he is definitely quicker behind the mike than away from it.) "Over a month ago," the leaflet stated, "the city welcomed the rapist rapper Mystikal. Now the city is throwing out the red carpet to welcome yet another black rapper. Why are we allowing this violent diversity to be forced into our city? As the city of Casper continues to slavishly and insanely promote 'diversity,' it is important for us to keep in mind exactly who and what is being promoted."
The National Alliance says all rap promotes a "criminal culture." O'Reilly says that "this rap stuff is a negative thing." So does that make Bill O'Reilly a closet white separatist? Dunno. I just give you the facts. You decide.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.