Hip Hop is NOT dead!April 23, 2007 at 8:10 pm | Posted in Found At Other Sites | Leave a comment
Hip hop is NOT dead, bitches.
It is whiny and lazy though. It is over thirty and needs to grow the fuck up.
Lest this be mistaken as some kind of self-deprecating rant on how there is no “real” hip hop left, let’s start by stating explicitly that it is a celebratory piece, one that takes on the task of taking people to task. We need to be inspired again and stop choosing to stay stuck in this rut. First of all, we need to reconsider the blind cosign to the utterances of the spokesperson of the moment in order to regain our sense of history. Folks are quick to unquestioningly agree with Nas but they have no idea that “his” sentiment was actually much more critically articulated by Greg Tate three years ago in The Village Voice. The concept of using the (true) idea that the music and the industry of hip hop have now become unrecognizably melded into one entity is an innovative yet ironic way to push one’s new opiate to the masses. The danger in doing so as such a high profile artist though, is that the general public will rush to spread that “reality” like syphilis. It is sexier, easier, and sensationalist to focus on the negative and too much work (and therefore responsibility) to consider the potential. We have stopped reading, we have stopped questioning, we have almost given up hope, but the truth is, hip hop is us, so it cannot be dead unless we are, and most of us have a lot of conscious living in us yet.
Hip hop is (still) a form and instrument of social commentary and change. Many folks have struggled to ensure this status, but in the same way that other forms of resistance have become accepted into the mainstream and co-opted (like feminism, queer activism and race-based equality struggles, all of which are inextricable elements of hip hop), the unfortunate consequences of division have arisen. What is parallel in all these movements is that the lack of “consensus” from everything from who belongs to what constitutes “hip hop” in general is not a sign of death, but of evolution in many directions.
One key division is between that of the “commercial” and the “underground” which is quickly becoming a blurred line. Rappers like Common and Mos Def are considered “underground” yet their videos, marketing, and album releases are heavily backed by major industry. The most in-your-face example of a successful backpack rapper is the self-proclaimed “Louis Vuitton Don,” Kanye West. West’s own description of himself as “the Gap between Banana Republic and Old Navy” is bang on, as he appeals on many levels with his killer beats and lyrical treats though he remains creating within the same (corporate) machine. He gets tons of heat (not just for not packing heat) from the “heads” who dismiss his efforts as just another scheme to get rich (or die trying) but we cannot ignore that the fact that his bringing up topics like homophobia in hip hop, directly implicating the Bush administration for its racist motivations, and decrying the impact of the diamond industry on the Carter administration’s record label is a meritable feat.
Another unfortunate result of not appreciating what those who have come before us have accomplished (so that we can even be here) is the luxury of complaining. Instead of celebrating the growth of the genre by acknowledging the different ways that it is interpreted, we’d rather hate on the fact that we don’t always agree. It’s time to put the participant back in the democracy, a key part of the art is the audience engagement. The recent rash of reality shows and cult of celebrity phenomenon has sharply shifted the focus to passiveness and wishful thinking (not at all a coincidence considering the current political state of affairs) and has us mesmerized by the watching, and not by the doing. It is time to reconsider the pedestal and start choosing to focus one’s own mind to the alternatives and start being the change that we want to see. It’s about time we got back to basics, and remember that before it was a multi-billion dollar industry, hip hop was what it still is, and that was different to each person who was making it, feeling it, and copping it (or taping it off the radio).
Bling is not a new concept, it has just become a way of defining an epoch of the music. The reality is that so much discussion about the music is circulating that it has warranted an exclusive terminology to describe (and deplore) it. The introduction of certain phrases and vocabulary into the popular lexicon is a historical event. Movements that are unworthy, that do not have the potential to change populations rarely get the attention of those who want to own and control those same movements and populations. It is also simple physics to know that there is always an equal and opposite reaction of power as driven by momentum. The day we fully cede that power, hip hop will die.
The lyrics of emcees and spoken word artists are just one way that words can play a role in this movement of winning over a captive audience, the emergence of hip hop writers, scholars, and commentators/bloggers is also an important effect which needs not be ignored. Rodrigo Buscanan and Christian Pearce (co-owners of Pound Magazine) have made their entry into this growing cannon with their book, Enter the Babylon System-Unpacking Gun Culture From Samuel Colt to 50 Cent which presents the aforementioned topic, (the lack of) gun control, as vital to all living and involved in urban culture. The link between hip hop and the international arms trade is made, so a vital connection between all the industries touched by the scope of hip hop is explored. The blame that is too easily put on rap stars (for perpetuating and glorifying the culture of gun violence) is broadened to look at the role of movies and video games as well as that of the state. In addition, the media treatment of hip hop related violence, the attitude of desensitization and the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent” is also brought to light. Jeff Chang, one of the original founders of Quannum Projects, has injected two books into the mix in very recent history. The first, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is a self-reflexive treatment of “us,” the hip hop generation. The second, “Total Chaos-The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop” is a collection of essays about the history and incarnations of the various forms within the art; dance, graffiti, theatre, and again, journalism. So, hip hop is not dead, its evolution is being written as we speak.
Keeping it real was also a necessary reaction to the waywardness of our girl (I personify hip hop as a woman because of the pivotal Common Sense song, “I used to love h.e.r.” that not only epitomized the struggle against the commercialization of the music but it also caught the political attention of America when the subsequent beef that came from Ice Cube misunderstanding the song became cause for Minister Farrakhan to publicly call for the rappers to “squash it”). In a roundtable discussion documented in Total Chaos, Greg Tate is the moderator for a discussion on hip hop and multiculturalism in which the point is made that “we’ve been talking about the death of hip hop since the first time Puffy picked up a mic…eleven, twelve years- for some of us this should have been dead already.” This is a different way to say that hip hop has made some wrong turns, experienced some growing pains, but none that she (and we for that matter) cannot learn and grow from.
Most of these “mistakes” were a direct cause of the industry seriously staking its claim in the effort to maximize the profits of the art, but we’re privy with the knowledge to expect this by now, and we’re armed with experiences to help us pull back in the tug-of-war. Tools like Myspace have helped artists realize the possibilities of the freedom inherent in bypassing a record company and contract altogether. We cannot abolish the “mainstream” because we need it as a measuring point to decide what is “underground.” We must accept that we can peacefully co-exist somewhere in the middle, and that we should have better things to do than attempt to so rigidly uphold such shaky binaries. Call it a rebirth, life after death, resurrection, or just consider that hip hop never died. It has just been asleep with one eye open for far too long.
Besides, how can hip hop really be dead if Wu-Tang is forever?