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CULTURE BEAT: Rappers get religion

Culture | Will their faith bear fruit in new behavior and less offensive lyrics?

Issue: "1st-grade murder," March 11, 2000

Changing their bad rap
When rap star Sean "Puffy" Combs got into trouble for beating up record executive Steve Stoute, it was seen by most people as just another example of thuggish behavior in the entertainment industry. Which it was. But there was more to the story. It seems that Mr. Combs had second thoughts about his latest music video, which showed the performer being stretched out on a cross, like Jesus Christ. He consulted with his minister, Rev. Hezekiah Walker of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle in Brooklyn. He asked his pastor whether it would be wrong to have this scene in the video. Yes, it would be blasphemous, his pastor told him, and it would not only offend God, it would jeopardize his standing with the other members of his church. Mr. Combs talked to the studio and insisted that the crucifixion scene be cut. Mr. Stoute agreed. But when the video came out, there it was, Puffy on the cross. Enraged, Mr. Combs stormed into the studio office and tore up the place, thrashing Mr. Stoute to within an inch of his life. (Criminal charges were dropped after Mr. Stoute received a $1.5 million settlement and declined to press charges.) At the Grammy Awards show on Feb. 23, host Rosie O'Donnell opened with a joke making fun of the practice of award winners' thanking God in their acceptance speeches. "I saw God backstage," she quipped. "He said, 'You're welcome.'" This did not stop musicians from thanking the Lord, especially rap artists, who reportedly expressed resentment for Ms. O'Donnell's trivializing remark. The fact is, many rap entertainers now include in their retinue "spiritual advisors," who are, more often than not, ministers of evangelical churches. According to Wall Street Journal reporter Kemba Dunham, this is in part a response to unsettling gangster-style murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Now, some rappers are taking stock of their lives. She quotes hip-hop producer Russell Simmons: "Rappers want to be good fathers and husbands, just like everybody else does." (The real test: Will they want their children to listen to their recordings?) Ironically, their lyrics still tend to be filled with explicit sex, violence, law-breaking, and profanity. The rap ministers say they are trying to get their charges to clean up their acts, but say their influence extends mostly to their personal lives, rather than to their art. They seem to realize they have a long way to go. There is a big difference between God-talk "spirituality" and genuine conversion to Christ and growth in holy living. Still, this openness to ministers, spiritual issues, and even family values among rap artists may be a first step. Now, if they will only let their new awareness of God influence their behavior and their music. No law against vampires
Conservatives have often complained about the proliferation of laws. Why does a society need year-round legislative sessions-on the federal, state, and even local levels-to churn out more and more laws? Surely, a free society needs only a few laws, grounded in the moral order, rather than a proliferation of them made up at will. The point is valid, but sometimes--in our ever more bizarre culture--something comes up that was never anticipated by the great solons of the past. In 1995, 37-year-old Phillip K. Buck began inviting young teenagers to his Sheboygan, Wis., home. He gave them razors and talked them into cutting themselves so he could suck their blood. His line was that if they cut themselves, they would get a pleasure rush from the body's release of pain-relieving endorphins. He was also tying in to the vampire craze. As many as 12 children, from 12 to 18, thought that sounded like a good idea. When police learned about what was happening, they were at first stymied. The young people were mutilating themselves. Mr. Buck was not breaking any law. Fortunately, they discovered that there was also underaged drinking going on, so they were able to bust him for that. Three years later, authorities discovered cases where Mr. Buck had done the cutting himself, so they were able to put him away for 10 years for child abuse. Now, state senator Jim Baumgart of Sheboygan is pushing the Wisconsin legislature to pass a new law making it a felony to induce children to hurt themselves. The penalty would be 10 years in prison if the child suffers great bodily harm, jumping up to 15 years if the perpetrator consumes the child's blood. Another thing that might help would be to improve education, so that teenagers will not be quite so stupid. Selling women instead of drugs
The growth of the sex industry-what with Internet sex sites, hotel pornography channels, nude dance clubs, international prostitution rings, and more-has become big business. Like other booming industries, it has an insatiable demand for more workers. According to Harold Koh, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, the drug trade is being surpassed by the sex trade. International crime syndicates are finding that selling drugs is less profitable than selling women. This goes beyond prostitution: Women are being sold into sexual slavery. Some 2 million women worldwide have been forced into sexual slavery, said Mr. Koh, testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. Typically, women from economically struggling nations-Ukraine, Albania, the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, and Nigeria seem to be the most victimized-are offered the chance to immigrate to another country. They will be smuggled into a country, such as the United States or England, only to be forced into prostitution. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the hearing, called the sex trade "the greatest manifestation of slavery in the world today." The trade has increased, Mr. Koh said, because "there are weaker restraints and growing demand." That is to say, weaker moral restraints and growing demand for using women as sex objects. Drugging toddlers, 21st-century style
Some 2 million elementary-school children already have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and are being calmed down by drugs. As WORLD reported last week, Ritalin, Prozac, and other amphetamines and tranquilizers are increasingly being given to children as young as 2 years old. A study published in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association found that 1.5 percent of children between 2 and 4 years old-some 150,000 children-are receiving stimulants, anti-depressants, or anti-psychotic drugs. Many physicians are concerned, since none of the drugs have been approved for children under the age of 6 and little research has been done on the effects of such drugs on children so young. According to the study's principal author, Julie Magno Zito of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, "The knowledge base that we have to support the effectiveness and safety of these medications in preschool-age children is certainly insufficient." In an accompanying editorial, Joseph T. Coyle of the Harvard Medical School warned physicians of the danger. This age, he points out, "is a time of extraordinary, unprecedented changes in the brain. We have very little information about the long-term impact of treatment with these drugs early in development." Susan Okie of The Washington Post, who reported on this trend, quotes Mark Stein of the Children's National Medical Center, who said that children are being treated for ADHD at an ever earlier age. Doctors used to prescribe Ritalin at 7 or 8, but now they often start the medication at 5 or 6. "As we hurry kids along and put more expectations on them," he said, "they're going to display more symptoms of ADHD, and I think there's a tendency to start treating them younger." More expectations on toddlers? Is there a 2-year-old who is not hyperactive? One wonders if it is the toddlers who are subject to so much pressure, or if it is their parents. In the early days of the industrial revolution, both mothers and fathers worked 16-hour days in the mills and sweatshops. What passed for child care was often a "tonic for tiny tots"-patent medicine consisting of laudanum, a solution of alcohol and opium. Until they reached school age and were old enough to work in the mills themselves, children were left at home in an opium daze, safely drugged to the point that they could not get into any mischief and could be left alone. Perhaps in these early days of what has been called the second industrial revolution, overly busy parents are resorting to the same tactic.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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