The “Hip-Hop Intellectual” Speaks

Max Weiss

Although this week’s winter weather delayed Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson from giving his lecture, it did not stop him from delivering a speech that, given outdoors, would have melted the snow. Dyson’s lecture, sponsored by Brothers, was held in Love Auditorium on Tuesday, as their speaker for Black History Month.

“We try to get famous people to speak who have important things to say,” Brothers President senior Anthony Reyna said. In recent years, the group has hosted such renowned public figures as the Reverend Al Sharpton, director Spike Lee, and actor Robert Townsend. This year over 100 people showed up to hear Dyson, “the hip-hop intellectual,” speak.

Dyson, who currently teaches theology, English and social issues at Georgetown, is a renowned scholar, Baptist minister and public intellectual. He has written 16 books and greatly contributed to Spike Lee’s Hurricane Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke. He also makes numerous television appearances on shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher.

In his lecture, titled “From Sit-ins to Hip Hop, Social Consciousness in a Post-King America,” Dyson spoke on the topics of race, religion, popular culture and contemporary issues in the African American community. He reminded the audience that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was considered “the most dangerous man in America” not for his message of peace and understanding, but for his radical ideas about economic redistribution and his ability to organize the disenfranchised.

“He has been rendered as non-disturbing and associated with Michael Jackson’s ‘We are the People’ and this misses the significance of Dr. King,” Dyson said. According to Dyson, King’s message has been stripped of its calls for social and economic justice by black conservatives who have co-opted his words against him to make him oppose affirmative action and to make it taboo for anyone to talk about race.

“It is best of times and the worst of times right now [for the black community],” Dyson said, meaning that African-American success is narrow and not widely dispersed and is somewhat limited to the entertainment industry.

Dyson extolled the great singers of today and yesterday while discussing some of the problems within the industry. He addressed what he lamented as the current state of hip-hop.

“[Soulja Boy] better save his money,” he said as he discussed the term “superman dat ho.” He described the graphic sexual act in articulate and precise detail, and if anyone in the audience didn’t know what the term meant before the lecture, they certainly knew by the end.

“How did we go from social dissent to ‘superman dat ho?'” Dyson said. He noted that not all rap music needs a social message.

“Marvin Gaye recorded ‘What’s Going On’ before he did ‘Let’s Get it On’,” he said.

Dyson also touched on his ongoing “beef” with comedian Bill Cosby over their differing opinions on the state of African-American culture. Cosby’s statements have been critical of Ebonics and how African-Americans name their children. Dyson equated Cosby’s attacks on the poor to, “Mike Tyson going to the third grade and whooping some kid’s ass.” Dyson called Cosby hypocritical, noting how Cosby made money of off the Fat Albert character and how he, Cosby, now criticizes people for using the same vernacular that he popularized. Dyson acknowledged that he does not condone the behavior that Cosby has criticized but feels that more compassion is necessary in dealing with people.

“It was an informative speech,” senior Malik Wright said. “He is knowledgeable of modern culture, which was helpful to the audience, and he spoke his mind in an enlightened way.”

One would be hard pressed to find someone in the auditorium who would disagree.