Snoop, Oprah, and the Hypocrisy of Hip Hop
Rap’s ride-or-die ethic shouldn’t benefit only straight black men.
Oprah Winfrey’s Roaring Twenties are off to a pretty rough start.
Her revival of the Oprah Book Club is already mired in controversy due to a polarizing first choice: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Critics have slammed Winfrey’s explicit endorsement of the novel, which chronicles the flight of a Mexican mother and her 8-year-old son to the U.S. after a drug cartel murders their entire family, accusing it of Latino stereotyping and lacking authenticity and depth.
Fueling the ire: Many in the Latino community consider Cummins to be an outsider, a woman born in Spain and raised in Maryland who identifies as both white and Latina. As far as her detractors are concerned, she’s swerved too far outside of her own lane, and by helping to turn her work into a bestseller, Winfrey is complicit in its alleged cultural appropriation.
Then there is the Russell Simmons problem. Winfrey pulled out of executive-producing On the Record, an Apple TV+ documentary about the sexual assault allegations against the hip hop mogul, citing a lack of balanced reporting. Some suspect she dropped out due to pressure from Simmons, but she’d already made enemies, including rapper 50 Cent, by being linked to the documentary in the first place. (Apple TV+ also withdrew, and following On the Record’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month, HBO picked it up.)
Next to a photo of Winfrey and Simmons, 50 Cent wrote:
I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men. No Harvey Weinstein, No Epstein, just Micheal jackson and Russell Simmons this shit is sad. Gale hit R Kelly with the death blow documentary. Every time I hear Micheal jackson I don’t know whether to dance or think about the little boys butts.These documentary’s are publicly convicting their targets, it makes them guilty till proven innocent.
As Winfrey fends off critics, CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King, her best friend who interviewed R. Kelly last year about the sexual assault charges he’s facing, is staring down her own firing squad. Kobe Bryant’s online following — and at least one high-profile rapper — have been excoriating her (and apparently making death threats as well) over an interview she did with Bryant’s friend, WNBA player Lisa Leslie, about the legacy of the late basketball star and honorary hip hop icon.
In it, King asked Leslie about the 2003 rape allegation against Bryant, who was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26. Offended by King’s reopening of the closed case, #TeamKobe damned King and, by association, Oprah.
After CBS aired a promo highlighting the portion of the interview that touched on the rape allegations, Snoop Dogg went in on King. He called out both her and Winfrey on Instagram, posting a photo of Winfrey with Harvey Weinstein and, in an expletive-laden video, reading King for filth.
The grand irony is that while defending Bryant, Michael Jackson, and Bill Cosby in his two Instagram posts and demanding unwavering loyalty to black men, Snoop Dogg demeaned and demonized two black women, even calling King a “funky doghead bitch.”
I don’t get it. Does black solidarity work only in favor of black men? We see this all the time in the black celebrity community: Black male stars stand by their own, no questions asked and none tolerated. When Kanye West was cavorting with Donald Trump and claiming slavery was a “choice” black people made, he got a smidgen of side-eye from the male-dominated hip hop community, but most chose their words carefully, stopping short of openly rebuking him.
Does black solidarity work only in favor of black men? We see this all the time in the black celebrity community: Black male stars stand by their own, no questions asked and none tolerated.
They held back on O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Billy Cosby, R. Kelly, Russell Simmons, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Brown after he assaulted Rihanna in 2009. The latter was persona non grata in the pop industry for all of two minutes, but hip hop had his back the whole time.
“Respect the family and back off bitch before we come get you,” Snoop threatened during his rant against King. Apparently, “the family” includes black men only. What about the black women who accused Cosby, Kelly, and Simmons? Are they not part of “the family”? Do they not deserve respect?
And what about Rihanna? Where was the concern for her honor after Chris Brown bashed her? Yes, black men have been historic victims of racism, violence, and injustice, regarded as savage beasts and wrongfully accused of sexual assault. They’re the “strange fruit” Billie Holiday sang so plaintively about in her 1939 classic mourning the degradation and devastation of lynching.
But black women have suffered, too. They’ve been belittled, dehumanized, and raped by a racist system throughout U.S. history and even in the present. They occupy rungs that are even lower on the U.S. social ladder than the ones populated by black men. Yet, in the rap and hip hop community, there never seems to be the same level of blind loyalty for them.
Or for gay black men. Last year, when Jussie Smollett was accused of staging a racist, homophobic attack on himself in Chicago, where was the devotion to protecting black men at all costs? Guilt and innocence seem to be beside the point when some straight black male celebrities defend other straight black male celebrities. Meanwhile, Snoop had no problem trolling Smollett on Instagram.
After the murder of Nipsey Hussle last year, the black celebrity community bestowed honorary sainthood upon him, while conveniently forgetting the late rapper’s egregious homophobic history. Legacies are tricky. On the one hand, it’s not polite to speak ill of the dead (though that rule doesn’t seem to apply to Michael Jackson). But then, if you are going to lionize someone after death as being the perfect specimen of humanity, you’d better do your homework.
As for Kobe Bryant and his legacy, is there a statute of limitations on how long a person’s reputation can be tarnished over an alleged offense for which the accused has apologized? Is that person’s legacy doomed regardless of what that person does with the rest of his or her life?
That might depend on whom you ask, but regardless of what side we’re on in regard to Bryant, those old rape allegations are indivisible from his story. While his fans and fellow celebrities are free to ignore them and pretend they never happened, journalists don’t have the same luxury. They don’t realize their professional goals of truth and objectivity by hagiographic eulogizing. If there’s darkness on the edges, we can’t blink and pretend to have been blinded by the light.
Judging from the evidence in the promo, King perhaps could have rethought her line of questioning. After Lisa Leslie insisted she never saw Bryant being disrespectful toward women, King challenged her by saying, “But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it, though. As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.” If they had been in a courtroom, the defense attorney probably would have objected with “Leading the witness, your honor!”
One easily could argue that King tipped her hand here, revealing that perhaps she had an agenda. Still, to insist that she shouldn’t have brought up the allegations at all is to miss the point of being a journalist.
Of course, there is a time and a place to allude to certain things, and they’re not on Twitter hours after a celebrity’s passing with an old story about a 17-year-old rape case, as The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez misguidedly did. Still, to so viciously attack King for doing her job rather than starting a civil discourse is as disrespectful to black women as Snoop claimed she was being to black men.
But then, black women often get treated like second-class citizens within their own ranks. Did the hip hop community demand justice for Gabrielle Union after she was dumped from America’s Got Talent, allegedly for calling out racism and sexism behind the scenes and possibly even for looking “too black”? Union had her supporters, but her friend Snoop Dogg wasn’t among them. Did he deem his friendship with America’s Got Talent host Terry Crews, who got called out for not initially supporting Union, more important?
Black women often get treated like second-class citizens within their own ranks. Did the hip hop community demand justice for Gabrielle Union after she was dumped from America’s Got Talent, allegedly for calling out racism and sexism behind the scenes and possibly even for looking “too black”?
The inconsistencies aren’t limited to the straight black men who are ride-or-die for each other. Winfrey has had her moments, too. Last year, after the airing of HBO’s Leaving Neverland documentary, she hosted After Neverland, a one-hour post-premiere special in which she interviewed Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the two men who claimed Jackson sexually abused them as minors. Even before confirming her endorsement of Leaving Neverland with After Neverland, Winfrey had already publicly supported Robson and Safechuck.
Fast forward one year, and she was stepping back from On the Record in the 11th hour, citing lack of solid reporting. She wasn’t so insistent on journalistic integrity when she endorsed Leaving Neverland, a project that revolved solely around the testimonies of two men and their families without including interviews with Jackson’s family or the numerous former child stars who stayed at his Neverland ranch as kids and say they were never privy to any sexual improprieties.
In the end, though, Winfrey is allowed her opinion, just like the rest of us, and it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone other than her. She is also not required to support hip hop or its biggest players. After all, she’s 66 years old and from before the hip hop generation. It’s ludicrous for anyone to expect her to embrace either the art form or its biggest stars just because she’s black.
Even as a black woman, she’s allowed to pick and choose just as white celebrities are allowed to do. If Ellen DeGeneres is free to hang out with former U.S. President George W. Bush on sports night and defend Kevin Hart against valid accusations of homophobia, Winfrey is free not to be #TeamRussellSimmons, and Gayle King is allowed to wonder about the effect old rape allegations will have on Kobe Bryant’s legacy.
It doesn’t mean they’re anti-black men. Winfrey’s actions over the years have spoken much louder than Snoop’s or 50 Cent’s words against her. She’s done as much for blacks, not only in the U.S. but around the world, as any living black celebrity. Her failure to support Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons, or her posing for a photo with Harvey Weinsten before #MeToo ever happened doesn’t diminish the positive work she’s done over the course of her career.
What we have here is a classic case of double standards. If the male-dominated hip hop community is going stand up in solidarity for black men while expecting all blacks to do the same, they should extend their allegiance to blacks who aren’t male or straight. Black women clearly aren’t protected by loyalty to “the family.” That means they aren’t bound by it either.