- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

As marketing schemes go, the hip-hop music star Nelly risks sending a lot of mixed signals with the name of the new energy drink he’s marketing.

It’s called “Pimp Juice.”

I could be wrong, but “Pimp Juice” does not sound to me like something you want to put in your mouth.

Either way, you won’t get a chance to find out, if certain leaders of black community organizations have their way.

In Los Angeles, three organizations called Project Islamic HOPE, the National Alliance for Positive Action, and the National Black Anti-Defamation League staged a press conference last Tuesday to urge the removal of the rapper’s energy drink from store shelves.

In Chicago, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of mostly black St. Sabina Catholic Church, threatened to boycott any store that carried the drink.

In Durham, N.C., the Rev. Paul Scott, founder of the Messianic Afrikan Nation, said in news reports, “As black men, we should be building a nation of strong black leaders, not a nation of super-energized, drunk pimps.”

The complaint: Pimp Juice glorifies the world’s second-oldest profession, the employment of women in the oldest profession.

Nelly and his spokesmen beg to differ. In launching the drink on Sept. 1, he said it was named after his hit song “Pimp Juice” from his 2002 multi-platinum album, “Nellyville.” “Pimp juice is anything that attracts the opposite sex,” He said. “Whatever you [are] using to win with right now, that’s your juice — that’s your pimp juice, so keep pimping.”

Well, maybe.

Back in the prehistoric age before there was rap music or, for that matter, laptops or cell phones, my generation had such terms as “pimp walk,” “pimp style” or simply “pimpin’ ” someone who didn’t know any better. But we never had any confusion as to where the word came from.

Nor, it appears, does the mainstream of hip-hop culture, which too often refers to women by the disrespectful term “ho,” as in Ludacris’ lyric, “I’ve got ho’s/ In different area codes … “?)

Queen Latifah, among other hip-hop icons, tried to nip such creeping misogyny (it means disrespect for women, children, look it up) in the bud. In her uplifting tune “U.N.I.T.Y.,” she beseeches her sisters, “You gotta let him know … / You ain’t a bitch or a ho.”

Now pimp glorification has come to center stage in rapperland. The video for popular rapper 50 Cent’s mega-hit “PIMP” portrays him as a novice pimp before the grand pimp council, presided over by rapper Snoop Dogg with his sequined “spiritual adviser,” Bishop Don “Magic” Juan at his side.

I remember the colorful bishop (who also appeared onstage with Snoop and faux ho’s at the MTV Video Music Awards) from my days as a police reporter in Chicago back in the 1970s. He used to be the West Side’s pimp supreme until he found another of the world’s oldest professions: preaching.

Juan’s playful pimp-style is amusing these days but hardly the sort of role modeling that self-respecting parents wants for their kids or their community. Nelly’s Pimp Juice seems like the last straw to those who are upset about out-of-wedlock birthrates in black communities since the mid-1960s, rates that leveled off in the late 1990s at close to 70 percent of live black births.

Worse, soaring child-abandonment rates have left millions of kids to grow up without the benefit of having both parents.

And while out-of-wedlock births have leveled off among blacks, they have begun to soar since the 1980s among whites to more than 25 percent, the level that first caused alarm in the mid-1960s when it appeared among blacks.

It is too easy in my view to blame the rise in irresponsible sex and breakdown in parenthood entirely on rap music or other media. There are many reasons why things as complex as out-of-wedlock birthrates rise.

But, it also would be too easy to say the media don’t have any impact at all. After all, if we believe the media can sell CDs and soft drinks, it’s not hard to believe they can sell moral attitudes, too.

With pop culture pumping out the message that pimpin’ and other irresponsible sex is cool, it is increasingly important that parents and others offer young people some healthier messages, too.

Just as my generation respected heroes like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Medgar Evers and Mary McCloud Bethune, we should help today’s youngsters find role models who can help them lift their eyes out of the gutter and aim them toward the stars.

The chief youth consultant in our house, also known as my 14-year-old son, once told me that “Kids can tell the difference between satire and seriousness, Dad.”

In other words, youngsters don’t necessary follow rap stars as role models. That’s true. Still, someone needs to let them know they have other choices.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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