Welcome the Hip-Hop World into the Conservative Tent

Ronn Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and respected public relations experts. Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the 25 largest independent American PR firms, which was named PR Agency of the Year by the American Business Awards. He is the best-selling author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” a book known as an industry “must read.” Torossian is a featured op-ed columnist for The Huffington Post, Newsmax, Wired Magazine and others. He is the recipient of multiple awards, including PR Executive of the Year and is a past semi-finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. Torossian lives in Manhattan with his wife and children. Connect with him on Google+ and Twitter.


featured-image-hip-hopConservatives were outraged at my article, Bill O’Reilly Is Wrong: Jay-Z Is Worthy of America’s Respect, published earlier this week.  While hip-hop transcends cultural, racial, ethnic, social and class lines, it hasn’t yet transcended political lines. Conservatives have little understanding of what hip-hop is and the tremendous impact this powerful movement has had upon popular culture. Worse is that they condemn it without knowing anything about it.

At CPAC this month, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who is running for Senate in Virginia, spoke of the need to reach out to minorities and other groups instead of letting the left “fill that vacuum.” He claimed, “I do think we have huge opportunities here to make gains with young voters.”  However, consider the recent blanket condemnations of Jay-Z, the greatest rapper alive and one of the greatest artists of all time. How can one even begin to think that the Right is even remotely inclusive or that anyone in the communities that love hip-hop — black, white, young and not-so-young — would ever vote for a conservative?

Forty-four-year-old family man Jay-Z is absolutely not a gangster rapper. For Bill O’Reilly to selectively criticize hip-hop, saying that young males idolize “these guys with the hats on backwards” and “terrible rap lyrics,” and that these “gangsta rappers” and “tattoo guys” need to speak to kids and tell them that they’ve “got to stop the disruptive behavior or you’re going to wind up in a morgue or in prison” is a double standard. What does wearing a hat backwards have to do with anything? Why not mention Marc Zuckerberg’s hood? What makes these “gangsta rappers” different from actors in violent movies like Vin Diesel or Jason Statham? Or someone with offensive speech like Howard Stern?

If conservatives hope to succeed in reaching the minds – and votes – of an enormous segment of society that crosses all American boundaries, they need to better understand hip-hop.  News flash: The majority of hip-hop consumers aren’t black, and hip-hop reflects the mosaic that represents this great country.  While there are countless terrible things that are indefensible about the hip-hop industry, many of these problems are shared by the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Brittney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and other popular white performers.

Moreover, the reality is that so much of hip-hop is uplifting and positive. Countless movies, video games and other forms of entertainment unfortunately celebrate bad behavior – yet conservative media targets hip-hop.  This double standard should come to an end.

Bill O’Reilly claimed Beyoncé is not a good role model for young girls, stating,

“She puts out a new album with a video that glorifies having sex in the back of a limousine. Teenage girls look up to Beyoncé, particularly girls of color. … Why on earth would this woman do that?”

Why didn’t O’Reilly ask this question during the many years of the amazingly successful cable series “Sex in the City,” which glorified sex among single women? (Beyoncé at least is married.) As David Letterman rightly noted, why didn’t O’Reilly comment on Miley Cyrus swinging nude on a wrecking ball or her “twerking” Robin Thicke at an awards show watched by teenagers? O’Reilly said, “I missed that. I don’t know how.”  Selective commentary – even if his statements are right.

Conservatives should spend more time listening to hip-hop and making an effort to understand urban culture. (Hint: Accentuate the positive.) Like the music or not, hip-hop is the most popular form of music today and it isn’t going anywhere. It’s a new way of thinking, which crosses racial and demographic boundaries.  Kids today in Scarsdale dress the same as kids in Harlem, and South Central doesn’t look that different style-wise than Beverly Hills. (This white, 39-year-old PR firm owner listens to hip-hop daily – and so do people older and younger, in every state in the nation, of every color of skin.)

Hip-hop moguls like Jay-Z, Sean Combs, and Usher are people who have that hip-hop spirit – there’s nothing getting in my way, nothing stopping me from getting where I want to go.  Hip-hop is about ownership, about self-reliance, and empowerment. What could be more conservative than that? Conservatives are hypocritical when attacking the capitalist business of hip-hop. Hip-hop and the urban culture has helped to create an entire new area of economic opportunity for people who were generally outside of the system.  How many millionaires have been created because of this industry? How many jobs?

Hip-hop is about creation — owning something.  Is that not the story of this great country? And is not the cultural significance of that – particularly for the underprivileged and immigrants amongst us – something conservatives must celebrate? At some point, people of the hip-hop world, who have mostly been locked out, should be heard by conservatives in the land of opportunity.  Even if certain attributes of the hip-hop business aren’t good, one must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Recently, I went shopping without a watch while wearing a sweat suit. The store was empty, but still I had to wait a long time for one of the countless salespeople to come over to see what I wanted. I asked to see an expensive watch, and the clerk asked me, with a straight face, if I was a construction worker before he took the piece out of the case. That “language” certainly sent me a message – if you aren’t dressed our way we don’t think you can buy from us. It also sent me away. They ignored the fact that I could easily afford the uber-expensive watch.

In many ways, the message the watch store sent me is the message conservatives are sending hip-hop fans. Tattoos and hats on backwards don’t define a person. Hip-hop culture is bigger than the Beatles – it has impacted culture indefinitely and isn’t going anywhere. Youth culture is always revolutionary and wants to do things differently – from Elvis’s swiveling hips to Madonna in the ‘80s.

The Right’s attacks on hip-hop are wrong and misguided. When we conservatives proclaim our desire to be inclusive, how can we have so little tolerance and understanding of a phenomenon as popular and American as hip-hop?  Hip-hop crosses over boundaries – now conservatives need to let them in.

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  • liz

    Who said people who like hip hop can’t be conservative or vote republican or whatever? It’s a free country, nobodies stopping them.
    You seem to think all conservatives must force themselves to listen to and like this stuff in order for those who do like it to enter our “tent”.
    Why not let the hip hop crowd grow up and educate themselves on the real issues and vote accordingly, and let everyone else do the same?
    Why does everyone else have to be responsible for their choices?

  • geoffrey

    Here are just two of the many reasons why I as a conservative do not listen to hip-hop “music” or allow it in my home:
    1) When the singer of a rock/pop band, which does not “cross racial and demographic boundaries”, wishes to declare his romantic interests in a woman, he simply sings: “I want to hold your hand” whereas a hip-hop “artist” boasts: ” She Lick me like a Lollipop”.
    2)While most members of the pop/rock bands, which do not “cross racial and demographic boundaries”, are busy handling their microphones and musical instruments while performing onstage, many hip-hop “artists” are busy handling their private parts.
    Therefore, Mr. “White, 39 year-old PR Firm Owner”, please do forgive me for not having the desire to “cross racial and demographic boundaries”.

  • The Facts

    Bwahahaha. Jay-Z is nowhere near the greatest rapper alive. The greatest rappers alive are mostly Five Percenters.

  • VLParker

    Jay-Z is one of the greatest artists of all time? So he can read the poems off the walls in public restrooms to a beat. Yeah, he’s a regular Beethoven. You are really funny, Ronn.
    As for this nonsense about the Republicans needing to be all inclusive, we are all inclusive. We welcome conservatives from any race, gender or ethnicity. What we are not going to do is dilute our conservatism by welcoming a bunch of liberals or moderates into the party.
    Romney lost because conservatives stayed home. We had no one to vote for. Give us a conservative candidate and the conservative voters of all races will come out in droves. Keep giving us milquetoast candidates and the Republicans will continue to lose.

    • Michael A

      Rolling Stone said he was one of the greatest artists of all time. So did MTV. the KKK magazines you read didn’t.

  • Martel

    You will never get the minority vote without completely selling out white voters, which the GOP is currently doing trying to protect at least some white conservative values in the process.Keep dreaming about a successful multi ethnic society, it has never worked elsewhere, but if only we try real hard!

  • laura r

    ronn, hes the top “SELLING” rapper of all times. a far cry from nortorious big w/words, beats, sync, meanings, & music. biggy was the allen ginsburg of the crack generation. i first discoved biggy in 2009- (“requiem”), my breath almost stopped. musically, poetry, & i related to everything he said. then i was lucky as i found the best of the best. tupac, nars ect. jay is knocking stuff out so fast that its hard on the ears. its not soul, its not spoken word. when hes good hes good, but he lost his edge. i discovered him after the other 3. dont confuse sales w/consistant quality. lil kim is a real rapper, missy elliot is a real rapper. flatbush project can spit. yes hes a good business man. hes the “madonna” of the black music business. medicore, but commericial.

  • Boston Poverty Law

    I have in the past tried to explain here that the same Black street culture and attitude that the government fights against using police and prison could be the thing that saves our streets from turning into the sharia hell holes we are told here is going on in Europe. I am not trying to change you. (I personally love the wild black street in our cities and miss the 1980s before yet even more government crackdown.) I am just asking you to stay aware, always seeing new social developments, and be flexible and be ready be able to make such a major political shift if you ever have to. I think we could just ease up on prisons and let the Black dudes out onto the street and there will be no sharia. Ok maybe a little sharia in the winter months up north here in Boston but I don’t think that will be much different from what we have now. If you went back in time 40 to 60 years and tried to convince people that fundamentalist Christians from all over the South could in the near future be Staunch supporters of Israel people would think you’re insane.

  • TrueNorth777

    “Where is the Love” ~ Black Eyed Peas. Will Smith’s “Summertime” and warm hearted “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. Then, let’s not forget Ylvis, “What Does the Fox Say”. (Stay with me, folks.) The question I have is why does the author appear to be creating / fuelling yet another cultural barrier to divide races or political parties? Music has and always will cross cultural barriers. As with the examples above, there are quite a few great rap artists who articulate very inspirational messages. – no vulgarity required. What parent wouldn’t rather hear their children singing Where is the Love, Summertime or What Does the Fox Say, then rapping to lyrics talking about violent sex, guns and shooting up. Conservative, liberal, black, white, red…..we all want the same for our children and future generations….artists have power – shine a light instead of spreading darkness, give our children music of happiness, hope and love ~ because from this old timer’s perspective, strife-hate is pervasive every where we turn today…..what a world for a child to grow up in. Be a channel of hope for our youngest…artists, rise above the current trend to outdo one another with stage theatrics and vulgar lyrics. As the song goes, “We only got one world.” It is our children who will inherit it.

  • Yossi a

    Thank you Mr. Torossian for recognizing something countless few do in the GOP.

    • CapitalistPig

      But we do recognize it. That’s the point of disagreement. I’ve heard this, I’m not going to deny the simple reality of what is hitting my 2 ears. It isn’t like I’m getting this second hand.
      I’m sure you can find 2% here, 5% there that might be construed as “uplifting & positive”.
      But it’s like putting a spoonful of brownie mix in your stool & baking it—sorry, I’m still not eating it.

  • Air4099

    JZ Is just a black racist who is pushing obama’s commie racist agenda

    • Martel

      His videos feature pictures of Mao Zedong.

  • semby

    Unbelievable article from FP; can’t believe this was written.
    The writer totally misses the point.
    Needs to fired.

  • seewithyourowneyes

    This article is written by a public relations guy. Conflict of interest, anyone?
    Jay-Z admits to having stabbed his own brother at age 12 because his brother took some of Jay-Z’s jewelry. Jay-Z is unrepentant about having sold crack for a living. Jay-Z took a plea deal for charges of having stabbed Lance Rivera at an album release party in 1999. Jay-Z’s song “Big Pimpin” celebrates the beating, rape and general degradation of women. Jay-Z collaborates with Snoop Dogg, whose song “Ain’t No Fun (Unless the Homies Get Some)” is known as the gang rape anthem.

  • El Desdichado

    “Conservatives should spend more time listening to hip-hop and making an effort to understand urban culture.”

    Absolutely hilarious !
    I’m almost as interested in urban culture as the those urban hip-hoppers are in reading some 17th Century English poetry and listening to Handel…

  • wingots

    Summary of comments: All white people who cant stand hiphop and are middle aged are telling someone who influences media daily and owns a major PR firm what influences people today. Funny.

  • Mark Duran

    Beyond Bill O’Reilly’s comments where is the Right attacking hip-hop? I don’t see it. I don’t think Bill O’Reilly speaks for all conservatives. You were right to ding him on his Jay-Z remarks, but your arguments to him don’t extend to conservatives as a whole. I’m not seeing evidence to support your assertion that conservatives as a whole unfairly reject hip-hop.

    When the artist Kid Cudi rejects negativity in hip hop, is he being unfair? Is he not showing proper deference to hip-hop? Is he alienating people that appreciate the art form? I don’t think he is. From what I’ve seen, conservatives aren’t doing anything different. They reject the negativity. I don’t recall ever seeing a conservative complain about hip hop for any other reason. The message that it is not all negative is a good one, because that’s true. We should support artists like Kid Cudi, for example, who care about the impact their words have on young people.

    I think that we can help emphasize what’s good in hip hop. If you were to, for example, interview a positive role model like a Kid Cudi, I think you’d find that Frontpage readers would be unanimously supportive.

    I’m not sure why you’re so intent to malign us as a group in this piece.

  • Sharps Rifle

    http://nypost.com/2014/04/06/jay-zs-medallion-bears-logo-of-five-percent-radical-group/
    Yeah. Real respectable. If this guy were White, he’d be wearing a sheet.

  • NAHALKIDES

    No one who refers to the heartland of this nation as “flyover country” – twice – deserves to be taken seriously. You are obviously a person of the Left, and as such have nothing to add to this discussion.

  • NAHALKIDES

    B.S. – I gave you several defining characteristics of music and showed that hip-hop lacks them. What part of “no melody and no harmony” do you not understand? You’re basically one of those pseudo-intellectual philosophy professors who spend their days telling us we can’t know anything, and red might really be blue for all we know. You’ve nothing of value to add here, so why don’t you just get lost?

  • truebearing

    You wouldn’t recognize an objective baseline if it tattooed itself on your forehead and locked you in a room of mirrors.

  • SoCalMike

    I couldn’t have said it better in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, Thai or Vietnamese or Taiwanese or Chou Zhou.
    Nahalkides gets it. Aemoreira81 does NOT.

  • Sharps Rifle

    A great explanation, but don’t bother feeding moreira, though…I’ve seen him on other Conservative sites, and he’s just a troll. A bit less disruptive than some, but still he’s just an Obamabot troll.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 aemoreira81

    Those characteristics are arbitrary. The only objective definition is the dictionary.

    What part of “no melody and no harmony” do you not understand?

    That they are not part of the Merriam-Webster definition of music…you know, the objective definition.

  • truebearing

    He’s already lost. I just wish he would be lost somewhere else.

  • TL2014

    What’s a “Moran”?

  • NAHALKIDES

    :)

  • NAHALKIDES

    Thanks for the warning. I don’t think I’d run into him before.

  • NAHALKIDES

    Apparently, an Irish aesthete.

  • truebearing

    Then listen to your dictionary..

  • laura r

    i do, i say flyover. was it my comment that was deleted?