J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco get play for being positive.
As two of television's most opinionated sports journalists, ESPN's Jalen Rose and Stephen A. Smith have never been known to mince words about their field, and they don't hold back about hip hop either.
"I look at the hip hop industry and for me it's a double-edged sword," Smith told BET.com at the Lisa Leslie and American Federation for Children-hosted event to benefit the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy last week. "On one hand I'm incredibly proud of the hip hop artists that have found a way to make it. It's legal, it's legit, it's something that has been monetized successfully, it's a multi-billion dollar industry and I love that ... The flip side to it is that, first of all, some of the lyrics are beyond misogynistic, homophobic and all of that stuff. That's a problem."
Smith said that problem is a lack of self-esteem.
"More important than anything else, there's a lack of appreciation for their own talent; not understanding that they're special because other people can't do what they do.
"... You can't tell a kid that can't rap, that can't ball, 'You can have tattoos all over your body, on your neck, on your head and go out there and get a 9 to 5 job.' You can't do that. You can't tell them they can run around with gold teeth in their mouth, or their pants hanging below their a-- and it's not gonna be a problem for them ... [Because] if they don't make it, you've systemically contributed to the disintegration of our society."
Rose, who's been in more than half a dozen music videos and recently interviewed "Pop That" rapper French Montana, veers from that opinion, maintaining that hip hop is conducive to positive encouragement.
"There are MCs today that are conscious, that are within their first and second albums," countered the Fab Five standout. "I like J. Cole, I like the fact that he's a lyricist, plus he seems to be socially and politically conscious, and what people underestimate is that he's a college graduate also."
He added that context is important in hip hop. For example, Lupe Fiasco's recent graduation speech at Chicago University — during which the controversial MC told the class of 2013 to continue educating themselves even though they had just received one of the worst educations on the planet — was ill-timed, he said, but the message was valuable.
"(Lupe) and I are a lot alike in that sometimes we say what everybody else is thinking, but sometimes we say it in the wrong place on the wrong day," he said. "So for the students that were graduating, it probably was not for them. But for a state, Illinois and, more specifically the city of Chicago — and I played a couple years for the Bulls — that has had hundreds of people murdered so far this year ... it's definitely a message that hopefully young men and young women take heed to."
Rose hopes his Leadership Academy, a charter school in Detroit, will see at least 90 percent of its first graduating class (2015) go to college.
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(Photos from left: Rob Latour for LE / Splash News, Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images for EPIX)