Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I Give Hip-Hop an Earful (Part III)

No doubt...I went easy on Hip-Hop in the last post. Don't get me wrong - I got the much deserved type-lashing here. I left off last wondering where Hip-Hop might find its saviors. Early 90's caught a glimpse of what I am talking about. Arrested Development talked 'Afro-Centricity' and Tribe mentioned Steve Biko. It's funny: Queen Latifah used to be a revolutionary (circa '91), now she sells Pizza Hut detachable crust pizza with pizza-flavored dipping sauce in a new ad campaign. A good example.

After 10 years of gangster rap spawned from post-crack generation storytelling, a group of artists emerged to teach about love and 'knowledge of self.' These groups opposed the commericialism of product placement in mainstream rhymes - exemplified by the Roots 'What They Do' video which mocked the hood rich materialism of people like Biggie (and catalyzed a heated battle between B.I.G. and Black Thought). A video like that makes a point - and the Roots stand for something...or at least they used to.

Six years later I am standing front row at a Roots show in New Orleans. Front man Black Thought stops the show to tell fans to put out their cigarettes because he hates them and they kill people. Funny - I could have sworn that the newest Roots tour is sponsored by Kool cigarettes - a true G's smoke of choice. Its just this type of hypocrisy that breaks my heart. How hard is it to be commercially viable and not sell-out to companies who have no interest in your fanbase's well-being? Do the Roots have to dance on stage for Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper like the 'Alabama Porch Monkeys' they played in Lee's Bamaboozled ? Is it too much to ask for so-called 'conscious' artists to take responsibility for the effects of pushing harmful products? Should a supposed recovering alcoholic like Common really be sponsoring a liquor company? Put it that way (with successions of rhetorical questions) and socially-conscious hip-hop seems absent from the mainstream.

Oh I'm just getting started comrades. Nike you're about to get yours too...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I Give Hip-Hop an Earful (Part II)

No Hypatext, all me baby

In the last post I wrote that Hip-Hop is a forum with the potential for social change and some people with rudimentary and shallow awareness of the genre laughed - and then I laughed back but wasn't sure why. Let me explain my stance. People (like my uncle) who rebuke hip-hop for "fuck this fuck that," "bitches and hoes," "shootin' niggas," and "banana-fana fo founds," see commercial hip-hop as a superficial rant mixing the worst parts of materialism, misogyny and violence. True enough - but I differ in two important ways.

In Defense of Hip-Hop as Important
1) Hip-Hop as ghetto journalism. As an fan of journalism I have taken note of this growing debate: Who is a journalist? Are bloggers journalists? And although C-Span and the Press Club have beat this question to death - I give it a final kick to the ribs. Bloggers are not journalists - they are Lazy-Boy commentators. To qualify as a journalist has to do with your level of access to the story you are typing about. Hip-Hoppers from the inner city may come off as abrasive and scary but they are simply reporting from a war zone where cameramen dare not go after-hours. To hear a song about gangs and eating cereal with water is to begin understanding a life of Urban African-American poverty.

2) Notice how Hip-Hop that glorifies violence perpetuates violence as a social norm in the inner-city. Notice how fatalism like Get Rich or Die Tryin' breeds similarly desperate attitudes in its listeners. Notice how music videos depicting club scenes with great ratios (9 hoes : 1 Thug) changes male concepts of love and relationships. Notice how Jay-Z's mention of Belvedeere Vodka made fans thirst and sales rise. These are the things that people like my uncle see and it is the reason why he hates rap - but what do these correlations really say about hip-hop?

Hip-hop can - and is - a strong negative influence in the lives of young boys and girls from all socioeconomic backgrounds. But what is important is that itis a "strong influence" for better or worse. If hip-hop can change a young man's ethos for the worse so distinctly, there is no reason to believe it can't have as profound results in a positive way - you dig? Hip-Hop's gotta hold on the youth because it is cool - and no it's really not a trend so get used to it really. What we need are MCs who are cool and stand for something positive. For a while I thought I knew a group of likely candidates, but I am not so sure anymore.

I told you it was a rant...

Friday, July 15, 2005

I Give Hip-Hop an Earful (Part I)

It's not that I mad at hip-hop, I am just disappointed.

I read these books and listen to this music and I recognize the potential of this burgeoning musical forum...but that's where it ends. Granted I am trying to stir the polemical pot here, but I must invoke a debate that I have had with more than a few music fans: What does it mean when artists sell out?

I used to think that hip-hop was conscious and soulful. Back in the day Common rapped about hip-hop in "I Used to Love H.E.R":

Told her [hip-hop] if she got an energetic gimmick
That she could make money, and she did it like a dummy
Now I see her in commercials she's universal
She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle

Point in case. Common rapping about how commodification of hip-hop in turn waters down hip-hop's credibility. Fast foward five years and peep Common and Mya on your screen rapping and dancing about how 'real' Coca-Cola is and how Pepsi is more fugazi than Kenyon Martin. Is this OK with you, hip-hop fan? Did Common deserve to get booed at a show in Albuquerque a few days after the ad aired for projecting a Coca-Cola ad against the backdrop of his stage?

There's a history here and it begins with Russel Simmons. History suggests that black culture = white consumers. The Cotton Club, Rock and Roll and now Hip-Hop. So when fashion start-up Adidas wanted proof of hip-hop's ability to catalyze consumption, Simmons dragged two German execs to a Run DMC show. Half-way through "My Adidas," Rev. Run asked the crowd to put their Adidas in the air - about 3 million stripes lit up the room and a German shit his pants. But this was revolutionary. Black faces could now be used to sell sneakers on a inter/national ad plane. The counter-culture to this young black spokesman peddling shitty product were a group of hip-hoppers who stood against commercialization and stood for 'knowledge of self,' 5%er culture, and not selling out. So what happens when marketers use the counter-culture to counter the counter-consumers into going to a counter and buying counterfiet Nikes? The rant continues...
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