Simmons previously wrote an open letter to Lemon, which Lemon responded to on the air. Now the two have finally hashed things out in an interview that aired Saturday.
Their exchange of words began about a month ago when Lemon commented on Fox News host Bill O’Reilly‘s assessment of the black community.
His assessment received a whirlwind of criticism including Simmons’ who sent out several tweets along with an open letter to Lemon. In response, Lemon welcomed Simmons to face him on the air.
Not being one to back down, Simmons took the challenge and did the interview with Lemon to settle the score once and for all.
He began by explaining his strong reaction to Lemon’s commentary.
“Sometimes, if a black person that’s revered in the community that says something that’s — conservative, ” he explained, “and I think is part of a mindset that is hurtful to the community, people will say the problem with the black community — kids have their ass crack showing. The problem with the black community is they need education opportunities and need job opportunities. These realities are the ones we immediate to bring up and we are talking about uplifting our children.”
Lemon countered by asking “When you want to improve something, where does the first place — where is the first place you look?”
“Here,” Simmons said. “I look inside. When i want to improve — here is what I learned…”
“No. this is too good,” Lemon interrupted. “Why didn’t you — why didn’t you write a letter that said — I understand what Don Lemon was saying? We need to take personal responsibility.”
“I should have said that first,” Simmons conceded, but added “You have to say things in a way they go in instead of bounce off. Personal responsibility, I wouldn’t include the cultural expression so much.”
Simmons then told Lemon that “The greatest course of the destruction of the fabric of black community has been the prison industrial complex,” and explained the cycle of incarceration and poverty that results from it. He also cited the “lack of education opportunity.”
“If we go (to) school, and there’s no books and — teachers aren’t teaching, and the students are in a kind of situation where they don’t even have a gym class, they don’t have an art class,” he continued. “Without art, there is no way — you have to — exercise the creative muscles. That’s why we raise millions of dollar for the arts. Those are the kinds of things that we can do to change the condition that creates poetry and makes you uncomfortable.”
“Don’t mistake my passion for not — that I don’t like hip-hop,” Lemon objected. “I think it is an art. I think people like Jay-Z and Kanye West are great artists. Kids are dying every single minute and it is because, as you said, we had the responsibility or there are people being educated in prison culture. I think that helps perpetuate that education in prison culture. And I don’t understand why you can’t see that.”
Simmons defended hip-hop’s raw depictions of reality as essential to the form. “I think each individual artist has a responsibility to say what’s on their hearts. And some of it is not pretty. So I think that there are reflections of our reality and some cases sad reality.”
Lemon asked how rap and hip-hop can be better, and Simmons replied, “Each individual can be better, but as an overall culture, it has to express our sad reality.”
Lemon cut to the chase, asking “Is there a way of doing that without calling someone a bitch or a whore?”
“I think some of the lyrics are very harsh, and some of the things they say are very sexist and difficult to digest,” Simmons said.
“And ignorant,” Lemon interjected.
“And ignorant,” Simmons agreed, but added “I can’t tell a poet what to say, and I will not.”
Lemon reiterated his love of hip-hop, but also that “I want young black men, especially the people being killed, to be better, the industry to be better. That’s it.”
They concluded by promising an ongoing conversation, and Simmons told Lemon “What you’ve been doing is giving what you can, and your intentions are good, and I respect you for it.”
Here’s the full interview: