"Hip Hop" Hooray!
Couldn't miss last week's panel "The Power of Hip Hop," which lived up to its hype ... or, rather, was hype!
Like swing and rock 'n' roll before it, rap initially was dismissed by many as a passing fad. But as the musical form approaches its third decade, it's getting harder to ignore the genre's power or durability. Acknowledging rap's stature as a force to be reckoned with was the panel's sponsor, the Anti-Defamation League, which on more than one occasion has confronted artists over questionable lyrics. Moderated by Alan Light, editor in chief of Spin magazine, "The Power of Hip Hop" sought to examine the medium as reflection or contributor to society's ills and hate crimes before a packed and diverse Wyndham Bel Age audience.
"What attracted me to rap was its energy," said recording artist Neb Luv. She championed the more worldly, positive rap of A Tribe Called Quest and Common over the gangsta rap that has eclipsed it: "It's hard to find positive rap because the record labels back a lot of negative rap."
Todd Boyd, USC professor of cinema, defended often unappetizing imagery in rap songs as analogous to the cinematic way Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese unspool violent tales from the Italian American underworld.
"Whenever you see a rap artist, keep in mind that a nervous-looking lawyer is not too far behind," quipped another panelist, entertainment attorney Jonathan Anschell.
Of course, no discussion on rap in 2001 would be complete without the world's latest parental nightmare, Eminem. The panel agreed that Slim Shady's rebellious button-pushing harkens back to Elvis and the Beatles.
Boyd found the "overrated" Eminem's rise a product of "black guilt," the flip side of liberal white guilt. Nevertheless, he applauded the fact that, for once, a black man is prospering off of a white man's co-opting of a black art (Eminem is a protégé of rapper/producer Dr. Dre).
Whether or not one believed in rap's influence on society, the panel's best by-product was the kind of passionate dialogue on real issues that important artistic statements engender. As Diabolical Biz Markie flowed back in the day: "I can't believe how hip hop has progressed..." And that was in 1989!
Just got a letter from Rivka Nutkiewicz, an eighth-grader in Debbie Eidlitz's class at Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks. Nutkiewicz reports that the 84 junior high school girls raised $21,000 for their favorite tzedakah, Chai Lifeline, which supplies services to children with life-threatening illnesses. The total was nearly $6,000 higher than last year's. Nutkiewicz wrote, "We at Emek Hebrew Academy have been taught that the most satisfying 'highs' come from giving to others and that the objectives really worth pursuing in life are those deeper, more meaningful goals that take time, patience, and a sense of pride in ourselves and our communities."
To quote a "Hip Hop" panel speaker: "Word up!"
It's Fun and Legal
On to a couple of functions in the legal community... The first stop was Bet Tzedek's 27th Annual Dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel. City Councilman Mike Feuer, Sun America CEO Jay Wintrob, L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley and judges A. Howard Mintz and Chris Klein were among the 1500 people present at the fundraiser, which raised $1.9 million toward the organization's annual operating budget. Under the leadership of Executive Director David Lash, Bet Tzedek, working pro bono, has been instrumental in righting social injustice and seeking Holocaust reparations for survivors. Honored at this year's dinner gala were Frank Baxter, chairman of Jeffries & Co., and the Skirball Cultural Center, represented by Dr. Uri Herscher. Herscher accepted the Rose L. Schiff Commitment to Justice Award on behalf of the Skirball and in his remarks paid moving homage to his grandmother, whom he compared to Rose Schiff, grandmother of Bet Tzedek board member Arthur H. Bilger.
A poignant highlight of the dinner was some video on recent cases, including Bet Tzedek attorney Ben Diehl's defense of a Pasadena woman taken advantage of by a home contractor and a savings and loan institution; and the story of righteous gentile Irene Opdyke, who, during wartime, maintained a relationship with a Nazi commandant in order to save Jewish friends. Bet Tzedek recently represented Opdyke in a suit against a suspect producer who had manipulated the elderly lady into signing away the rights of her story for one dollar.
Two nights later, I was again surrounded by attorneys at the St. Regis. The occasion this time was the United Jewish Fund-Legal Services Division's panel, "Recent Supreme Court Precedent: The Liberal & Conservative Perspectives." The Legal Services Division's John Jameson introduced the night's moderator, the Hon. Shirley Hufstedler, and United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Alex Kozinski. The animated repartee focused on recent law rulings, including the Supreme Court's landmark president-making decision.
Reinhardt waxed nostalgic for Election 2000's early days when everyone wondered "who would be picking the Supreme Court, not who the Supreme Court would be picking."
Kozinski did not think the 5-4 ruling was particularly partisan or a departure from Supreme Court methodology but lamented the decision's aftertaste: "It's a very dangerous place in our history when the popular perception believes that the highest court in the land acts out of nonjudicial intent."
Every Vote Counts
Last Thursday was voting day at the Israeli Consulate for Israelis stationed or posted outside the country by their government. Those Israelis in that category gathered at the consulate on Wilshire Boulevard to cast their ballots in the upcoming election. "Look how important absentee ballots were in the last American election," Deputy Consul Meirav Eilon Shahar told The Journal.
Until Yasser Arafat makes Mr. Blackwell's top 10 best-dressed list, I am ... Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer