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October 5th, 2009
12:18 PM ET

Rapper Nas' "Open Letter to Young Warriors of Chicago"

The savage videotaped beating death of Chicago honor student Derrion Albert horrified people around the world. Grammy-nominated musician Nas was so outraged he posted an open letter exhorting teens to end the senseless bloodshed. CNN's Don Lemon spoke with Nas about why he wrote the letter, and whether violent lyrics in his own music might have played a role in creating a permissive culture of violence.

Filed under: Chicago's Deadly Streets • Don Lemon
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. R Harris

    This nation has become so enamored with crime and criminals that now days it like movies seem to be the norm. Our local, state and federal governments don't seem willing to do anything except to keep throwing more money at it by adding more police, laws and stupid regulations to combat it. If I am not mistaken only one local government solved a similar problem dealing with gangs and that was by outlawing any individual in a motorcycle club from wearing a specific gang patch which in effect could lead to being arrested. Taking that same cue, the Congress of the US should consider the same for any gang by federally passing a law, wear a color, patch or similar type. But then of course that would give rise to the ACLU declaring there is something sinister or illegal about that. But something needs to be done because we become so use to being cowed into doing nothing.

    October 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm |
  2. Seyi

    One criticism of the journalism you present a well-rounded presentation no matter how short or long the piece. As a listener of a great variety of music, I am familiar with several Nas songs including the one played in the beginning of the segment "shoot em up" which I believe was a great entry way into the discussion of how people view the relation to hip hop and acts in the community, however, they should have also played one his positive songs as nas stated, like " I can," it is unfair to present hip hop in a one-sided manner...nevertheless, nas has been a long-time advocate for the demoralized and the many who face plights around the world, I hope that whatever discussion he is trying to raise on the topic is taken with open-ears and not one-sided presentations.
    take it from a inner-city child (born in raised in the heart of washington,dc-trinidad neighborhood) hip hop music overall is not what fuels violence in many neighborhoods in the inner city around the country, there are other factors ; such as lack of care from the outside (others who are not from the inner-city), ignorance, mis-education, lack of education, lack of resources, poverty, and the list goes on. so if one would take away hip hop today, it would not eliminate or even put a dent in violence seen in the inner city.

    October 5, 2009 at 5:27 pm |
  3. G. Starr

    I think Don Lemon being a black man, a black reporter for such a huge network as CNN should have done a much better job in this interview. He should have done his reserch on Nas, one of the best, more positive artist there is now in this day & age. Why is it the media always focus on the less positive songs in Nas's cataloge, particularly that song, Bill O'Reilly pointed out that same song when he was tyring to critique Nas & saying he shoudn't be allowed to perform at Virginia Tech. In the interview it seemed like Don Lemon was trying to argue with Nas & trying to get a raise out of him. He just came off as if he doesn't understand the struggle that our youth face today, mainly black & latino youth in the inner city. I know not all black people come from the same backround but dont act as if you're blind to the fact of whats really going on. Nas or any other famous person doesn't even have to speak on stuff like this but he took time out of his busy schedule to address this situation because he understands it, so at least give the man credit for that. One last thing, black reporters & media, you need to do a better job when it comes to things like this over all, but thanks for having the best artist to represent the genre of hip hop on.

    October 5, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  4. Nesha

    I find it so interesting that these fools state music doesn't influence, if it doesn't influence why sell it? Also Nas was quick to mention none of his "positive" music was mentioned such as those targeted to children I am assuming he is referring to the song "Be" "I know I can"
    If music isn't influential why even point to that piece of crap he raps about children when it doesn't apply or won't influence. Garbage... all music influences for the good or the bad and it can make or break a mood, jazz is a good example.
    The struggle is UNDERSTOOD, it's lived on a daily basis, but it DOES NOT need to be promoted. I am glad my mom didn't allow me to listen to such bafoonery or worship such fools.
    I should have done the interview.

    October 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  5. Ed - London (UK)

    I saw the interview on the web and firstly, I gotta say, I knew nothing of the killing prior to reading about the interview on a hip hop website. Secondly, I agree in part with what Nesha posted as we have similar problems here in the UK, where some people think being hip hop means mimicking all the worst elements of the genre.

    What's worrying is, this is Pop Culture (popular culture) so now it makes you popular if you act like thug; it's fashionble to take lives!

    Saying that, I do not believe it's fair to lay the blame firmly at he feet of rappers, there are many ills in society which fuels the cycle of destruction, including; alcohol, computer games, drugs, films, lack of money, lack of guidance/parenting, lack of integration, lack of opportunity and a lack of being shown an alternative way to live through social programs.

    October 6, 2009 at 6:22 pm |
  6. Matt

    Nas writes music about the harsh realities of life. That was the point he was trying to make when he said he was not going to CNN attempted to portray Nas. This is part of the reason why he named his album what he did. For exactly what CNN did to him. How can Cornel West call Nas a genius while CNN tries to hang him on a singular song. His catalog is filled with Jewels that they could have played. How bout the hit "I Can". How bout "If I Ruled The World", How bout "What Goes Around", "One Love", "Ghetto Prisoners" and countless others. CNN does not understand Nas' music. He is the rap version of Langston Hughes. He is the reason why I know of the story of Imman and Pastor. He is the reason why I know who Ivan Van Surtimer is. CNN should let Cornel West interview Nas, he understands him! Why can't Nas write something encouraging and uplifting as he does in much of his music, without being chastised for it? Rap is a form of art, expression of what is going on in the world not vice versa. Why isn't Pacino asked questions about the things he did in Scarface in every interview? Why isn't Denzel chastised for portraying a drug lord? I feel sorry for Don Lemon for having to attempt to portray the modern day Langston Hughes (NAS!) is such a negative fashion when all he was trying to do was help as he has been doing so often. These are words from a highly educated, young, successful, 27 year old, black man who has been highly influenced by Nas in a positive way. I understand what Nas meant when he said "The World is Yours", CNN does not.

    October 6, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  7. woody wilcher

    Music has more of an effect on young people in America than school.unfourtunatly “we the people” can’t crush this lifestyle of rap music. They say it’s about life in the hood but it has become a script to live by in young America. It is a shame that music and videos like the ones on TV and internet are watched with reckless wonder by our children while we scratch our heads in confusion and ask ourselves “where is this behavior coming from”?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  8. Joon

    Nas is right...Does Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, or Clint Eastwood, get blamed for the violence in the Rambo, Terminator, or Dirty Harry movies? At the end of the day is it the chicken or the egg, Hip hop speaks to events that have AL...READY TRANSPIRED, so how can you blame an artform that's barely 30 years old speaking about things that have happened way before the music was even conceived. The media seems to not want to highlight the fact that Chicago since the 1920's was a WHITE GANGSTERS PARADISE, it has a violent history. No one talks about the fact that the political infrastructure in Chicago is not only systemically corrupt and dysfunctional but it has a LONG history of deep seeded inherent racism and segregation. Good old boy networks, back room dealing and Daley-esque politics is more to blame for Mr. Albert's untimely demise than any words spat by Nas, Jay-Z or Eminem, this is a socio-political issue, rappers speak about the egg that has already hatched they are not the chickens

    October 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm |
  9. Goldie

    If your a person who listens to Nas you would understand that his music is positively influentual. He has made songs dedicated to young men and women to inspire and teach. How about looking up the song, "I know I can." You cant expect Nas to come from Queensbridge and not rap about the the violence and murders that he grew up around. He's always been a person to inspire although he never strayed away from real life,whats actually happening in the world. He speaks of past and currents events often, and speaks "the real deal." Instead of trying to cover up the facts of violence, he exposes them. Picking Nas to state that his music influenced wrongly was outrageous. He's actually one of the rappers who does the complete opposite with exceptions to a few songs. You cant take the real life out of hip-hip(death and murder), or there will be no truth to the music. Thats like going to Iraq and asking a citizen to speak of their surroundings and there is no death involved. Very unreal.

    October 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Timothy Davis

    Nas doesn't get it! The negative lyrics sink into the spirit of the youth. There is somewhat of a subliminal effect. He is right...the music does inspire the inspires them to kill others without remorse. The inner city black culture promotes violence as a response to a variety challenges that may confront our youth. Music is the most powerful influence on a group of people. It's simple deduction. Notice the music of other cultures and how the value systems of those cultures do not promote this type of behavior across the board. The solution is a combination of a change in public education and parental training. The schools will have to take on a roll of teaching morals and a value system of productive behavior to combat the effects of the negative music. The school program will be extended to aide parents in promoting a positive environment in the home. The negative music will eventually follow suit, because it will lose it's glory and become the music of shame.

    October 7, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  11. Octavius Brown

    Hello Don Lemon,

    I just finish watching the interview with the Chicago honor student Derrion Albert’s mother about the beating of her son. My heart goes out to the family and all our adolescents. Please take the time to read a proposal to address this serious issue in America. Focus on the outline where community, church, business and state come together for a common of Adolescents Focus Groups. I will pray that God bless you and your family always.

    Please read the following

    My mission led by the Spirit of the Lord and through prayer is to cultivate the Larry Crabb’s (Crabb, 1999) concept of Spiritual Communities as I begin to articulate the process of planting inspirational seeds of hope and faith in the thoughts of our adolescents. With Crabb’s approach, I plan to spark Christ driven insightful eye contact discussions between Families, Individuals, Groups Prevention and Diversion Program (FIG) representatives and stakeholders that are therapeutic in improving adolescent critical thinking skills during the period of an adolescent’s development (See Appendix A for detail information about the FIG’s Prevention and Diversion Program blueprint).

    My primary goal led by the Holy Spirit is to establish a safe place where the adolescents gain knowledge and learn to appreciate the value of facing each other in group counseling sessions. With the power of prayer as my weapon of choice, I plan to instill hope, optimism and faith in the lives of our adolescents as the Family, Individual, and Groups (FIG) Adolescent Focus Group Counseling Center initiate the process of implementing the cornerstones of spiritual community. Through this approach, adolescents will learn the value of facing each other with eye to eye contact as they experience a mixture of shared commonality, emotional anxieties, attributes that ranges from vulnerability, fear, isolation and the feeling of being out of place. To counter these anxieties, I hope to create an atmosphere at the FIG’s Prevention and Diversion Program where adolescents will feel safe. It will be a safe meeting place for them to talk about their anxieties to supportive peers and through this it will open door for spiritual friendships.
    To stimulate and facilitate this process, I plan to construct a safe haven atmosphere where an adolescent will feel safe to address his/her issues such as peer pressure, desires to be noticed or respected, being anxious about school, parents, family dynamics, and current events whether they are of biblical or secular concerns.
    With the aid of some materials from “The Safest Place on Earth” by Larry Crabb (Crabb, 1999), “Chalk Talk on Values” by Father Joseph C. Martin (Martin, 1982), and many other research resources, I plan on blending these resources to stir the souls of stakeholders as a way to successively deal with the need for adolescent spiritual guidance. These resources have enlightened me with knowledgeable awareness, through the eyes of adolescents, as to why it is vital to reach out to support in implementing the fundamental theological principles of a Spiritual Community. With awareness and concerns on the rise in the ripple effects of dysfunctional families, immature coping skills, stressors in the lives of adolescents, and the period of rage during an adolescent’s development, has enabled me to rationale reasons for the need of joint efforts in implementing the concept of Spiritual Communities.
    The reason that I am passionate about this segment of our population is because they are the future, and need spiritual guidance all through this critical period in life. In my heart and soul, I love children and believe it is a critical transition of human growth and development. It is during the imperative, stressful and extremely impressionable years of the adolescence transition development period, when they are vulnerable. Through this period, there are profound transformations of emotional, cognitive, and corrupted behavioral systems that are in correlations with an increase in the rate of suicidal ideation (Everall, Bostik, and Paulson, 2005). It has been indicated that the statistics supporting the severity of this problem is a rate near 17% of adolescents who seriously considered attempting suicide. Sixteen percent actually developed a suicide plan and 8.5% did the ultimate in trying to commit suicide (Everall, Bostik and Paulson, 2005). Still within the contents of suicide, nearly 3% required emergency medical treatment following a serious suicide attempt (Centers for Disease Control/CDC, 2004).
    Furthermore, it is at some stage in this rapidly changing period of development that they experience sudden, at times over night, biological and physical changes in height spurts, the maturation of the reproductive system, and the redistribution of body weight as well as other emotional and anxiety changes. The stressors with adolescent females are their development of the breast buds, the onset of the menstrual cycles, and the frustration with their God given physical appearance (Newman and Newman, 1999). Males normally welcome the changes in increased height, growth in facial and body hair, the onset of the testes, penis and muscle mass because of their psychological rush towards adult maturity (Newman and Newman, 1999).
    The common problem with females and males is that they are generally not well prepared by their misguided thoughts of role models, as well as, parent/s that lack the spiritual and constructive social secular norms of effective family development (Newman and Newman, 1999). Erikson’s conceptualization on the psychosocial crisis of this period is the individual identity versus identity confusion.
    Newman and Newman (1999) stated that during the period of an adolescent’s development they have periods of repeated struggles with conflicts, their parents, peer relationships, sexual interests, and behavioral patterns. Their false thought process consists of many misconceptions about the high risk factors from intercity and urban influences in reference to accurate sexual intercourse information on HIV/AIDS. Their relationships with other social behavioral patterns, such as alcohol and drug use are also influential because it has been found that 52% in their senior year have tried an illegal drug. It also had been found that over 55% of the 8th graders had tried alcohol, which is a factor in the percentage of juvenile delinquency (Newman, Newman, 1999).
    I feel that their key obstruction centers on a lack of hope and no faith in God, which translates in not having God and Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior first in their life. I feel that the base concept of being “Christ focused” is not even on their radar screen. In its place are focused behavioral patterns of molded social norms that are dictated by peer pressure to fortify their fundamental foundational thought process of immature coping skills; this, in turn forms the development of core narcissism values.
    The approach I plan to counter this obstruction, as a disciple of the Lord, is to propose an approach that will lower the percentage of adolescent stressors by planting the seed of behavioral change as they learn the value concept of Upper Room thinking (Crabb, 1999). Upper Room, thinking results from surrendering to the will of the Lord and work each day for the rest of their life emulating Jesus. In the glory of surrendering, I plan to present a sincere presentation that will enlighten stakeholders about our adolescent’s continuous challenging struggles while in the stages of adolescence development.

    October 9, 2009 at 8:02 am |
  12. G. Baxter

    Hi Don, thanks for your great work.... I am really appalled at the ra[er Nas, he does not own that young kids are impressionable and his and other musicians music can influence the behavior of young people. Not only musicians alone, but also movies and TV programs and even violence in the home can and often does lead to young people' violent behavior. I hope this incident will help Nas and other rapers will take into consideration how their lyrics impact the fragile minds of youth in America.

    October 9, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  13. Brandon

    I am curious to understand why these hip hop artists never take any fault in what is happening in the african-american youth today. I have watched the reports that have been broadcast on this news station and have not seen anyone from any other race then african-american. I have not seen any latino's or native-americans and I have not seen any white's that have been involved in any of this, so can someone please explain to me why this is not happening around the rest of the country and why in neighborhoods like this one that it is always the african-american race that is running around with guns and selling crack and selling prostitution. If there is a white neighborhood that is doing this please let me know because I am pretty positive that there is not. These rappers all want to talk about how great it is to sell dope and pimp prostitutes to make money instead of using their brains to do what is necessary to make in today's society. I understand that they are coming from broken homes and such, but that is no excuse to go and sell crack and become criminals. THIS IS A RACE THING AND UNTIL THAT IS REALIZED THEN IT WILL CONTINUE TO HAPPEN.

    October 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm |
  14. floyd berry

    Don, let me be frank about the problem that the kids of Chicago are having, we created this horrific situation. I served in the Housing and NYPD for 25 years. I became a Captain and one of my last assignments was to study why crime in certain neighbors never abate. I discovered that there is a sub society in poorer neighborhoods created by the Parole Bureau. Most criminals are residivists, they commit crimes until they are caught and are sent to prison. Here is the rub, when they are PAROLED THEY ARE NOT PROPERLY MONITORED. I found that most police precincts do not know who is being released in their areas. The criminal returns to his trade and plys it anonymously. As a Captain in NYPD in 1998 I and my supervisors held a meeting with Parole Board officals at One Police Plaza, and they informed us, the Police that if the communities KNEW that they were releasing rapists, murderers and theives into their neighborhoods there would be a hue and cry to Albany. As an example, look at the poor girl held for 18 years and no one investigated a convict sex offender all that time. Recently, in Chicago a convicted rapist killed 10 women and kept the bodies in his house. How come Parole Officers never visited Mr. Sowell. I could go on and on but no one will listen now as they did in 1998. Kids are picking up these jail house rules and jargon. Look at them, dressed like inmates, no snitching, don't get involved or you will be a rat. Watch murder, rapes being committed because this is how life is inside jail. The gang rape of a 15 year old for 2,5 hours. Are you seeing this? When I tried to change the climate in the Parole Department where as they work with their local police departments I was driven out of the police department for upsetting the apple cart. Stripped of my command given a dead end job. When I left the department I compiled lists of Parolees and eventually one of the listed persons killed a police officer. While I was serving in Bosnia, the department wondered if I could re-create the list. The information was lost forever. Maybe if CNN asked the right questions maybe we can get a handle on this.

    November 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm |
  15. James Hussher

    Nas has to accept responsibility for promoting violence in his violent songs. I know he has that positive song, "I know I can" and he can accept responsibility for its positive message as well.

    No one is trying to solely target rap artists for the ills of our youth. I will equally blame violent movies and computer games.

    But I have raised a black son and I know how he was influenced and went around chanting Nas' lyrics as well as Bone Thugs N Harmony ("murder, murder, murder!) and I begged him to quit listening to that junk, knowing that what you take into you is what you become.

    He is now in prison. Robbery and domestic violence. He has become what he respected and chanted. He is a drug addict and has robbed me many times as well as the rest of his family.

    November 7, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  16. judy kasue

    Don we were watching your show on the un employment in lasvegas
    i would like to know how i can get in touch with the homeless mother with 5 kids for a possible interview . i live in salt lake city and i have a distribution company . i am looking for a good sales person for nevada and the sarounding areas . we are in the hair extensions bussiness and other beauty products . zuri and company is the name of our distribution company. my phone number is 801 694 6944 .
    we hope to be able to help sara if that is the name of that mother of 5
    thanks .
    judy kasue

    November 16, 2009 at 2:09 am |
  17. victoria suominen

    As a record producer, it is my job to bring out the best in each artist and record the songs with the most advantageous accompiament. However, it is also my responsibility to make sure the message of the song is appropriately presented. An artist who writes lyrics which can be misunderstood as a call to violence needs to rephrase certain parts so the real message comes through. Too often in the music biz, everyone is in a hurry to meet a deadline and the songs are produced without taking a step back and saying, "Whoa! Is this really how you want to come across to your listeners and fans?" While artistic license and freedom of expression are valuable tools against unncessary censorship, common sense dictates that if you write controversial lyrics, you had better make sure the meaning of your song is conveyed in clear manner – the classic example being "Suicide Solution" by Ozzy Osbourne.

    November 16, 2009 at 4:06 am |