Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dreams for Hip Hop

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.


tiffany said...

You're not getting old, Jeffrey. Hip Hop is. Could there possibly be a shelf life for this genre? Has hip hop passed its expiration date? Perhaps.

hscfree said...

I don't know if there is a shelf life for hip hop. I think that it will continue to change. The question is whether or not that change will be beneficial to the genre. Can you imagine the hip hop equivalent to Wynton Marsalis trying to preserve the earlier form of hip hop?

Dirk Diggler said...

G, when you wrote of when did rap/ hip hop get into violence or the (bling) phase it goes back to the groups that you wrote of. Esp. NWA which embraced both. Thats why they were so ground breaking because the were the first to do it mainstream. Too short?? Oh my.. Been pimpin and getting money since his first song "life is Too $hort". Those groups were the roots for the crap that is mostly out now that can't talk about anything other than that. The one thing that is great about the whole game now is that you have so many artist talking about so much you can really pick and choose good music for your mood. if you want to be political, common, roots, mos, if you want to talk about the bling and have class with it. Jay-Z, Nas, Pharrell, if you want to listen to the bling with no class, lil wayne, cash money, lil flip, camron,. or just wanna club and dance ying yang, lil john, etc. etc. or if you wanna know where we come from in the 757 Oski Whoa. hip hop will never die its wide open.

Mike Hill said...

Hip Hop is going to change like every other vibrant art form, and that means it will also go through phases when it is terrible. Country music is at the tail end of a terrible 10 years (yeah, I check out a little -- very little -- of that).

I think we all have to realize that the roots of Hip Hop are in the american drive to stack dollars. It's ridiculous to expect young men and women who have previously been completely excluded from economic opportunity to pass, en masse, on making millions of dollars to pursue artistic vision. There will always be those who tread the middle ground and those who straight sell out.

Having read interviews with both 50 and Kanye during their recent "competition," I was impressed with their intelligence, savvy and drive. Curtis was straight-up tho, about the fact that he's in a business. He is paid to wear the persona of america's worst nightmare, and that's what he does.

At the same time, we are seeing the mainstream music industry suffering because it is pre-packaging and selling artists in every genre. With electronic media, artists who don't want to play that game can sell you something unique, directly to you, and they get to keep all the money. I think the MP3 is like the new 12" single or compilation tape. If you want something original, you gotta want it enough to hunt around on the Net, like folks went to stores yard sales to dig in the crates and bought tapes out of the back of cars at the start of Hip Hop.

Last, something I learned from working in museum education. Native peoples hate those diorama displays of "authentic Indians" in buckskins hunting and fishing, not least because it implies their "authentic" culture stopped at that era -- i.e., the real Native people walking around now and living 21st century lives ain't "real Native people."

Does the whole discussion of relative "realness" remind you of anything?

Cultures that don't grow and change, die. Hip Hop has to change and we do it a disservice by enshrining a single era as the "realest" era. As far as subject matter, vote with your wallets and your attention. Leadership comes from the streets!