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Monday, April 27, 2009

Cov Records Makes Earth Day Crowd Cringe

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 10:24 AM

Turf Unity? - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Turf Unity?

Earth Day is supposed to be a day of getting closer to nature, honoring ecology, respecting the planet and each other. But a crowd of community members--many of them parents with children attending this year's Earth Day celebration at Oakland's Woodland Elementary School got a rather rude awakening instead. During a performance by Cov Records - a record label which works with at-risk youth and the non-profit groups Silence the Violence and Green For All - the peaceful crowd was treated to a barrage of explicit, decidedly un-family-friendly, rap lyrics.

According to hip-hop artist Jahi, who was there, "When I arrived, the set was real cool. Community folks, booths, and at least 100 kids on skateboards for the hood games, and about 50 people in the outside performance place. Children. Women. Families. Definetly not a club atmosphere. The Cov Records youth came out, did their thing. I was watching as the crowd cringed at the lyrics. People were totally turned off."

Jahi goes on to note that as the negativity flowed from the speakers, Cov Records Program Director Galen Peterson stood on stage with sunglasses on, apparently oblivious to the inappropriate language being expressed. Following this shocking turn of events, Jahi says, "Ash from Green For All got on stage with Galen talking about a solar powered green studio," as if nothing had happened, adding, "I wonder if Van (Jones, founder of Green For All) knows that this is the music they want for the Green soundtrack?"


For his part, Jahi--who works with kids himself, at OneFam.org-- is incensed at what he seems as irresponsibility on the part of Peterson. Following the performance, he sent Peterson an email in all caps criticizing the use of the N-word and other offending epithets, adding, "I'M NOT GOING TO WATCH UNASSUMING LITTLE KIDS BE DISRESPECTED LIKE THAT."

Were this a one-time occurrence, it would be easy to explain as a simple mistake or an unintended oversight. But precisely the same thing happened at last year's Green Festival, when a family-friendly audience was treated to graphic descriptions of gangbanging by the Cov Records rappers, as Peterson and StV Policy Director Nicole Lee stood idly by, watching the proceedings.

Cov Records' home page touts the program as bringing together "rappers from different turfs for non-violent hyphy hip-hop shows," while an article posted on the Ella Baker Center's Website about the Turf Unity CD (funded by EBC, and featuring the Cov Records rappers) insists the project is part of a "growing movement to reverse the trend of violence on Oakland's streets." While acknowledging Turf Unity's explicit lyrical content, the article claims "the message is a need for a change, the need for a community-wide transformation."

Using hip-hop as a tool for decreasing violence and increasing the peace is all well and good, and to its credit, Turf Unity has helped troubled youth get off the streets and into the studio. But using unconscious, even ignorant, lyrics to promote positivity seems not only misguided, but a clear conflict of interest, especially when those lyrics are being directed at families and children. And it's difficult to see how a community transformation can be achieved through spreading ignorance in the name of unity, nor how explicit lyrical content has anything to do with the Green movement whatsoever.

(Full disclosure: I am a former employee of the Ella Baker Center.)

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Eric Arnold

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