Can rap moguls repair a culture they created?

James F. Lawrence,  Editorial for USA TODAY  6 a.m. EDT May 30, 2013

So after raking in untold millions over the past decade by helping create a culture that degrades women, and celebrates murder, mayhem and materialism, Dre and Iovine are now giving back. Whoopee!

The full-page ad featuring recording industry giants Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine standing tall was meant to be an attention grabber. It succeeded. There they were this week yelling, in a dignified way, to New York Times readers beneath a bright red University of Southern California-emblazoned banner: We’regiving $70 million to set up an academy at USC for creative talents like ourselves.
The fact that Iovine and Dre opted to be so generous, of course, is notable. But, frankly, my first thought was that, alone, the two are serial contributors to today’s coarse culture. No surprise there, right? After all, here at the RochesterDemocrat and Chroniclethe Editorial Page has led a campaign for several years against purveyors of so-called gangsta rap. Big shots like Dre, a rap icon who was signed in the 1990s by Iovine, a celebrated producer who also inked such big names as Lady Gaga and Snoop Dogg (recently reborn as Snoop Lion), together were responsible for giving our youths role models such as 50 Cent and Lil Wayne.

Jimmy Iovine, left, and Dr. Dre.(Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)
So after raking in untold millions, if not billions, over the past decade by helping create a culture that degrades women, and celebrates murder, mayhem and materialism, Dre and Iovine are now giving back. Whoopee!
But can money really repair the broken lives of young people who bought into the culture that gives “street cred” for going to prison or jail, fathering children with no intent of supporting them, and retaliating violently against anyone who might so much as look at you crossed-eyed?
Anyway, whoever came up with the idea for the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy probably got a raise. Not only will their gift help inspire the next generation of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs, it will soften their image and give them a hefty tax write-off.
Don’t get me wrong, creating an incubator for innovation has huge merits. But I wonder just how many bright kids from urban areas, many of them gifted beyond the talents of even Dre and other big-name rappers, will actually benefit. I would have liked to have seen Iovine and Dre spread their cash around to historically black colleges and universities, which provide students with solid, affordable post-secondary education and struggle to keep their doors open.
After all, the $70 million gift is relatively meager for major universities such as USC, where tuition is nearly $50,000 a year. And don’t forget that though nearly 60% of the USC football team is black, statistics show African-American males make up just 2.2% of the student population.
It may be too late for Dre and Iovine to change their plans, but there’s still time for artists like Lil Wayne and a long line of wealthy black professional athletes to find ways to give back, particularly to those on whose backs they climbed to the top.
James F. Lawrence is editor of the editorial page at the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. This column originally appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle.

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