Last night, I was watching videos on YouTube (big surprise), and I found myself watching several videos by The Roots. I had not forgotten how much I appreciated their music (I have my baby brother to thank for that introduction), but it had been a while since I'd just sat back and let the music wash over me. I then moved on to videos by Common, Blackstar (Mos and Talib) and Bahamadia.
All of these artists remind me of how cool hip hop can be, from the beats to the lyrical flow. There is nothing better than listening to a hip hop song and just bobbing your head to the beat. Try not to do it while listening to "Respiration" by Blackstar, "The Game" by Common, or "Push Up Ya Lighter" by The Roots; it's impossible. I remember when Bahamadia let loose with "Three the Hard Way," and I was done.
I was all about hip hop and rap when the subjects were about the party or the boast. I understood and respected the protest/militant rap (Public Enemy, NWA, Too Short) that informed the public of the realities in swaths of Black America. But I can't pin point when it changed. I cannot resurrect the time when violence for the sake of violence, the rank misogyny, and the competitive consumption became mainstream in the hip hop nation. It was as though real hip hop decided to join the Underground Railroad and steal away in the night. The caricature of hip hop that was left behind will never be able to fill that void. In all honesty, it has done, in some ways, more harm than good.
Maybe the truth of the matter is that I am simply getting old. Yet I know that the messages that many current hip hop artists are putting out are detrimental to the long term survival of a people who understand struggle, survival and triumph. Those few beacons of hope, like the aforementioned artists in this post, are struggling to maintain their presence on the hip hop scene. I think that it is our responsibility to help them get beyond the struggle, and moved onto the road of genuine success.