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Scarface Responds to Tablet

The rapper clarifies his feelings on hip hop…and the Jews

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Rapper Scarface performs onstage at the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September 23, 2009.(Getty)

Last week, the rapper Scarface gave an interview accusing white, Jewish executives of orchestrating a conspiracy to destroy hip hop and make black Americans look dumb. A longtime fan of his music, I was offended, and saddened that someone who wrote such evocative lyrics could resort to such rank nonsense. I wrote a piece calling Scarface out, and, courtesy of Twitter, he responded. Yesterday, we had a long phone conversation in an effort to get to the bottom of his claims.

Scarface’s first point, and one which I have no reason to doubt, is that his interview has been edited, leaving out comments he’d made expressing his admiration for Israeli-born executive Lyor Cohen, producer Rick Rubin, and other influential Jewish players in the hip hop scene. “These are white people who embrace the culture like I have,” he said. His feud, instead, is with record label executives who are “so old and so white they don’t care about the craft or the culture of it, it’s only the money that matters.” Even though I pressed, he did not explain why he chose to single out Jews in the way that he did in his original statement.

But what followed was a searing and passionate argument about the contemporary state of hip hop. For the sake of brevity and clarity, I’ll condense it to its key points: hip hop used to have many tributaries flowing into its main stream, but with its rise in popularity over the last decade or so, all but the most commercial acts have effectively dried out. This was the doing of record executives—many of whom are white, many of whom are Jewish—who cared about little else but making a buck. Not caring much for the craft itself, they promoted what Scarface called “blackface” and “boot-shining shit,” or the crassest and least complicated practitioners of the art form. Having done so, these executives have corrupted hip hop culture. “If you continue to force people to eat shit,” Scarface said, “they going to think shit tastes good. They’re going to love shit. So when a steak comes, they’re not going to like it. They won’t even taste it.”

In part, Scarface added, this shift has to do with technology. Hip hop, he said, used to be sold in neighborhood mom-and-pop shops, which served not only as centers of commerce but also as arbiters of taste. Now, music is promoted and sold online, which puts blacks at a disadvantage. Scarface argued that the Internet was far slower to catch on among his family and his community; the best existing data on this question supports his assertion, suggesting that blacks are considerably less likely to own a computer or access the Internet than whites.

Scarface is right about all of this. He’s correct to assert that hip hop today is far from the multi-faceted, varied, and far more democratic game it was in the 1990s, when the form was still in its toddlerhood, corporate America paid far less attention, and love of the craft was often paramount to anything else. This, of course, is also very much the story of rock n’ roll, which thrived as a counter-cultural undertaking of the young and disaffected and was soon swallowed by the money men, or of computer games, beginning life as a hobbyist’s haven and quickly becoming a profit-driven enterprise. It’s the story of America, and it can be told in two words: Money talks.

What, then, to do with Scarface’s sharp words? What to make of his intimations of a conspiracy? Having had the opportunity to talk to him, I have to say that I’m convinced that he harbors no real prejudice against Jews or whites. And while I saw his characterization of hip hop’s travails as sentimental—as I’m want to do anytime I’m faced with a general complaint that the world just isn’t just—I understand why this turn of affairs would cause great dismay to someone like him, who’d been a daring hip hop pioneer. I still lament his decision to originally single out Jews in particular as culprits in this drama, and I don’t share his theories of conspiracy, but I do share his grief over the countless stellar rappers whose voices are drowned by the din created by lesser artists with bigger marketing budgets. And maybe this agreement, and this shared passion for the music, could be, as they say in the yeshiva, the beginning of redemption.

Related: Requiem for a Racist Rapper

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Phillip Cohen says:

The corporate commandeering of hip hop music is a truism to be found with any art that can be reduced to the all mighty dollar. When Scarface singled out Jews it was antisemitic. This response of his was the first small step toward doing the reparative work to heal a schism he may have created.

HopeinDC says:

Both of you fail to acknowledge the thriving indie hip hop scene. Labels like Rhymesayers that due are independently owned and create some of the best hip hop out there. It’s always true that the most innovative art exists outside the mainstream, particularly in music, and Hip Hop is no exception.

I don’t think the truth is always pleasant – but hip-hop was pounced upon by opportunists – white, Jewish and Black who exploited an entire generation black young people who were encouraged to assume a “street” look which in no way contributed to their advancement except in monetary terms. If you can make a zillion bucks without an education – then why get one. I think that the part of hip-hop that embraced the “gangsta” genre was very detrimental to black male youth and perpetuated a vile stereotype that persists. The performers who have gone past genres and became actors, philanthropists and scholars are exemplary but it is still not a norm. Yes, I do think music moguls – many of whom are white and Jewish bear huge fault for this by using the promise of bling, fame and cash to bring unexperienced black youth into a place where white, black and Jewish producers and record companies made a bundle. It is fascinating that when black hip-hop and rappers rose in fame and fortune – they were the ones who still got nailed for crimes, real and imagined and the white and Jewish execs didn’t. They accepted no responsibilty for their creations. And I do note that Phil Spector – who is Jewish is doing time – but he appears to be an anomaly. Not everyone who calls out a piece of shit person or persons that is Jewish is an anti-Semite. I am a Jew and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em. Jew

David Sher says:

Hip hop epitomized by Scarface is nothing more or less than DREK. Let him spout his clearly anti-semetic bilge. For a guy using the N word in almost every song, its par for the course. I can’t believe that someone selling such undeniable trash is speaking up for artistic integrity. What a hooer!

“…, I have to say that I’m convinced that he harbors no real prejudice against Jews or whites. ”

Bull.

Oh really? Well then why did he say it if he is not antisemitic ??

I have more of a problem with the general depravity of the “culture” than I have with the rantings of one individual. It’s been a negative force in our society for well over 20 years and I would argue that it has promulgated the stereotypes that are now being decried. It’s the sad truth that from an artistic perspective the ‘emperor has no clothes’ – there’s little to no “craft” there – but the pseudo-intelligentsia in the arts community are afraid to criticize rap and its various “tributaries” because of its genesis in the black community.

surfer_dad says:

Exactly — that’s what I was thinking about SO many music styles that eventually “sold out.” Punk, New Wave, Psychedelic, Jazz (Spyro Gyra or Chuck Mangione anyone?).

‘Jewish’ has NOTHING to do with this process, it is only natural that a legitimate musical genre – if good – will reach the masses and become homogenized.

Perfect example. A Public Enemy can have a message, a beat AND sales, but there can only be 1 PE, another group just like them would be redundant. That’s life. Evolve or die.

Poupic says:

Who cares if rapping dies tomorrow or preferably yesterday! Who is it that was stupid enough to declare this noise as “Music?”

Then, why not take his words as is he broadcast to everybody about Jews? The Black community is awash with anti- Semitism today despite my personal hero, MLK defining anti- Zionism as anti- Semitism. His words are just plain, gross anti- Semitism no matter how much he tries to make it sound otherwise and you white washing him. Yuck! Who cares if rapping dies tomorrow or preferably yesterday! Who is it that was stupid enough to declare this noise as “Music?”

Miltonb says:

I think it was Quincy Jones.

JugsPutin says:

Glad to see the conversation focused on the actual substance of what Scarface was trying to get at, instead of chasing this pointless .30 cent question of “is he an anti-semite just because he happened to mention Jews when he said x y & z??!”

As others have pointed out in the thread, there are plenty of white and Jewish hip hop execs who were raking in the cash. If we call them out on being white, it’s totally OK. But the fact is, anytime someone adds the word “Jew” to any disparaging mention of a human being, it is pretty much automatically relegated to the realm of “antisemitism”. (One could say that adding any racial handle to a disparaging remark relegates it to racism, but let us say for the sake of argument I was making disparaging remarks about a racist cop – would it be racist to call him a “white trash pig blankedy-blank”?) Of course, assuming that ALL Jews are greedy and love money is antisemitic and patently false. But if you look at the demographics of certain industry execs, and find out that many of them are indeed Jewish – or white, or Christian, or male, or belonging to any group – you shouldn’t be demonized for trying to call attention to that, especially if the product of the industry is black culture, or any other cultural product which aims for authenticity but is not actually owned by the target culture.

The problem here is with the discomfort around the subject of Jews and money. It’s no secret that Jews have “done well for themselves” in the past half century. But in their long history of religious persecution, they happened to trip off the “greed!” tripwire the Christians more or less tied around their feet through the labor prohibitions of the Dark Ages. Being placed in a difficult situation by an entire continent full of hostiles, the Jews made the most of it, in some cases rising through the ranks of their society.

Predictably, the Christian response was resentment and violence. The whole point was to trample the Jewry down into the ground, turn them into a sub-class of people with less rights than stray dogs. That failed because the Jews began acquiring power through mechanisms of usury and ownership, which really got under Europe’s skin. How dare they!

So nowadays, the effects linger as both an ephemeral shadow of shame in the Jewish community, and as a not-so-ephemeral accusation of greed from everyone else (its most obvious form is the weird Illuminati/Freemason paranoia about “Zionist bankers ruling the world”). It is supremely ironic to see Americans making “Jew gold” comments, considering that America worships at the altar of capitalism before it worships anywhere else, and the supposed capacity for thrift and business acumen the Jews are stereotyped to have are more or less universally desired values in the American business community. But no matter: as we all know, hypocrisy is as American as hamburgers and custard.

This is unfortunate because it puts up barriers in the discussion about the transference of money & power through homogenous clubs & communities.

If…

a) many X are leaders in their industries, and

b) the X community is close-knit

…will it not follow basic human common sense that…

c) we can expect to see people belonging to X community receiving more access and opportunity through their community connections than those who do not belong to X?

To me, this is basic group behavior, yet when you replace X with “Jews”, you get accused of taking the Protocols seriously…

Of course, no one really mentions The Family anymore either, despite the fact that the Argentinian affair guy is running for office again. In fact, most informal networks of power are the province of armchair conspiracy theorists, and the public at large wants nothing to do with them, except when it comes time to try and worm your way into one. Remember those Army commercials where one of the things they explicitly promised was this ephemeral notion of “access to a club”, where you will get preferential treatment and job opportunities simply because the person interviewing you happens to identify with the same group? This should deeply disturb and sicken people, yet no one seems to care.

Informal networks of concentrated wealth and power need to be discussed because we as a society must find a way to neuter and smash them as effectively as possible, and to prevent new ones from popping up in their place. If ethno-religious identity happens to be a factor in the formation of one, we cannot shy away just because we might get accused of being anti-this-or-that. We just have to be very careful about semantics, and be open and willing to engage in a prolonged discussion – like Scarface here was trying to be. (And on that note, sorry for the long post!!!)

Poupic says:

No! Not Quincy!

GNOTE says:

here here!

GNOTE says:

that was pretty stupid, its just like me saying who is it that was stupid enough to declare a bunch of Russians as jews.

Now you’re being anti-hiphopic!

GNOTE says:

Did you know that Arabs are semitic? So that makes you too an anti-semite.

Poupic says:

I can’t stand garbage being called music. And you know very well what you are.

SomeBraveApollo says:

Worthy of its own article.

Scarface is more than welcome to bemoan the commercialization of his culture but as you point out, he couldn’t explain why he chose to name “Jews’ in his complaint.

I am always frustrated when Jews are highlighted as part of a general complaint.

You have given us the bigger picture on his concerns but I am amused to find that the key story told to drive home his actual frustration is a perfect replication of an old Chassidic story.

Whilst he refer’s to the public getting used to eating shit, the Chabad story is as follows:-

Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, a famed nineteenth-century Chabad Chasid, was one leading a Chasidic gathering in a wine cellar. (The location was used due to its cool temperature.) in the middle of the gathering, someone entered and commented that it was very dark in the room. Another Chasid responded, “There is no need for concern. Sit a while and your eyes will adjust, and it will seem as if it is light in here.” Reb Hillel commented: “This is the problem. We sit for a little while, our eyes adjust, and suddenly we believe darkness to be light”

I’m not one to say “can’t we all just get along” but the human response to bemoaning this predicament appears to be similar irrespective of if it is a Jewish or Non – Jewish person.

All the more reason to wonder, why single out Jews?

Mark Burgh says:

The same thing happened in the Rock world from 1973 on. While not a hip-hop/rap fan myself, I can understand the feelings against the corporate world. Singling out Jews, however is a total non-starter. Scarface should read some histories of popular music and understand that the union of African-Americans and Jews fueled the explosion of music. Ah, well. It’s like I’m going to listen to his music anyway.

Mark Burgh says:

The same thing happened in the Rock world from 1973 on. While not a hip-hop/rap fan myself, I can understand the feelings against the corporate world. Singling out Jews, however is a total non-starter. Scarface should read some histories of popular music and understand that the union of African-Americans and Jews fueled the explosion of music. Ah, well. It’s like I’m going to listen to his music anyway.

Blame the Jews. Some of the best rap albums ever made were made in a company with white execs and white lawyers and white accountants. And some of them were Jews! Did the White Jew Hip Hop Conspiracy not exist back when Run DMC, BDP, NWA, Public Enemy, and Rakim put out their classic albums?

White record execs only care about money and not the art form? What about the Black artists who make superficial bling bling music, bragging about having a million, hoping it will sell a million….are they worried about the art form or the money and the fame?

Should lawyers and accountants protect the art form, or is that a job for the artists?

If Black people look stupid in their art, blame those Black artists first.

Marvin Gaye took a big risk and put out “What’s goin on” eventhough his (black) record exec was convinced that album would end his career.

Guess what, going against the grain takes guts and 99% of the artists in any art form don’t have that steadfast conviction in their own worth, they’d rather imitate whatever is selling at that moment…and in the case of Hip Hop especially, it shows.

The only real conspiracy is that record execs try to make records they think will sell while Black artists try to…. make records they think will sell. And if both artists and record execs are convinced that the public wants dumbed-down music, then that’s what they’re going to sell to a public. And once every artist and every record company is trying to outdumb the other artist and record company, then pretty soon the record buying audience has no choice but to buy dumbed-down music.

So Scarface needs to stop making Hip Hop music, he knows it hasn’t been an inspiring art form in over two decades, he knows it sucks and he knows he has been bored by it for more years he’s willing to admit. But the guy is a good musician. He should just make the music he likes.

drorbenami says:

No, Jews don’t hate Arabs, they simply have a problem with the Palestinians. For example: Jews have no problems with Kuwaitis, Moroccans or Jordanians…

Scarface is anti Semitic because he is implying that only Jewish businessmen are interested in profits and that French Catholics, for example, are not interested in profits.

Besides, it is America that has killed over 1 million Arabs, not Israel….

Perhaps Scarface didn’t “single out” Jews at all, perhaps he just purposely INCLUDED Jewish people within the small WHITE clique of record executives he was referring to. Because some are Jewish.

As “white” in such a context (ie. corporate business) would usually evoke a roughly “Anglo-Saxon protestant” flavour simply by default, he made clear to include Jewish people, who are very well represented in the music industry.

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Scarface Responds to Tablet

The rapper clarifies his feelings on hip hop…and the Jews

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