On the heels of this, spoken word poet and hip hop statesman Saul Williams offers an eloquent response to Harpo’s analysis of the problems plaguing rap:

Dear Ms. Winfrey,

It is with the greatest respect and adoration of your loving spirit that I write you. As a young child, I would sit beside my mother everyday and watch your program. As a young adult, with children of my own, I spend much less time in front of the television, but I am ever thankful for the positive effect that you continue to have on our nation, history and culture. The example that you have set as someone unafraid to answer their calling, even when the reality of that calling insists that one self-actualize beyond the point of any given example, is humbling, and serves as the cornerstone of the greatest faith. You, love, are a pioneer.

I am a poet.

Growing up in Newburgh, NY, with a father as a minister and a mother as a school teacher, at a time when we fought for our heroes to be nationally recognized, I certainly was exposed to the great names and voices of our past. I took great pride in competing in my churches Black History Quiz Bowl and the countless events my mother organized in hopes of fostering a generation of youth well versed in the greatness as well as the horrors of our history. Yet, even in a household where I had the privilege of personally interacting with some of the most outspoken and courageous luminaries of our times, I must admit that the voices that resonated the most within me and made me want to speak up were those of my peers, and these peers were emcees. Rappers.

Yes, Ms. Winfrey, I am what my generation would call “a Hip Hop head.” Hip Hop has served as one of the greatest aspects of my self-definition. Lucky for me, I grew up in the 80′s when groups like Public Enemy, Rakim, The jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and many more realized the power of their voices within the artform and chose to create music aimed at the upliftment of our generation.

As a student at Morehouse College where I studied Philosophy and Drama I was forced to venture across the street to Spelman College for all of my Drama classes, since Morehouse had no theater department of its own. I had few complaints. The performing arts scholarship awarded me by Michael Jackson had promised me a practically free ride to my dream school, which now had opened the doors to another campus that could make even the most focused of young boys dreamy, Spelman. One of my first theater professors, Pearle Cleage, shook me from my adolescent dream state. It was the year that Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” was released and our introduction to Snoop Dogg as he sang catchy hooks like “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks…” Although, it was a playwriting class, what seemed to take precedence was Ms. Cleages political ideology, which had recently been pressed and bound in her 1st book, Mad at Miles. As, you know, in this book she spoke of how she could not listen to the music of Miles Davis and his muted trumpet without hearing the muted screams of the women that he was outspoken about “man-handling”. It was my first exposure to the idea of an artist being held accountable for their actions outside of their art. It was the first time I had ever heard the word, “misogyny”. And as Ms. Cleage would walk into the classroom fuming over the women she would pass on campus, blasting those Snoop lyrics from their cars and jeeps, we, her students, would be privy to many freestyle rants and raves on the dangers of nodding our heads to a music that could serve as our own demise.

Her words, coupled with the words of the young women I found myself interacting with forever changed how I listened to Hip Hop and quite frankly ruined what would have been a number of good songs for me. I had now been burdened with a level of awareness that made it impossible for me to enjoy what the growing masses were ushering into the mainstream. I was now becoming what many Hip Hop heads would call “a Backpacker”, a person who chooses to associate themselves with the more “conscious” or politically astute artists of the Hip Hop community. What we termed as “conscious” Hip Hop became our preference for dance and booming systems. Groups like X-Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Arrested Development, Gangstarr and others became the prevailing music of our circle. We also enjoyed the more playful Hip Hop of De La Soul, Heiroglyphics, Das FX, Organized Konfusion. Digable Planets, The Fugees, and more. We had more than enough positivity to fixate on. Hip Hop was diverse.

I had not yet begun writing poetry. Most of my friends hardly knew that I had been an emcee in high school. I no longer cared to identify myself as an emcee and my love of oratory seemed misplaced at Morehouse where most orators were actually preachers in training, speaking with the Southern drawl of Dr. King although they were 19 and from the North. I spent my time doing countless plays and school performances. I was in line to become what I thought would be the next Robeson, Sidney, Ossie, Denzel, Snipes… It wasn’t until I was in graduate school for acting at NYU that I was invited to a poetry reading in Manhattan where I heard Asha Bandele, Sapphire, Carl Hancock Rux, Reggie Gaines, Jessica Care Moore, and many others read poems that sometimes felt like monologues that my newly acquired journal started taking the form of a young poets’. Yet, I still noticed that I was a bit different from these poets who listed names like: Audrey Lourde, June Jordan, Sekou Sundiata etc, when asked why they began to write poetry. I knew that I had been inspired to write because of emcees like Rakim, Chuck D, LL, Run DMC… Hip Hop had informed my love of poetry as much or even more than my theater background which had exposed me to Shakespeare, Baraka, Fugard, Genet, Hansberry and countless others. In those days, just a mere decade ago, I started writing to fill the void between what I was hearing and what I wished I was hearing. It was not enough for me to critique the voices I heard blasting through the walls of my Brooklyn brownstone. I needed to create examples of where Hip Hop, particularly its lyricism, could go. I ventured to poetry readings with my friends and neighbors, Dante Smith (now Mos Def), Talib Kweli, Eryka Badu, Jessica Care Moore, Mums the Schemer, Beau Sia, Suheir Hammad…all poets that frequented the open mics and poetry slams that we commonly saw as “the other direction” when Hip hop reached that fork in the road as you discussed on your show this past week. On your show you asked the question, “Are all rappers poets?” Nice. I wanted to take the opportunity to answer this question for you.

The genius, as far as the marketability, of Hip Hop is in its competitiveness. Its roots are as much in the dignified aspects of our oral tradition as it is in the tradition of “the dozens” or “signifying”. In Hip Hop, every emcee is automatically pitted against every other emcee, sort of like characters with super powers in comic books. No one wants to listen to a rapper unless they claim to be the best or the greatest. This sort of braggadocio leads to all sorts of tirades, showdowns, battles, and sometimes even deaths. In all cases, confidence is the ruling card. Because of the competitive stance that all emcees are prone to take, they, like soldiers begin to believe that they can show no sign of vulnerability. Thus, the most popular emcees of our age are often those that claim to be heartless or show no feelings or signs of emotion. The poet, on the other hand, is the one who realizes that their vulnerability is their power. Like you, unafraid to shed tears on countless shows, the poet finds strength in exposing their humanity, their vulnerability, thus making it possible for us to find connection and strength through their work. Many emcees have been poets. But, no, Ms. Winfrey, not all emcees are poets. Many choose gangsterism and business over the emotional terrain through which true artistry will lead. But they are not to blame. I would now like to address your question of leadership.

You may recall that in immediate response to the attacks of September 11th, our president took the national stage to say to the American public and the world that we would “…show no sign of vulnerability”. Here is the same word that distinguishes poets from rappers, but in its history, more accurately, women from men. To make such a statement is to align oneself with the ideology that instills in us a sense of vulnerability meaning “weakness”. And these meanings all take their place under the heading of what we consciously or subconsciously characterize as traits of the feminine. The weapon of mass destruction is the one that asserts that a holy trinity would be a father, a male child, and a ghost when common sense tells us that the holiest of trinities would be a mother, a father, and a child: Family. The vulnerability that we see as weakness is the saving grace of the drunken driver who because of their drunken/vulnerable state survives the fatal accident that kills the passengers in the approaching vehicle who tighten their grip and show no physical vulnerability in the face of their fear. Vulnerability is also the saving grace of the skate boarder who attempts a trick and remembers to stay loose and not tense during their fall. Likewise, vulnerability has been the saving grace of the African American struggle as we have been whipped, jailed, spat upon, called names, and killed, yet continue to strive forward mostly non-violently towards our highest goals. But today we are at a crossroads, because the institutions that have sold us the crosses we wear around our necks are the most overt in the denigration of women and thus humanity. That is why I write you today, Ms. Winfrey. We cannot address the root of what plagues Hip Hop without addressing the root of what plagues today’s society and the world.

You see, Ms. Winfrey, at it’s worse; Hip Hop is simply a reflection of the society that birthed it. Our love affair with gangsterism and the denigration of women is not rooted in Hip Hop; rather it is rooted in the very core of our personal faith and religions. The gangsters that rule Hip Hop are the same gangsters that rule our nation. 50 Cent and George Bush have the same birthday (July 6th). For a Hip Hop artist to say “I do what I wanna do/Don’t care if I get caught/The DA could play this mothaf@kin tape in court/I’ll kill you/ I ain’t playin’” epitomizes the confidence and braggadocio we expect an admire from a rapper who claims to represent the lowest denominator. When a world leader with the spirit of a cowboy (the true original gangster of the West: raping, stealing land, and pillaging, as we clapped and cheered.) takes the position of doing what he wants to do, regardless of whether the UN or American public would take him to court, then we have witnessed true gangsterism and violent negligence. Yet, there is nothing more negligent than attempting to address a problem one finds on a branch by censoring the leaves.

Name calling, racist generalizations, sexist perceptions, are all rooted in something much deeper than an uncensored music. Like the rest of the world, I watched footage on AOL of you dancing mindlessly to 50 Cent on your fiftieth birthday as he proclaimed, “I got the ex/if you’re into taking drugs/ I’m into having sex/ I ain’t into making love” and you looked like you were having a great time. No judgment. I like that song too. Just as I do, James Brown’s Sex Machine or Grand Master Flashes “White Lines”. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is how the story goes. Censorship will never solve our problems. It will only foster the sub-cultures of the underground, which inevitably inhabit the mainstream. There is nothing more mainstream than the denigration of women as projected through religious doctrine. Please understand, I am by no means opposing the teachings of Jesus, by example (he wasn’t Christian), but rather the men that have used his teachings to control and manipulate the masses. Hip Hop, like Rock and Roll, like the media, and the government, all reflect an idea of power that labels vulnerability as weakness. I can only imagine the non-emotive hardness that you have had to show in order to secure your empire from the grips of those that once stood in your way: the old guard. You reflect our changing times. As time progresses we sometimes outgrow what may have served us along the way. This time, what we have outgrown, is not hip hop, rather it is the festering remnants of a God depicted as an angry and jealous male, by men who were angry and jealous over the minute role that they played in the everyday story of creation. I am sure that you have covered ideas such as these on your show, but we must make a connection before our disconnect proves fatal.

We are a nation at war. What we fail to see is that we are fighting ourselves. There is no true hatred of women in Hip Hop. At the root of our nature we inherently worship the feminine. Our overall attention to the nurturing guidance of our mothers and grandmothers as well as our ideas of what is sexy and beautiful all support this. But when the idea of the feminine is taken out of the idea of what is divine or sacred then that worship becomes objectification. When our governed morality asserts that a woman is either a virgin or a whore, then our understanding of sexuality becomes warped. Note the dangling platinum crosses over the bare asses being smacked in the videos. The emcees of my generation are the ministers of my father’s generation. They too had a warped perspective of the feminine. Censoring songs, sermons, or the tirades of radio personalities will change nothing except the format of our discussion. If we are to sincerely address the change we are praying for then we must first address to whom we are praying.

Thank you, Ms. Winfrey, for your forum, your heart, and your vision. May you find the strength and support to bring about the changes you wish to see in ways that do more than perpetuate the myth of enmity.

In loving kindness,

Saul Williams

Still waiting for Ice Cube’s response.

Comments (60)
  1. Spencer  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Best thing ‘gum ever posted.

  2. thanks you saul williams…..i couldn’t have said it better myself.

  3. And the point of this is…

    • Zorn Sunshine  |   Posted on Apr 15th, 2008 0

      wow, should he draw a picture for you, or just explain it in worse english. Maybe you should reread it.

    • zorn Sunshine  |   Posted on Apr 15th, 2008 +1

      actually I to clear it up for you myself because I think it’s important for you, it the same thing i left for the user who agreed with you below,

      The point in a nutshell (although you should really read it again) is that hip hop, as well as rock n roll, and all other genres of music and art forms movies etc… are a microcosm of the macrocosm. Look at the world we live in. The governments of this nation and others, art is simply a reflection of this world, whether it is love: like rapper Talib Kweli’s song “Love Language” or hate like Snoop Dogg’s song “Fuck you”.
      The same goes for movies and shows where Arnold S. ans Sylvester Stalone etc… blows people up vs. beautiful movies like (hmmm I don’t know) The Notebook.

      do you get the point now?? you should read it again.

  4. kevin  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    wow. that was really good. i bet he gets on oprah for that

  5. Shampoo  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    I fucking love Saul. What an amazingly intelligent person. He can take what is absolute truth, and convey it in a very intelligent, thoughtful, thought evoking piece of writing. Great read, Stereogum. Thanks for posting this.

  6. erika!  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    saul williams is fucking awesome.

  7. ko  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    this is the kind of stuff the gum needs to be focuse on. hearing about everytime someone covers someone else’s song is getting quite old.

  8. annie onymous  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    im with rochelle – whats the point of this.

    • Zorn Sunshine  |   Posted on Apr 15th, 2008 0

      perhaps you should reread it. The point in a nutshell is that hip hop, as well as rock n roll, and all other genres of music and art forms movies etc… are a microcosm of the macrocosm. Look at the world we live in. The governments of this nation and others, art is simply a reflection of this world, whether it is love: like rapper Talib Kweli’s song “Love Language” or hate like Snoop Dogg’s song “Fuck you”.
      The same goes for movies and shows where Arnold S. ans Sylvester Stalone etc… blows people up vs. beautiful movies like (hmmm I don’t know) The Notebook.

      do you get the point now?? you should read it again.

      • deeboe33  |   Posted on Jul 7th, 2009 0

        yea that was the dumbest, most uneducated or should i say misguided attempt at absorbing a education, jabber i’ve ever seen. i liked the song black stacy and most of his other work but please get your thoughts together and present them in an orderly fashion with structure. In other words…for people who need to re-read jibberish, shit was all over the place!

  9. CRQ  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    I’m glad someone is expressing intelligible ideas, but I think there is still a huge flaw to Saul’s line of reasoning. He starts by congratulating Oprah on responding to the calling that is hers. I interpret that as meaning Oprah’s choice to respond. For much of the remainder of the letter, however, Saul seems to argue that gangster rappers have no choice in the language and attitudes they use and incorporate into their music; they are simply worked upon by the flawed system. That means that they do not have a choice in the matter. Further, he analogizes current rappers to the preachers of previous decades – is he concluding that, like the rappers, the preachers had no choice in the matter? Isn’t that why we celebrate the preachers and other voices of the Civil Rights movement, because they chose to speak up and spend their time and talents on a just cause? If we assume, as I believe Saul Williams argues, that people have no choice in their actions, we take away everything worth celebrating about humanity. People celebrate Oprah because of the choices she has made despite the system surrounding her. People celebrate the voices of the Civil Rights movement because of the choices they made despite the flawed system surrounding them. If we are to hold hip hop to a level of artistry, shouldn’t we celebrate those who make important choices despite the flaws of the system around them?

    Again, I respect that Saul Williams is engaging in intelligent dialogue, but I regret that he seems to advocate denying responsibility to gangster rappers. If they’re not held to the same standard as their forebears, they’ll never be remembered as anything other than flavors of the month.

  10. If the Czechs can put a poet in power…Saul for President.

    Great post.

  11. Beautifully written.

  12. Wow, Poets, despite being slow and dangerous behind the wheel, still can have a role to play in society.

  13. Tony G  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    I didn’t know Oprah Winfrey had a dick, but it appears Saul Williams is trying to suck it.

  14. Andrew  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Spencer got it right. Best thing you’ve posted.

  15. Kevin  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    I disagree with the statement that the holy trinity, is in actuality, a father, mother, and child. When he highlights society as seeing vulnerability as both weakness and the essence of femininity, he does well in questioning the traditional gender roles and norms in our culture. However, is not the nurturing mother, stern breadwinner father, and child (the traditional family roles), one aspect of our society that furthers these basic gender roles and in turn the perceptions of vulnerability and femininity?

    To put so much stock in the traditional family (calling it the holiest of trinities), it only highlights those gender roles and norms that we’ve come to accept in this patriarchal society, one’s that saul are refuting as incorrect. But thats just my opinion (and what i think some feminists/queer theorists would argue) as someone who’s only briefly studied gender roles, queer theory, feminism etc in a few college courses. By no means an expert, but someone who takes interest in such issues.

    Otherwise, I loved what he wrote, love his music, poems (“She” is and amazing set), and most other things he does.

    • Zorn Sunshine  |   Posted on Apr 15th, 2008 0

      I hear what you are saying, a family can indeed have varying genders and gender roles, but I must state as far as generating life goes you need a man and a women. This is the design. The beauty of life is set in these rules.
      That being said I do believe same gender relationships and families can be healthy and beautiful as well, Futhermore, it is actually helping us with population control to some extent. This couples, more likely (although there are many exceptions) are adopting which is sorely needed. We have doubled of world population in the past 40 years.
      There have also been observations in the animal kingdom that when a pop of a species get too plentiful, nature curves that pop with homosexual individuals among other things..

  16. Dear Oprah, How do you reconcile your supposed charitable nature with the fact that you own 9 homes , on of which you paid 50 million dollars for, 30 million over the appraised price because it wasn’t for sale. How do you tell women and men (James Frey I’m looking at you) to be honest and open with themselves while seemingly living a closeted gay lifestyle. Why do you say you opened a school in South Africa rather than America because you feel kids in America wouldn’t say they wanted an education over an iPod or shoes, implying that American children are overly materialistic, and then do an hour long program devoted to how you couldn’t buy several thousand dollar handbags at Hermes after they closed? With loving kindess blah blah blah… Paul

  17. beau  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    well setting aside the “is homesexuality immoral?” debate, nature says a child can only be the result of a father and mother…i think that’s what saul is saying. its the most basic family structure, it cannot be broken down anymore. two fathers and a child could be happy and function well together, but the fact is that the child was not a result of their union, it was the result of the father plus a mother, who is now out of the picture and who the child must deal with not having in its life…just my two cents.

  18. beau  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    well setting aside the “is homesexuality immoral?” debate, nature says a child can only be the result of a father and mother…i think that’s what saul is saying. its the most basic family structure, it cannot be broken down anymore. two fathers and a child could be happy and function well together, but the fact is that the child was not a result of their union, it was the result of the father plus a mother, who is now out of the picture and who the child must deal with not having in its life…just my two cents.

  19. Thom  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    This is riddled with grammatical errors.

  20. KingHater  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Wow – a true testament to the power of words and freedom of expression.

    Now the question is, which hapless intern will be given the task of sifting through this novella to summarize its main points for Oprah’s third assistant’s assistant?

  21. qooq  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    What a crock. Hip hop may be a reaction to the “society that birthed it,” but does that mean we have to wait on society to change before hip-hop cleans up its act? The same reasons for rage and self-deprication existed in the days of ragtime, but did Scott Joplin write songs about niggas and bitches?

  22. Oh yeah, and where does he get all the time to write something this long? I barely had time to skim it.

  23. Kevin  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    yes but saul doesn’t appear to be talking about the biological process of procreation, but rather the social structure that has been created and since typified as the correct way a man, woman, and child should behave under the umbrella of what is a family. And this typified family has helped to foster the gender norms and roles that make vulnerability=weakness=femininity.

  24. Dave  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Well said CRQ.

  25. Saul  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    God is a baby and it’s diaper is wet…

  26. Carl  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    I believe that Saul is saying something that hurts most of our ears to hear, that is without seriously addressing how we treat women in this society we are doomed to fail. Some of us are comfortable listening to men degrade women because that’s all we’ve been taught. This degradation is steeped and ingrained in our society that we do the bump to it before we realize its degrading. And some of us get mad because the “fun” is being taken out of the music. Well, guess what? It ain’t fun for our mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and in-laws. The sooner we recognize this the healing process can begin.

  27. i was gonna read this…..

    but, got distracted watching FLAVA FLAV’S FLAVA OF LUV…..

    sorry…..what’s the point here?

  28. for all of you people too ignorant to read this whole letter, the point is a thank you.
    believe it or not, some parts of the world are still civilized enough to thank people for things. some people still show gratitude for things done by others to push a cause they agree with.

  29. crasstopher  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 +1

    Can Oprah Ass-Kissing please stop? Killer Mike, take it away.

    “Call me a dumb rapper? Girl stop, pardon me…
    You be hard pressed to find another rapper smart as me
    Maybe Jay-Z, Tupac, C-U-B-E
    But Oprah’d rather put Supahead on TV
    Now whatcha white audience gon’ think about we?
    The same white audience that watch Bill O’ Reilly
    I saw the smirk on they face when you came at Luda
    The same nice ladies that forgave Martha Stewart…

    …But Bush hate poor people, be ‘em black or white (that’s life)
    Hell yeah, I said it! Cuz Oprah won’t say it,…”

  30. Nacho Pants  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Hold on…is this still about Of Montreal?

  31. Watching the Oprah clip, reading the letter and comments,I see a whole lot of talking heads not really doing anything. I love how everyone is “acknowledging the problem” and then “acknowledging the problem” and wait for it…”acknowledging the problem. No one is really above suggesting anything other than talking. I know Russel makes good tv (despite the stutter and all) but come on Simms, taking it in the gut on Oprah ain’t your style.

    I dig Oprah but she’s getting out of control. Would have preferred to see the Clipse boys, fitty, etc. on the panel. That would have been classic tv. Having the black intelligentsia on the show is to quote Rev. Brown “talking loud but saying nothin’”

    Whats the point of making a half-assed comment about glazing over anyways. Ten minutes to read the words, 20 if you want to dissect a little. Fuck, 40, if you want to make some notes. Saul’s a good man just saying his piece.

  32. Nester  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    Saul Williams is a god.

  33. Katrina  |   Posted on Apr 20th, 2007 0

    best thing i’ve read all day. thanks for posting this.

  34. russell  |   Posted on Apr 21st, 2007 0

    i absolutely love saul williams.

    but that lacked focus. some decent points made in what was ultimately less than coherent.

  35. i’m not saying that his letter was the most focused piece, but given the heartfelt tone of the letter, what lacks in cohesion more than makes up for in earnestness.

    with that said, i do think it’s brutally unfair of oprah to typecast hip-hop as some brute form of barbaric expressionalism. hip-hop is and has been the most vital african-american artistic art form in the world. instead of grilling ludacris on her show, why doesn’t she invite talib kweli? it just seems as though her views of hip-hop are flagrantly one-sided, and this is a point that saul kind of glossed over in his letter without actually saying it directly.

    do i feel that an overwhelming majority of mainstream hip-hop is socially irresponsible? yes. however, i feel the same way about quentin tarantino movies. although the rampant misogyny, use of the n-word [the "a" suffix doesn't really make it any better than the "er"], and all-around glorification of meaningless shit in hip-hop should be quelled a little, in the end, it’s entertainment. even though rap songs and vulgar, violent movies are bringing down the society, noone with a shred of moral being are going to take what they see and hear to heart.

    and for those that do take it to heart, it’s heartbreaking, but these forms of entertainment are more than likely never going to cease.

  36. p.s. sorry for the grammatical errors. it’s late.

  37. WWODBD?

    (what would ol’ dirty bastard do?)

  38. 6-3-2  |   Posted on Apr 21st, 2007 0

    I think Russell Simmons hit on a good point in that video, there is a great deal of ignorance that goes into the misogyny that exists abundantly in popular rap these days. It is a surprise that rappers that come from run down communities with thoroughly inadequate education and a complete lack of enriching and artistic activities and rampant segregation and stigmatization against intellectualism, that there happens to be misogyny? It’s ridiculous to think about, but a great amount of consciouness raising had to occur before we thought of women as they way we do, and many of these rappers are not exposed to the ideas of equality many of us hold to be just. Don’t forget that the public is buying this music as well. I don’t separate the rappers from responsibility, but I hold us a nation responsible for so thoroughly neglecting our children and poor communities, and leaving them without exposure to a more just and equal mindset, and yet some purely blame those people for not having a mindset they’ve never been exposed to? Or at the least, a mindset that they have never seen in action.

  39. yenson  |   Posted on Apr 22nd, 2007 0

    i agree with his sentiments, but it would take a major movement of people/thinking to change the state of hip-hop/the world….power to your elbow Saul!

  40. robina  |   Posted on Apr 22nd, 2007 0

    Aside from the grammatical errors (commas!), this is really thoughtful and well-said. I think he’s essentially trying to say that there are positive forces in hip hop, and that hip hop is not the sole source of denigration of women in America. You can take out the degrading language in music, but that doesn’t mean everyone will suddenly be completely respected in American society.

  41. Kharyshi  |   Posted on Apr 23rd, 2007 0

    WOW! Saul…I much appreciate your words, and I fully agree with you. I watched a recap of segments Part I and Part II this weekend, and I must say that I was greatly disappointed by what was referred to as the “Civil Rights” generation. It is so easy to criticize, and as I watched, I wondered how many of them actually listen to Hip Hop. It reminded me of the same type of ignorance that is expressed by young people when I ask them if they like jazz. You know?the ones who talk negatively about the art form, yet have never spent a single moment listening to the beauty of Coltrane?s ?A Love Supreme.?
    I think that one of the biggest ways that oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, misogyny, homophobia, etc.) is able to persist is by ?blaming the victim.? So quickly, our attention went from the real issue ?systematic oppression? and went to spokespersons. I was called a bitch long before I heard the word used in a Hip Hop record. As a little girl growing up, I played on ?all-boy? baseball teams. I cannot even begin to tell you the ways in which I was ridiculed?by parents, coaches, and the boys that I played with/against. There was no Hip Hop there. It is unfathomable, in my opinion, to blame the problems of a society on the youth who were raised by that very society. Russell Simmons said ?when you know better, you do better.? Well?many of these people do not know better. And regardless to a person?s platform, one cannot teach, express, share what they do not know.
    I work with Black youth, Latino youth, and poor youth everyday. And the thing that plagues them the most?is low self esteem. Their low self esteem is not just perpetuated by the music that they listen to, but by the television shows that they watch, the advertisements and magazines that they see, the extreme amounts of poverty that they experience, the poor schools that they attend, and so on. Sure you can take Hip Hop off the air, but what will then be said for the countless others ways that our young girls are told that they are ?less-than? and all of the ways that our young boys are encouraged to develop a false sense of manhood because they are also ?less than??
    What the “Civil Rights” generation failed to acknowledge/realize is that we live in a time of extreme exploitation. Hip Hop? What about the Bachelor? I Love New York? The White Rappers Show? Cheaters? The Jerry Springer Show? Wife Swap? Being Bobby Brown? Blind Date? Springbreak? Cops? American Idol? The list goes on and on, and at the core of each of these is the exploitation of ignorance, poor people, and women. Why aren?t the institutions being held responsible? BET, MTV, and VH1 are owned by the same media conglomerate?Viacom. Where are they in this discussion? In addition, no matter how many millions Lil? Wayne might make (although I?m sure that is questionable) it in no way compares to the record label that produces him. I think that it is so interesting that the largest group of Hip Hop consumers and record label executives is the same group?White men!
    If we leave the system out of trying to end systematic oppression?then the only thing that we will do is further the oppression of people. I would ask that Ms. Winfrey watch a documentary by a UCLA grad student called Dreamworld II. This documentary talks about the exploitation of women in commercials, music videos (rock, Hip Hop, and R&B), and it fuses it with the movie ?The Accused.? This conversation is in dire need of a context, and I think that this movie will serve to provide a very good one.
    Thanks for your ear and your words!

  42. In relation to the Oprah discussion linked above…

    I think one major problem in this dialogue is that while personal accountability is certainly important in reversing the misogyny in hip-hop, we have to acknowledge that not only is this problem rooted far deeper than the culture and industry of hip-hop, but also that society is not just a sum of its parts. Individual-based accountability, and even industry-wide accountability, is simply not enough to make any real difference. Everything from gender identities and norms to conditions of poverty and education in the inner city support the misogyny in hip-hop, the system of gender stratification, and the overall subjugation of women. These factors are not easily controlled by individuals, or even social groups, but are externalized realties that are incredibly difficult to forcibly change.

    This discussion needs to go further, and I don’t honestly think that anyone believes Oprah is the one who’s going to solve it. As one of the most prominent black figures in our society, she needs a seat at the table. But we also need large sectors of the hip-hop community, community groups and leaders from the inner city, other prominent African-Americans, social scientists and gender experts, and maybe even political leadership.

  43. Juanita  |   Posted on Apr 25th, 2007 0

    I too agree with much of what Saul Williams is stating in his letter. However, there is one thing I believe is missing from the dialogue about misogyny and the objectification of women in hip hop and rap; that is the voice of the women who perform in the vidoes. Who has asked them to speak about it. If i don’t like the images etc.. that is one thing and I am free to share my ionion . However if the women who are in the videos are ok with their portray and don’t feel objectified how do we deal with that? If we don’t invite them to the table of dialogue then haven’t we marginalized their voice? Which is something we often accuse the oppresor of doing to us. Just something to think about…..

  44. Trisha  |   Posted on Apr 26th, 2007 0

    The Hip-Hop Church
    by Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson

    It’s a great book. I had the opportunity to hear Jackson speak about the role of Hip-Hop in the Christian community and the role of the Christian community in Hip-Hop culture. He said some really great things about the positive roots of Hip-Hop. He also discussed the difference between emcees and rappers. Jackson defined emcees at those that speak with the heart of a poet and rappers as those that speak with the heart of consumerism. Is there really any better definition than that?

  45. Kimmy  |   Posted on May 3rd, 2007 0

    Saul, you hit the nail on the head. Folks know religion but they dont know spirituality. You have captured the true essence of hip hop and sad to say a lot of people wont get it. It is time to make the connections (and you connected all the dot) to really deal with the issues. Some folks are really disconnected from their true spirit and that entire
    letter will be over their heads.

    stay blessed

  46. anonymous  |   Posted on May 7th, 2007 0

    I love you, your work is soooooooo truthfull and it just amazes me how much i relate to your poetry. Growing up I’ve had no mother and it’s hard but your poetry some how makes me stay strong!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! Some may disagree but I think that you are very helpfull in society. it’s hard to read your poems when ppl relate to them but I love it, I’ve always written and loved slam poetry. I’m not depressed but I love writing about the truth and not A bunch of shit, like the world is allways a happy place with bunnies and kittens. The world is harder then it looks and it’s hard to live in. We need to respect the fact that there is always someone with worse problems then someone else. Your so truthfull and it makes me respect you, cuz you know whats right and not whats wrong!!!! Stay True!!!!!

  47. internetdreg  |   Posted on May 19th, 2007 0

    oprah you need to listen to saul…. religion is the root of all evil in hip hop!!! but so are many other things. like those religious oppressors, who are they? where do they live? what do they like to eat? maybe that’s what makes them so oppressive. i mean, years and years of a bad diet will take it’s toll not only on the individual, but also on those around said individual. so i think it’s the food that’s the problem… and if it is the food, then i think our farmers should be held accountable for harvesting such crap for us to eat, in turn causing all this violence and demoralization of our society.. long live saul! corrector of negro wrongs across our embattled nation. thanks soul brutha saul.

  48. Saul wrote this letter to thank someone for using their resources to do some good. He didn’t call her perfect, she isn’t. Neither is he. And you can pick apart his ideas all day. The bottom line is that he took more time than any of the rantings here to give a shit and put dedicated thought into a problem that affects us all. Appreciate it for what it is; dialog that gives cause for others to think, to process and even, yes, rant about. If anyone here were to write a letter with as much heart and soul, I’m sure it’s “flaws” would be pointed out as well. Positive thought attracts positive results. I think Saul realizes that much. His energy is directed in a positive manner. Ours should be as well.

  49. Hi
    Thanks for reading my email,
    l`ll need the Queen email add. for l got some message for Her.
    This`s the third times l`m writing and asking, and maybe the last, l don`t know who`s to blame,
    Anyway l pray the will of God to be don.
    Please try to take me serious this time.
    Long live Q.of A.
    helkeysjp@yahoo.com

  50. dknows2  |   Posted on Sep 3rd, 2007 0

    A very artistic way of saying nothing. Other than “piss” on he scriptures, what was his point? Obviously, he no longer subscribes to christian belief, which is cool, but, if you’re going to make an attempt to discredit something, give evidence to support your claims not statements presented as facts.

    • Zorn Sunshine  |   Posted on Apr 15th, 2008 0

      He didn’t discredit Christians at all. He discredited people using Jesus Christ’s teachings to manipulate and dominate the world. You should read it again, this time without preconceived notions, the point….

      The point in a nutshell is that hip hop, as well as rock n roll, and all other genres of music and art forms movies etc… are a microcosm of the macrocosm. Look at the world we live in. The governments of this nation and others, art is simply a reflection of this world, whether it is love: like rapper Talib Kweli’s song “Love Language” or hate like Snoop Dogg’s song “Fuck you”.
      The same goes for movies and shows where Arnold S. ans Sylvester Stalone etc… blows people up vs. beautiful movies like (hmmm I don’t know) The Notebook.

      do you get the point now?? you should read it again, because he gave infinite support to everything he said.

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