Hip hop was never perfect. Don’t listen to the people who would have it otherwise. Those old heads who view the past through a sepia-tinged filter, haven’t bought a hip hop track since 1993 but somehow know instinctively without listening that everything since then is rubbish.
These are the people who pontificate on internet forums about how hip hop used to have a message and something to say back in the golden era of the early 90’s, but now it’s all guns gold and hos.
Because back in the day, there was absolutely no misogyny/violence/materialism in hip hop. And you could leave your door unlocked all day, get 3 CD’s and a kebab and still have change from a fiver. And chow down on your bullshit sandwich whilst you watched pigs fly.
I don’t really understand why the strictly-rose-tinted-spec brigade is so intent on lionising a mythical past and tarring the whole of the present with the broad brush strokes of lowest common denominator chart fodder trash.
Whilst nostalgia-mongers were living on planet Rose-Tint, back in the real world of the 90’s plenty of us were busy feeling conflicted and disheartened. Bitches ain’t shit, anyone? Hit ‘em up? And lest we forget, Yo-Yo and Latifah and Eve may’ve been arguing for U/N/I/T/Y but there were plenty of women happy to play Queen Bitch. Nikki isn’t new.
What is fair to say though is it was far easier to hear a diverse range of hip hop back then: conscious, afro-centric, daisy-agers, gangstas and (gasp!) women all shared shelf space in the stores and seemed to have a share of the airplay.
Things have changed, but it isn’t hip hop’s fault.
I’m no apologist for gangsta culture, but let’s be real about this. Gangsta rap may have been born in the hood but it was raised, promoted, sold and demonised around the boardroom tables of corporate America. This is the only kind of hip hop that fits into the commercial jigsaw: a cartoonish stereotype of violently sexualised black masculinity flogged to death for a (largely) white audience. bell hooks breaks it down properly and laments the existence of a culture where young black men can “make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism and misogyny than with any other content”.
In 1983, Ben Bagdikian published the first edition of his book “The Media Monopoly” expressing grave concern that only 50 companies owned and controlled news outlets in the U.S. In 2004, a revised edition, “The New Media Monopoly” pointed out that by then, FIVE corporations control almost the entire media industry in the U.S: radio, TV, record labels, and films. And the reach of these five is global.
FIVE companies controlling what we read, see and hear.
This is astonishing, isn’t it? With that kind of monopoly it’s no surprise the mainstream has grown a little …monotonous. The diminishing number of corporations is mirrored by a decreasing number of voices making it on to prime time.
Down below the radar though, the heart of hip hop is still beating.
From the moment on 13th August 1973 when Clive Campbell entered the rec room of 1520 Sedgwick Ave and became DJ Kool Herc, to the day when Eric Catipon left the slums of Manila to become world-beating B-Boy Mouse, to the time when Muneera Rashida and Sukina Abdul Noor decided that the hijab was entirely appropriate garb for their Poetic Pilgrimage, there’s always been a spirit of self-empowerment, community activism and positive change.
330: Coldest Winter Ever
Maybe it’s time to take some of our righteous indignation of how the heart of hip hop got gold plated and sold down the river, and use it to flip the script. We could start by supporting the upcoming artists with something positive to say, start paying for the “pay as you feel” tracks on bandcamp so they can keep saying it.
P.O.S. : Wanted Wasted
Start paying attention to the radio shows and stations supporting underground hip hop. Give support to the organisations like Speak to the Streets, B-Supreme and Hip Hop for Hope who get out there and practice each one teach one in our communities.
Maybe we should stop being so cynical about everything all of the time and start doing something positive.
F.M.Supreme: No Turning Back
Maybe the people who loved hip hop when it had a message should seek out the many, many, many artists who still say something worth hearing. Mick Jenkins, Roots Manuva, Von Poe VII, Sa-Roc, 330, Ellis Meade, Oddisee, F.M.Supreme, Red Pill, P.O.S, Pharoah Monche, Ang13, Rah Digga, Essa, Kate Tempest, K.I.N.E.T.I.K., Black Other…
Like Yasin Bey said, it’s ours.
Black Other ft. And is Phi: Keep moving
People talk about hip-hop like it’s some giant living in the hillside coming down to visit the townspeople, we are hip hop, Me, You, Everybody, we are hip hop. So Hip hop is going where we goin’…
Let’s make a NEW golden era.
Mick Jenkins: Free Nation Rebel Soldier (part 2)
By Vicky T.