Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Short Lesson in Hip-Hop

The Washington Post made a rather grievous error last month, an error which may have gone unnoticed if not for the publication's Dec. 3 correction:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
(The original article is here.)

It was a correction heard 'round the Internet, reaching far beyond local and journalism-based blogs. And rightfully so. The correction speaks beyond a journalist's inability to grasp Public Enemy's heavy impact on pop culture, but to the slow, torturous demise of journalism.

(For what it's worth, The Washington Post reports that the responsibility is not at the hands of Akeya Dickson, "who writes about hip-hop for The Post", but "veteran Post copy editor Maria Henriques," who needs this blog to recognize that her hollow apology seems...a bit insensitive.)

Let us review!

9/11 (pronounce "nine eleven"): The short-hand, short-tongue reference to the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001 in the United States. It is considered one of the largest terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

911/9-1-1 (pronounced "nine one one"): Emergency telephone number in the United States.

Public Enemy: 1982-founded New York-based hip-hop group known for its political lyrics. Members include Chuck D, Flavor Flav (now better known for his VH1 reality-dating shows), Professor Griff, DJ Lord, The S1W, Terminator X, and Sister Souljah. The group found popular stardom and critical acclaim in the '80s, and a permanent place in history (admittedly, the group's work had already earned a spot) with 1990's Fear of a Black Planet, which features the previously referred song "911 is a Joke."

Here is the video:

And the lyrics:

Hit me
Going, going, gone
Now I dialed 911 a long time ago
Don't you see how late they're reactin'
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get the morgue embalm the goner
They don't care 'cause they stay paid anyway
They teach ya like an ace they can't be betrayed
I know you stumble with no use people
If your life is on the line they you're dead today
Late comings with the late comin' stretcher
That's a body bag in disguise y'all betcha
I call 'em body snatchers quick they come to fetch ya?
With an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya
They are the kings 'cause they swing amputation
Lose your arms, your legs to them it's compilation
I can prove it to you watch the rotation
It all adds up to a funky situation
So get up get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

911 is a joke

Everyday they don't never come correct
You can ask my man right here with the broken neck
He's a witness to the job never bein' done
He would've been in full in 8 9-11
Was a joke 'cause they always jokin'
They the token to your life when it's croakin'
They need to be in a pawn shop on a
911 is a joke we don't want 'em
I call a cab 'cause a cab will come quicker
The doctors huddle up and call a flea flicker
The reason that I say that 'cause they
Flick you off like fleas
They be laughin' at ya while you're crawlin' on your knees
And to the strength so go the length
Thinkin' you are first when you really are tenth
You better wake up and smell the real flavor
Cause 911 is a fake life saver

So get up, get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

Ow, ow 911 is a joke
So you see how confusing a song about the politics regarding one's neighborhood and socioeconic standing and the resulting attitudes from emergency personnel with 9/11 Truthers/ 9/11 Criticism might be a problem. (For what it's worth, I can't find any negative response from Public Enemy regarding 9/11.)

Now, Washington Post, if you're looking to employ a young, savvy, thorough fact checker, I'm your girl. I promise I'd never let a mistake like this go to print. You know how to reach me. (And by the way? It's Howard University, not Howard university.)

Additional Resources:
Washington Post Dec. 3 correction
A note of hope from voices of experience, The Washington Post
Oops: Washington Post Realizes 9/11 And 911 Are Different, Gothamist
WaPo Correction of the Week: When 911 Really is a Joke, DCist
Washington Post disses Flav and Chuck D, then apologizes, Boing Boing
Washington Post Forced To Correct Report That Public Enemy Called 9/11 A Joke, Huffington Post
Correction goes viral, blame is misplaced, Washington Post
Post Corrections Policy Victimizes Reporter, Washington City Paper City Desk blog
"911 is a Joke" lyrics

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