From Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Alice Cooper, musicians have long tried to project a "bad boy" image, often to help pique public interest in their music. But what's going on these days in the world of rap music -- and its surrounding culture, known as hip-hop -- is really something else.
The very first rap record -- 1979's "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang -- was a revelatory paean to fun and equality -- with even a dash of patriotism. But here's the new message of rap and hip-hop, courtesy of the top-selling artist Curtis Jackson, also known as 50 Cent: "I put a hole in a n---- for f---ing with me / Better watch how you talk, when you talk about me / 'cause I'll come and take your life away."
It's telling that Jackson chose the moniker 50 Cent to pay homage to Kelvin Martin -- a legendary Brooklyn stick-up kid from the 1980s, who is believed to have committed more than 30 murders and was also known as "50 Cent." This outlaw quality is not just an image from a music video on MTV or BET -- it has, in some cases, become a reality.
On Feb. 28, after 50 Cent criticized his former protégé, Jayceon "Game" Taylor, during an interview on New York City's popular hip-hop radio station, Hot 97, members of the two stars' entourages got into a confrontation that erupted with a spray of bullets.
In January, Irving Lorenzo, aka "Irv Gotti" -- chief executive officer of the major rap label The Inc. (formerly known as Murder, Inc.) -- was indicted for his alleged ties to a notorious New York drug syndicate that, according to prosecutors, was "a crime partnership that dealt in three commodities: drugs, murder and money laundering."
In March, hip-hop diva Lil' Kim was convicted of three counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury about another hip-hop shooting.
Punches were thrown and a man was stabbed in November at the nationally televised awards show hosted by Vibe magazine, which covers hip-hop culture. Feuds have long been a part of hip-hop, but are supposed to be kept in the realm of performance.
Clearly, something has changed in the world of hip-hop in the last 26 years.
Enter the Rev. Al Sharpton, former presidential candidate and civil rights activist. He is now leading a crusade against what he sees as an increase in violent criminal acts that are becoming hip-hop's major selling point. "We must do something about this pattern of violence that is then used to promote product and records," Sharpton told ABC News. "I think that that is the wrong signal to send to young Americans."
Sharpton says that record companies and radio stations often glamorize criminality and promote the feuds -- sometimes with bloody consequences. He wants to hold the hip-hop industry accountable. "They ought to announce a 90-day ban on any artist who's found to engage in violence or allow those around him to engage in violence for the purpose of some kind of disagreement in the industry," Sharpton said.
Sharpton says if the government can get involved with steroids in baseball or obscenity in broadcasting, it should certainly involve itself when the marketing and promotion of hip-hop on the public airwaves results in violence.