I'm Standing with Nelly - Sort Of
In 2004, students at Spelman College famously derailed a bone marrow drive that rapper Nelly planned to hold on their campus. Their beef was the music video for a song called “Tip Drill” in which Nelly swipes a credit card down a woman’s backside and which the protestors believed was emblematic of a hip hop industry laced with misogynistic messaging that objectifies women (I first learned of the incident via Byron’s Hurt’s film Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes). Well, Nelly recently revealed that he still feels some kind of way about those protesters. In an interview with HuffPost Live, he criticized the protestors for not applying their energies to more appropriate targets (see interview here). He further stated that media outlets rarely highlight the good works of hip hop artists and accused the protestors of placing their political opinions above vital community health concerns.
Nelly’s arguments were familiar. He drew a wall between his music and his philanthropic work, as well as a wall between entertainment and community health. These are walls that I find to be contrived and damaging. For one, why can’t more artists view their music as part of their philanthropy? Why must their community outreach be confined to writing checks and working with foundations once off of the stage? It is probably the case that hip hop artists would take a financial hit if they were to better combine their musical and service platforms (although we don’t necessarily know this) but I roll my eyes at arguments about financial loss when coming from artists who are talking about how much money they give to charity in the next breath.
Secondly, there is no need to make a distinction between political concerns and health concerns in this case given that concerns about misogynistic music are health concerns. A culture that breeds negative attitudes and violence towards women has a tremendous impact on the emotional and physical health of those who must interact with it. Just ask the Centers for Disease Control and other public health organizations that consider intimate violence prevention to be in their purview and contribute funding towards this end.
Nelly and Spellman really should have found a way to both hold the bone marrow drive and hold a conversation about hip hop culture. Both of these efforts are necessary endeavors that impact lives in my book. Nelly places the blame squarely on the student protestors but there are alternative accounts of what happened (such as this one here) and his words in the interview certainly do seem to betray his assertion that his people did not play a willful role in the cancellation of the bone marrow drive.
With all of this said, I do empathize with the viewpoint shared by Nelly in the interview. Nelly was holding the bone marrow drive in support of his sister who had leukemia and unfortunately passed in 2005. I do relate to Nelly’s irritation with those who contributed to the disruption of an opportunity to support his sister. Should I ever have the opportunity to sit down with him, I would say one thing though. That being that I hope that he could understand the motivations of those of us who passionately stand against rape culture. Many of us were moved to become agitators because we also wanted to stand in solidarity with a loved one, and we tend to get angry when we perceive that somebody is minimizing the experiences of our loved ones. I would think that he could understand this.