Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Free Geronimo Pratt

When onetime world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson was transformed into a convict by the testimony of a mere beauty queen, antisexist rap fans got ready for a barrage of rhymes attacking the star-fucking skeezerness of his teenaged victim. We count it as progress that we've yet to hear one. But we note with regret that two musical versifiers who've always resisted the sicker strains of misogyny have sprung to the defense of their fellow man. Anglo-Jamaican toaster Macka-B introduced 1990's "Don't Beat Her" by observing, "Now you have some man you see them on the street,/they wouldn't hurt a fly. As them get inna them house/them turn inna Mike Tyson. Stop it!" But on the new "Something Nuh Right," Macka-B not only asks why the black man was convicted when "William Kennedy" wasn't, a reasonable question, but argues that Tyson can only be expected to turn inna Tyson behind closed doors: "And no matter how Tyson was sweet and polite/She should have never gone to his hotel room them time of night." And while the fighter-not-a-lover isn't mentioned in Public Enemy's "Hazy Shade of Criminal," the CD single explains the horrific photograph of a lynching on the front with a note from Chuck D that begins: "The picture on the cover is of two black men in 1930 Indiana getting hanged for bullshit that they didn't do based on cracker racism, jealousy, envy and greed. In 1992 by no coincidence in the state of Indiana a good friend of mine, Mike Tyson, was hanged the same goddamn way. Some things never change. Free Mike Tyson and Geronimo Pratt . . ." In the current Spin, after PE's Hank Shocklee reluctantly agrees with interviewer Vivian Goldman that Tyson has "a history of being unable to handle women," Chuck just says, "I think you'll always have a problem when white men judge black men. I'd like to end this one now." OK. But before we do, four points of information. One, unlike Geronimo Pratt, Tyson has never claimed to be, or acted like, a revolutionary. Two, unlike the black men on the cover, he hasn't been murdered, a welcome if totally insufficient change. Three, his jury included two black men, one black woman, and three white women. And four, he did it.

Village Voice, 1992