When the Grammy Awards air later this month, Mr. Marshall Mathers will probably be asked to please stand up at least once; Eminem's quadruplicate nominations seem to guarantee a win or four on February 21. But since The Marshall Mathers LP is just the kind of specimen Tipper Gore types used to bolster pro-music censorship arguments in the late '80s, its embrace by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences has initiated a lively discussion about separating "music" from "message." On the one hand, it's a relief to see that NARAS has finally loosened up a bit (the Grammy Web site congratulates itself on the "unprecedented diversity and expansive reach" of this year's nominee strata) and included a well-done record with blatant disregard for political correctness; on the other hand, it's pretty easy to argue that Eminem -- even if he is a mastermind, as Jann Wenner might like us to believe -- has done a lot to reinforce negative perceptions of rappers for a bewildered American mainstream.
Denver rapper Jeff Campbell could be the anti-Eminem. For the past year, the MC also known as Apostle has worked to mobilize the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition, an organization of artists, fans, promoters and producers that currently functions as a subset of the Colorado Music Association. In his music (specifically, Last of a Dying Breed, a full-length album released last year), Campbell portrays himself as a fictional heroic character who rescues the earth -- and the soul of hip-hop -- from the evils of corporate and political parties. In real life, Campbell's quest has a distinct thematic parallel. Hip-hop, he argues, has been corrupted by "a corporate industry without social conscience" and pulled from its original function as a tool of expression. Of course, because young hip-hop heads -- the kind that bump the latest G-thing from their cars on the way to high school -- may not yet realize this, Campbell and his group have taken it upon themselves to provide a little lesson.
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This week, the CHHC and several other local sponsors (including the Colorado Progressive Coalition, the Spot, Twist & Shout Records and COMA) presented the first installment of Get 2 Da Point, a mentoring program that places local hip-hop professionals in front of students at George Washington High School. Every Tuesday through the rest of the month, hip-hop will become part of the school's curriculum, with lessons on hip-hop's history as well as the arts of turntablism, graffiti and street dance. (So, honey, what did you learn today?) Although cash-money-motivated hip-hop still dominates airwaves and brain waves, Campbell's program -- aside from being a cool way to spend some class time -- is a step toward legitimizing rap's inherent power as a social tool. Mr. Campbell, we're giving you an A.