D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Friday, September 24, 2004

Hip Hop Music and The Message: What Isn't Being Said?

The most maddening thing about people who are deeply entrenched in Hip Hop is that the so-called scholars or purveyors of the culture make too many rules for it. If Hip Hop were meant to be contained in some box it would’ve stayed as it did during its early incarnation. I said the same thing a couple of years ago during a Hip Hop conference at the University of Maryland that the music had to grow. I appreciate Adisa Banjoko’s passionate plea to the Hip Hop Nation but the last thing the music needs is fixing. Let the commercialism die out on its own. Let the people decide what’s official and what matters. People speak of current trends of Hip Hop yet complaining about is just as trendy. There are some who feel the meshing of music and political activism is a trend – let’s face it: Hip Hop is a series of phases reflected by the generation that it supposedly represents. I don’t know why so many people are resistant to Hip Hop’s propensity to change. At the start of every five-year cycle, there was a paradigm shift. The music went from stiffly delivered party rhymes to message-laden poems to replayed popular grooves to break beats to samples and so on. The evolution of the music continues today with turntablism and the advanced rhyme schemes. The problem lies in the fact that none of what’s truly good is that popular so it lends our minds to the idea that what sells must be what works. It’s a very close-minded ideal and much of the culture’s regression can effectively be attributed to that.
The themes of the music are most certainly decadent. Sex, violence and drugs permeate the musical side of the culture heavily. And some of the artists most known for being everything but politically aware have been thrusted into a position (maybe even reluctantly) to lead our young people into a new political awareness. Songs such as "Why?" from Jadakiss are enjoying airplay, as this article from writer Rodney Thrash illustrates. We’re encouraging the easily influenced to follow the leader (blindly, perhaps) and get involved. I never cease to wonder if the artists really know how important their position is or are they just doing a favor to save face. People get commercial deals because of their ability to recite a rhyme or program a beat. If that doesn’t encourage you to respect how far Hip Hop has come, then maybe you need to stick to your stacks of B-Boy lore and glory. I’m with Mr. Banjoko on some points. I’m all for the music improving but I’ll be damned if I would ever openly state to these rappers to censor themselves. To be a part of this culture has been a privilege but I do not play the holier-than-thou game. We live in a land of choices and freedoms – regardless of what you think. Some of those freedoms are what leads people to nearly kill themselves to get to America.

But as trends go, I like the fact that young voters are getting fired up and concerned politically - even if it is because P Diddy said so. This article from J. Patrick Collican details how young voters who were once apathetic are now engrossed in the entire electoral process. If it took one of these rappers who need "fixing" to get the young voters' attention, I'll live with that until I die.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Get Up! Stand Up! Everybody Hands Up!

There are few stories in the world of politics the likes of former Washington D.C. mayor, Marion Barry. As much as he’s been hounded for his 1990 crack cocaine conviction and affairs on his former wife, he was and still is a man of and for the people. There is a reason why people flock to vote for him. He embraced the lessons of being in the community you are supposed to uplift, lessons learned from Dr. Martin Luther King and others. It’s amazing that for all he’s done many of his critics (who don’t even live near the area) mention the crack thing almost automatically. He’s failed miserably, sure, but he’s been re-elected as mayor and is now a holder of city council seat. We don’t even treat our current music stars this harshly for their past infractions with the law and how much have they done for their communities? In this well-written piece by the Washington City Paper, writers Jason Cherkis and David Morton showcase a daily log of the life of a man who is an apparent shell of his former self still trying to fight for the people. It humanized the former Mayor even more than before.

As the days are winding down to the presidential election, politics are still more interesting (at least to me) on a state and local level. As one of my former colleagues once said, the political pace of this nation starts in the state and local level. Always has and always will. I have this hope that after November, all of the newly aware that visit this site and have joined all the marches around the country remember to continue the tradition of educating themselves further and to never give up sharing what they’ve learned. The people who are on the frontlines, we need to recognize and support their efforts to keep democracy in the front of our minds at all times.

In this Alternet piece from Scott Thill, our little site gets mentioned and it touches on just how many musicians are really embracing the idea of voter participation. As well read a man emcee and producer El-P – CEO of Definitive Jux Records – appears to be, I’m amazed to read that this is his first year he will participate in a presidential election. Perhaps it isn’t that far off a conclusion given the fact that one of his better songs was the track, “Patriotism‿ from the Soundbombing 2 LP, a scathing anti-establishment lyrical assault that is still relevant to the current themes of the day. It is because of these occurrences I’ve remained encouraged to keep at this struggle to enliven and enlighten those of us who need it. The Punk political movement is still something I need to research. I’m not as well versed in music beyond some R&B, Hip Hop, soul and dancehall reggae. But reading Thill’s article proves that even with widespread voter apathy, wave of change is coming and will not be denied. I can assure you that in 2008, when much of us have mellowed and aged a bit, the two big parties will have to address the generation behind us head on. The generations to come will become even savvier than we are and that’s precisely why Music for America and others are doing what we do. Let’s stay aware, people.

Friday, September 10, 2004

The Hip Hop Generation: "People of Color" Or Did I Miss The Memo?

Writer/Author Farai Chideya examines the validity of "voters of color" (guessing from this article are we supposed to assume they make up the entire Hip Hop generation?) and the connection to political parties outside the usual Big Two – namely the Green Party . I have a good friend who lives in the area and he's always urging me to join he and his fellow "Black Greens", as he puts it, for one of their meetings. I've yet to do it for a host of reasons I'll save for another blog entry. None are entirely negative, however. I’ve just had enough of the pitches for me to “join in" and I’m quite ready for a different set of action.

Party pleading to the Hip Hop Generation, no matter the group, is something that can and should be questioned across the board. As Ms. Chideya's book excerpt illuminates, The Greens of color truly believe this is the vehicle of political change for them. As I always like to say in conversation, if I'm trying to sell you a car I will certainly make you comfortable enough to give me the sale. I'm not clear on the angle as I’ve yet to really immerse myself in the affairs of the Greens locally but I’m interested to see what’s gotten all these folks gung ho for them.
KRS-1, the legendary and innovative New York MC and lecturer, recently stated in a The Source article that Hip Hop is the only thing American other countries still respect of our nation. Hip Hop’s global reach is astounding in scope – especially when you see instances of the more politically aware approaches of those beyond our domestic shores. In this article from Mmegi we’re introduced to Fifth Light, an apparently insightful and determined MC in Africa residing in the country of Botswana. But unlike some wide-eyed youth who latch on to this looming American specter that sometimes lauds materialism and misogyny, Fifth is totally the opposite of that. When is the last time you heard of a MC using Kofi Anan in a simile rhyme scheme?
I have to admit I’m in total awe of the breadth of work Professor Cornel West has amassed over the years. He’s just released a new book and has totally gone hard left in his assessment of imperialism and conservatism. And as this Seattle Times article notes, Mr. West knows how to travel in all circles without toning down any of his formidable intellect. However, West isn’t the easiest “brotha" (his thing, not mine) to read. I’ve been driven to near rage trying to get what the man is saying and I’d like to think I’m a pretty bright guy by most standards. He’s giving of himself, however, and that has to amount for something. Writing from your mind takes a toll – believe me, I’m feeling the burn these days.

Free ideas and steady motion make this country great. The sustained efforts of those that are, at the very least, poised and prepare to teach or lead is giving way to the reality of all the idealism of our times. I just hope we don't pigeonhole our pigeonholes in some faulty attempt to promote change.

Friday, September 03, 2004

This Is Rap For Real, Somethin' You Feel

The charged climate in NYC is most likely winding to a subdued end and a nation quietly suffers not. If you were present at the march that took place on the day before the RNC’s opening, you witnessed an amazing sight. The number of anti-Bush protestors was one astounding wave of humanity after another. The signs were filled with both interesting artwork and clever, eye-catching slogans calling for the republican collective to make their way out of the city.
After being in New York a few days, the energy of the folks I had the pleasure of speaking with from varying organizations was off the charts. I definitely wished I could’ve made it to the end of the convention to connect with more folks but I’m proud to say Music for America represented lovely.

I’ve been realizing as we’re nearing these last campaign months that what’s been missing is a stronger black and minority youth presence in these uprisings and protests. I’m always in and around the Washington D.C. metropolitan area but I hardly feel as though a lot of progressives get that these people have full right to not feel included. Political activism of the sort we’re used to seeing involves participants who are not only savvy, but have resources (computers, Net access, automobiles, etc) that allow them to comfortably speak to those who share their lifestyles and passions. Politics and political activism are definitely esoteric interests that need constant redefinition. The music and politics activist movement is perhaps the strongest bond to potential voters existing today. Online efforts such as ours (and of course, inspired by art and culture melding) are seemingly robust. Yet, these burgeoning motions are replete with the glaring fact that a large number of people of color do not enjoy the connection our other counterparts do.

For some, it could be a matter of education – whether that’s through higher learning or self appointed research. For others, plain old apathy is the recipe for a lot of unregistered voters remaining disdainful of all things political. The gap between the young bloods and the old jacks is wide simply because at the national level, these older politicians are very far-removed from anything on an urban or grassroots level. It’s not a concern to the older politicians to want to reach the inner city voter– at least not a genuine one. It’s a great campaign maker to say you’ll look out for those in the urban slices of America. The reality is this: The young people of all hues that reside where it is at all times tense, they could care less because who in the hell is caring about them? They thumb their noses at this electoral process because beyond being a number, the politicians of late have no messages that they can relate to or appreciate.

As harsh a reality that seems that is where we are. The Hip Hop political movement is definitely huge in attracting the inner city demographic but that’s not an issue. What is constantly and rightfully questioned is the sincerity of the messengers. It’s nearly becoming faddish to join up with this movement but none of the swelling number of the newly aware won't prosper if they’re not being taught what it means to live in a democracy. It is pointless to give folks fly slogan shirts and stiffly delivered catch lines if the lessons of democracy aren’t taught and respected. I’ve embraced a bit of a mantra lately. I intend to talk to the person, not down and not up. I need to be more direct and less passionate when I speak to people about my involvements in politics and what it means to be active. I’m going to learn how not to lose people in rhetoric and let them chew on facts, figures and shared experiences. We may soon forget that not everyone is going to have the tools necessary to walk in hand with the rest of us who are plugged into the frantic world of politics. More than any other failure, it would sting more to feel as though across the board we’re not as inclusive as we’d like to believe.