Carvin Haggins crusades against 'destructive' influence in rap and hip-hop lyrics

Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Carvin Haggins at his studio in Marlton. Songs by some artists today are "tearing down the black community," he says.
Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Carvin Haggins at his studio in Marlton. Songs by some artists today are "tearing down the black community," he says. (VIVIANA PERNOT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 06, 2014

The word is ratchet. It's a slang term, derogatory, for a person or activity that is considered distasteful. To Grammy award-winning songwriter and producer Carvin Haggins, the words demeaning, destructive, disrespectful, derogatory, defamation, and debauchery come to mind when defining it.

He believes ratchet, or rather the world of bad values from which it arose, is taking over our airwaves.

Haggins is founder of the Ethical Music Entertainment record label. He's worked with likes of Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, Jazmine Sullivan, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlake. Now he's spearheading a movement titled Rage Against the Ratchet. It aims to rid the radio of misogynistic, violent, and oversexualized music.

On Saturday, at 11 a.m., Harris and fellow supporters will be protesting outside of WUSL-FM, Power 99. Haggins is targeting Power 99 because of what he calls inconsistent policies at Clear Channel. He says that while certain songs are edited on pop stations, their objectionable lyrics are allowed to remain on urban radio.

"If you have the wherewithal to play a clean edit version," Haggins said in a recent phone interview, "why can't that same edit be shared on another station inside the building?" - referring to WRDW-FM, Wired 96.5, which is in the same building as Power 99.

In a statement, Clear Channel said in part: "Power 99 is part of the fabric of the City of Philadelphia and has maintained a great relationship with the local community by playing music that our listeners want to hear from their favorite artists, while abiding by all government regulations as a responsible broadcaster."

Haggins believes Clear Channel isn't being as responsible as it should be.

Haggins remembers his awakening. On a Sunday morning earlier this year, he says, he heard God's voice urging him to protest. Later on, he received his second sign. "A little girl was singing Beyoncé's 'Drunk in Love,' " says Haggins, and "I was like, 'This song is very perverted, and that perverted idea is now memorized by that little girl.' " This began his mission against music he deemed destructive specifically to the black community.

"It's become, 'You are a B, you are a hoe, you are a pimp, a trick,' " says Haggins. "In a couple of weeks, months or years, they're going to be like, 'I'm a bad B.' "

Brittney O'Rourke, 26, vice president of artists and repertoire for Ethical Music Entertainment, says that back in 1993, Queen Latifah could have a hit with a track like "U.N.I.T.Y.," an encouraging, girl-power anthem. Today, she says, rap and hip-hop music undermines women.

"As a woman, I see an extreme lack of empowerment," O'Rourke says. "So many young women are getting caught up in negative things for the attention of a man. They don't respect themselves, they don't respect their bodies, and when you lack self-respect you don't have respect for other people."

Haggins targets the lyrics in the songs played on urban radio. In his Rage Against the Ratchet video on YouTube (bit.ly/1nPKNAn), he describes many of the songs in heavy rotation as "lawless" and says listeners are being treated like "sex-slaved beasts."

"I hold the radio stations accountable," says O'Rourke. "They're the ones that distribute the music."

For Anyabwile Love, affiliate fellow in the Africana Research Center at Pennsylvania State University, responsibility is shared.

"It's easier to look at larger corporations," Love says. "They're responsible, but they are but a part of a larger, long-arched systemic problem that is a challenge to our music and community."

Twenty-six year-old rapper Mont Brown of Southwest Philadelphia ("54th and Ghetto" is tattooed on his left arm) is one-fifth of the eclectic alternative rap/rock band Astronauts Really Fly (ARF). For him, harsh words come from a harsh life. "If a kid grows up around pimps and prostitutes," he says, "that's what he's going to rap about. I rap about my life, things I really go through."

In ARF's song "Hold On," Brown raps, " . . . want to know who killed my dad, only looking for some closure. And when I find that [expletive], I'm gonna put him in a coma."

"After that, I said, 'I'm just venting,' " explains Brown. "Every kid in America had more than one time where they vented about something."

Haggins argues that there was once a balance that is now missing. Hip-hop groups NWA and Public Enemy once shared radio time, though they differed in message and experience.

"There are songs that I've heard on the radio that I've said, 'I hate this song,' but after hearing it 40 times on the radio, you'll be singing it," Haggins says. "They're actually programming the people." Haggins feels that today's music industry has compromised not only musical ethics but also lyrical expression and creativity.

Love, however, doesn't feel radio is the most accurate measure of what's happening in the culture. "I think we have to separate what we hear on the radio from what is being produced outside of those stations," he says. "There's still great music."

Haggins says social-media response to Rage Against the Ratchet has been good. He wants to make it national.

He won't be the first to fight to clean up rap and hip-hop. Philadelphia congresswoman and civil-rights activist C. Delores Tucker spoke out against gangsta rap in the mid-'90s for what she called its destructive influences on the black community. She received backlash from the hip-hop community. "She seemed like she was out of touch. Like she was an older parent outside of the industry," Haggins says. "I'm in the industry. I have records on the radio right now."

Currently in radio circulation is "Love Won't Leave Me Out," by Chrisette Michele. Haggins cowrote and produced it with Karma Productions. The song centers on giving love a second chance or love granting second chances.

The 45-year-old father of seven tries his best to filter the music his youngest listens to. As one of the cofounders of Destined to Achieve Successful Heights, a program based in Philadelphia that educates youth on the entertainment industry, Haggins stresses the importance of creating music with integrity and longevity.

C. Delores Tucker "was saying what it would become," he says. "Now we are living in what it became."

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