BY MICHAEL FICHMAN Last Sunday, when Cam’ron appeared on “60 Minutes” (videos here) and tried to explain how his credibility as an artist was subject to his obedience to the Code of the Streets, he neglected to acknowledge the consequences of an imperfect code. Furthermore, he didn’t rhyme the same word over and over again, nor did he suggest that he and Anderson Cooper should tip Cristal and run trains until Gawker or Bossip find out. But I digress. The “Stop Snitchin” credo is rooted in the distrust borne of centuries of systemic racism — much of it at the hands of law enforcement types — which is entirely understandable. But the problem is it offers no solution for replacing the police with something better — it’s a force advocating for maintenance of a desperate and ultimately unsustainable status quo. The net result is that Cam is seen as unconscionable cannibal in pink, an ignorant exploiter all too willing to accept his nomination as a cultural representative of Harlem for its riches but not for the responsibility that comes-with.
“…It’s just trading one form of oppression for another.”
Unlike music journalists (you can call me that) who cover the more milquetoast sonic arts, writing about rap occasionally demands a sociological aside. The persistent but never spoken out loud issue of race makes this a sad necessity. Chuck D famously called rap “ghetto CNN,” and this characterization is increasingly apt, even useful, in an era when the mainstream media faces chronic accusations of bias, insensitivity and misrepresentation — and as a result they run away from any kind of substantive debate or discussion of race in America for fear it will blow up in their face like a novlety cigar. But race cuts both way, and I would level a parallel accusation against the likes of Cam, the Dips and the prophets of the street. The proclivities of the major labels and the runaway masculinity of the rap game dictate that the stars represent the hardcore-thug sliver of ghetto society most likely to end up on the nightly news — in reality a small, violent minority that rule the majority with fear and intimidation. And that’s not going to change until the level of disgust with this path of mutual assured destruction outweighs distrust of the cops.
The phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” may be a cliche but that doesn’t make it any less true. With the rise of corporate power and all its high-paid spin doctors parsing hard facts into meaninglessness, power has been uncoupled from responsibility. Michael Jordan’s admission that “Republicans buy sneakers too” announced the arrival of a new paradigm: The age of the passive spokesman. I hold no illusions that the sentiments of Michael Jordan, or for that matter Cam’ron, are representative of the entire African-American community. However, the unfortunate reality is that they are most definitely perceived as such by many if not most — so true or false it doesn’t really matter. Minority communities are stereotypicially cast as group-think blocs by outsiders anyway, and besides it’s an impression that often carries a lot of water in the communities themselves. As such, Cam’ron is a de facto spokesman in the eyes of many just because he’s reprazenting on “60 Minutes.” And it was there, with millions watching, he could have said something that might have made a difference: He could either invoke his conscience in these matters of murder and mayhem or he could pass the buck and look out for himself. In the end, he chose to look out for Cam’ron.
The idea that one should actively obstruct the police has its pros and cons. The roots of the “Stop Snitchin” movement run deep. I’ve had enough friends get their assess whipped by the police with utter brutality and minimal recourse that I can understand the contempt for the cops — to a point. My years and experiences don’t give me enough to know the full scale of repression experienced by African-Americans at the hands of the police. The more phrase-ologically inclined M1 of Dead Prez, when on Fox News’ “Neil Cavuto Reactionary Pony Show” (video) went somewhat further than Cam in describing the contempt the ghetto has for authorities — the brutalizers, the crack merchants, the boosters of Noriega and the backers of the original Freeway Rick Ross. Don’t talk to the police — that’s OK. But when snitching is verboten, guess what? The biggest, baddest gun in the ‘hood makes the rule and runs the show.
I won’t be so paternalistic as to suggest that Cam’ron owes anybody a Free Breakfast or has any sort of responsibility to act as a deputy, rousting murderers out of the h’ood. But “Stop Snitchin” can be one of two things — an act of intimidation over the airwaves or a piece of a larger movement towards self-sufficiency. Freezing out the police isn’t the answer — you must replace them with something. Only then can you surely say that the police are being cut out because they are unethical and not because criminals keep the ‘hood on lockdown. But the fact that the words “Stop Snitchin” fly so freely out of the mouths of those who bring nothing to the table but the pursuit of predatory profits and the brutal enforcement of market shares only proves my point: It’s just trading one form of oppression for another.
(NOTE: After this piece was written, Cam’ron issued a press release concerning his appearance on 60 Minutes, it can be found here, via XXL.)
[Cam'ron portrait by Grant Siedlecki, originally from Status Ain't Hood]