P.S.K., making that green. People always sayin' "What the hell does that mean?" P is for People, who can't understand, how one homeboy became a man. S is for the way they scream and shout, one by one I'm rockin' out. K is for the way my D.J. cuttin'. All them MCs, man they ain't sayin' nuttin.
— Schoolly D, "P.S.K.: What Does It Mean?"
For MC Freekazoid, a resident of the gritty Parkside neighborhood of Philadelphia, those words bring back memories of torture.
"Word up man, back in them days MCs was gettin' disrespected left and right. I remember I couldn't even walk to the corner store to buy a fly gold chain without punks jumpin' up and callin' me a wack MC," Freekazoid recalls. He refers to the mid-1980s, a time most Americans of MC Freekazoid's generation remember for Pac-Man, President Ronald Reagan, and the films of John Hughes, but that MCs, like MC Freekazoid, recall with horror.
"It was constant static," recalls Blood MC, a native of Hollis Queens. "Once that song came out [Run-DMC's Hollis Crew (Krush Groove #1)], I'd hear "SUCKER MCs WHO DID NOT LEARN, IF YOU DON'T THIS TIME WE SHALL RETURN" from seemingly every boombox on the street." As an MC, Blood MC recalls a constant torrent of abuse from former neighbors, friends, and even relatives. "My own niece called a weak MC, and accused me of of stealing her rhymes. At Christmas." For Blood MC, the toll of America's change in attitude toward MCs, as expressed in popular songs of the day such as Run-DMC's Sucker MCs, was particularly high: divorce, and the loss of his day job as an urban planner for the borough of Queens.
"Even Vanilla Ice condemned me," a tearful MC Blood relates.
In the irrational exhuberance of the 1990s, things only got worse for America's MCs. With the advent of hip hop and gangster rap, nameless, forgotten MCs were continually smoked and ganked by a procession of rappers and their fans and followers, such as Ice-T, and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, who "emptied the 36 chambers of the Shao-Lin" into MCs accused of "biting the Wu Tang style."
For all of the troubles of the 1980s and 90s, MCs have survived. And in an America wracked by war, recession, and political conflict, where polls show most having little optimism for the future, MCs overwhelmingly express a sense of hope: the hope of acceptance and tolerance.
"Yo, when Obama came on the scene, all that turned round," says MC MeccaGodzilla, of south central Los Angeles. "He told the world that MCs was people too. He earned that Nobel Peace Prize, by teachin' rappers to get along with MCs." MeccaGodzilla refers to President Obama's campaign speech of September 7, 2008, delivered before a throng in Denver's Mile High Stadium, in which the Democratic nominee stated:
"Like most Americans, I'm sick and tired of having my beats and lyrics stolen. Now, some would say that the ones guilty of ripping our shit are weak-ass MCs who can't rhyme and can only drop dimes. But we all know that the ones who stole America's beat are on Wall Street.
And their enablers in the Republican Party of John McCain and George W. Bush."
It was a time of euphoria for MCs across the nation, who overwhelmingly voted for Obama, based on his promise to extend federal civil rights protection to MCs, and to end the military's policy of discrimination against Wack-Americans.
Yet many experts contend that the turnaround for MCs, who were previously reviled as jealous, cowardly, and unable to rhyme, is as much a function of changing social attitudes as changing politics. "Honestly, the idea of random attacks against anonymous MCs, accusing them of stealing dope beats and rhymes, is outdated in the 21st century," says Todd Gitlin, Professor of Communications at Columbia University and author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. "Even in former bastions of intolerance such as Compton, Queens, and the South Bronx, Americans are more concerned with unemployment and the rising cost of gold chains than whether some gimp MC ripped off this or that lyric. I can't recall a culturally relevant rap dissing MCs since Uffie's I Got Something MCs Can Kiss, and that was 2007."
"Institutionalized prejudice against MCs is so retrograde that I can see it coming back only in France, where Michael Jackson and Sylvester Stallone are still considered great American artists," Gitlin continued.
Ironically, France remains a major source of concern for MCs and their advocates, as recent plans by the French government to deport "Suckez MCs" to their alleged places of origin, such as Brentwood and Atlanta, enjoy widespread support. The deportation program remains stalled, pending a challenge before the European Court of Human Rights.
Yet even in 21st century America, MCs, even those who don't suck, remain without legal protection. The ambitious MC Protection Act of 2010 (MCPA), introduced in the House of Representatives by Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), passed on June 14, 2010, but remains stalled in the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed, "Punk MCs are relevant NOT. If they come round here they will get shot!" in defending a filibuster, still unbroken. Scarcely a Tea Party rally goes by without signs condemning the Obama administration for its support of "Sucker MCs and Socializm." Perhaps worse, to date MCs have filed dozens of lawsuits alleging discrimination in employment, clubs, romance, and the 'hood, yet only the oft-reversed Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has found Wackness to be a constitutionally protected status under the 14th Amendment.
Which is not to say that pro-MC litigation, and even the MCPA, are without their intellectual and academic opponents. Jeffrey Miron, a Senior Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute think tank in Washington, says "Look, I think we can all agree that prejudice against MCs, sucker or not, is abhorrent. But consider the legacy of Roe v. Wade. Prior to 1974, the states were on their way to passing laws which would have allowed abortion, with constraints one may deem reasonable or not, but chosen by the people, through the democratic process. Since 1974, Roe, a mandate imposed by 5 isolated old lawyers, has only led Americans to harden their positions. It's the same for MCs and even biters. If we allow the American people to move forward, on their own, I suspect that 20 years from now punk MCs won't be getting smoked on the streets."
"And not to belabor the point," Miron continues, "but jealous MCs try to dis all my tracks. They run away in fear when they hear my hot wax!"
Despite continuing opposition to their quest for equal treatment, under the law and on the streets, MCs remain confident for a better future. "I know it's a long time coming," says Blood MC, "but I look forward to the day when I can walk the streets with my head held high, even in Hollis."