Bay Area hip-hop is back, thanks to the rise of the hyphy movement. So are misinformed critics who have taken issue with some of hyphy culture's more dubious aspects (see "Go Less Dumb," 4/26/06). These critics tend to be predictable in their choice of topics (sideshows, drug use, violence), yet make the mistake of ignoring or completely overlooking the positive aspects of hyphy, such as entrepreneurship and artistic creativity.
The latest such affront to youth culture comes from the Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhoods, a group that recently posted on its Web site a scathing yet factually incorrect attack on East Oakland community center Youth Uprising. The unsigned article claimed that Measure Y a voter-approved crime-prevention ordinance "promotes sideshows" because the Oakland City Council gave $1.5 million of Measure Y money to Youth Uprising.
"You may not like hyphy, but you're paying for it," the article sneered, referring to a July 23 Los Angeles Times piece on the movement. It continued, "If you want to know more about hyphy, you can get rapper E-40's chart-topping release, My Ghetto Report Card"; "lurk at almost any late-night Oakland sideshow," or "go to Youth Uprising, a community center next to Castlemont High School, which ... helps teens hire out as dancers for music videos."
The next line was pure sensationalist hysteria: "We will presume that none of the Youth Uprising teens performed for the video of [E-40's] 'Just F**in' [sic] after they learned to be a part of this dance style that comes from the streets of Oakland in other words, from sideshows."
So Measure Y=Youth Uprising=dancing=sideshows=crime. Oh, the horror. Forget murderers and rapists; we've got your real menaces to society right here, and they're ... krumping, pop-locking, and moonwalking. Let's just declare martial law right now.
Besides the fact that the video Youth Uprising's dancers actually did appear in was 40's MTV-approved "Tell Me When to Go," there are many things wrong with the "Peaceful Neighborhoods" group's presumptions. The article's author has apparently never visited Youth Uprising's facility and witnessed turf dancing classes or its job-skills, career counseling, GED, or health services programs. It's also unclear exactly how its dance classes have any direct link to "boom cars" whose loud stereos "cause you to scream in pain and helplessness," as the group claims.
In response, Youth Arts performing arts coordinator Jacky Johnson wrote an open letter listing several articles published in the Chronicle praising turf dancing classes as an alternative to gang violence and lauding the center as a "youth haven." She also refutes any connection to sideshows and explains the center's goals in working with youth to teach them career-enhancing job skills. Youth Arts kids also participate in voter registration, food programs, and picking up trash around the neighborhood, she explained, adding "they are doing more collectively than many adults that spend their time criticizing them and their culture."
Charles Pine, one member of the residents' group, admits he hasn't yet been to Youth Uprising, and says he doesn't condemn all of its activities. However, he feels that its turf dancers appearing in E-40's video represents "an inappropriate use of crime-prevention money." According to Pine, the video celebrates "disruption on our streets" he'd prefer to see Measure Y used to hire more cops. There are "several hundred thousand victims" of sideshows, Pine says, although he lacks statistical data or a precise definition of what constitutes a sideshow. To him, it could be as little as one "boom car" with a quad subwoofer in a residential area.
On the other side of the fence is attorney James Anthony, who pointed out in an e-mail that "ORPN's rant somehow ... holds Youth Uprising responsible for all the evils associated with sideshows it's an absurd attempt to bash Measure Y by making it look like a funder of criminality. And along the way an excellent community-based youth program is libeled."
Youth Uprising says the controversy has actually been a mixed blessing. Some previously undecided folks now support its programs after researching the center's activities, Johnson says: "Everyone's so fascinated with turf dancing, but we provide so much more than that. We hope people will see that."
Until that day, we're likely to see more unwarranted attacks on youth culture by the terminally clueless.
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