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Public Enemy, Number One 

When Professor Griff talks, Joe says: listen.

Hey Joe: I heard that Professor Griff from the world-renowned rap group Public Enemy will lecture in St. Louis on messages in music, sports and entertainment and how they effect people's minds. Have you ever heard of Public Enemy or their music? What do you think about what they have to say?

Ramon, Long Island, New York

I've known about Public Enemy for years — although, as with many other rappers, I've been unable to follow the lyrics of the messages they convey. And then once something is said in a degrading manner about women, I'm turned off. But I failed to realize at the time that I was throwing all rappers in the same bag. Not until I learned from young kids, who quoted the lyrics of some songs verbatim, did I realize that many messages were directed at how they grew up, the door of corporate America closed to them.

The rise of successful rappers (especially in their disrespect of women) followed a similar pattern to Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock — all notorious for their language usage. Pryor, as a comedian, used unbelievably foul language. On Saturday Night Live Murphy played the role of Buckwheat, a little black kid along with white kids in a show called The Little Rascals. His hair stood straight up on his head. Rock also uses foul language. Had these guys performed for mostly black audiences, they would have never wound up as television or movie producers. It was because of their crossover appeal that they attained success.

Had black rappers relied solely on the black community, it wouldn't have happened for them. Whether one believes it or not, there is much dignity within black America. However, when a group of people are negatively stigmatized, as blacks have been and continue to be, and money is key to their woes, dignity flies out the window. Case in point: the sale of crack cocaine. The supplier is seldom mentioned, yet prisons are lined with blacks. I'm sure if there'd been decent jobs available, many cellblocks would be empty. Nobody wants to face death or jail each time a piece of crack is sold.

I learned this long before crack became a moneymaker. My experience commenced with a bushel of kindling, which sold for ten cents. Its purpose was to start fires in the cooking stove and heater. Early one Saturday morning Mrs. Daisy, an elderly woman who lived nearby, sent word to me about bringing her a bushel of kindling. I went up and down every alley in town looking for wood, only to find that they were cleaner than the Board of Health. Later that night, I scouted a house surrounded by a picket fence. It happened to be my savior. The next morning, it had several missing pickets, but I had my dime.

I'm sure that if Professor Griff is asked about his topics and those mentioned above, he will shoot straight with his audience and not politic with truth, like some of these sorry Republican candidates who vie for the presidential nomination. Many successful rappers have proven to be brilliant businessmen. If they are committed to cleaning up their act regarding women, the same should apply to these money-grabbing politicians with regard to the American public.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to heyjoe@riverf If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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