BlackEnterprise.com: The film focused a lot on the importance of music to the African American culture. Cornel West focused on what he calls the “peacock fascination,” where some of today’s music focuses predominantly on what we’ve attained on individual levels, instead of reflecting what’s going on in our communities. When do you think transition happened when the majority of the music stopped being reflective, and do you ever think the music will get back to that point?
Tavis Smiley: I think that hip-hop or rap music is a viable art form. When it started, more than anything it was entertaining and socially redemptive. At some point we did get off track and I think it has to do with the gangsterization of hip-hop. I don’t like when people take broad strikes and demean the culture of the music.
Now the second part of your question, can we get back on track, I think so for two reasons. Everything in life is cyclical, if I can jump from hip-hop to the bible, the bible says ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, so everything is cyclical and at some point he pendulum has to swing back and I think there’s a moment where we start to see the pendulum swing the other way because it’s gotten so far to this side, the pull of gravity says that it has to swing back the other way.
Secondly, the moment that we’re in, in this Obama era, means that young people are taking life much more seriously and I’m hoping that taking life more seriously means the pendulum is going to swing back the other way.
When Dick Gregory was discussing the church’s role in his upbringing he called it his everything, his father. About five or six years ago during the BET Awards, Jay-Z was accepting an award and said, ’BET was his father.’ How do we get the church to reconnect with the younger generation and does the church have to do some type of adjusting to connect with them on their level?
I think a lot of young folk are reconnecting to their faith. Difficult and troubled times have a strange way of reconnecting people to something bigger than themselves. When I say difficult, I don’t mean just economic times, we are living in an age of fear.
Part of what President Obama does consistently and what he has to do consistently, everyone knows he’s the commander in chief but he’s also what I call the “comforter in chief.” He has to comfort people and make them feel that things are going to be okay, his administration is on top of these issues, because we live in a world now where people are being frozen by fear.
I think a lot of the gospel music artists are responsible for helping a lot of young people reconnect to their faith, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and Tye Tribbett,. Thirdly, you have churches who understand that there’s a wonderful opportunity for them to grow these youth ministries.
So I do see a lot of churches that are getting aggressive about expanding their youth ministries, in fact they’re a number of youth ministries across the country that are screening this film in various churches, so I think the pendulum in that regard as well is swinging back the other way.