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

Friday, July 30, 2004

Don't Forget Those Hip Hop Kids. They Vote Too, Ya Know!

I can’t imagine a time where a televised event such as the Democratic National Convention received so much undivided attention from usually apathetic viewers. A great number of my friends and colleagues who consider themselves a part of the so-called Hip Hip generation expressed an interest in politics I’ve never expected to witness. When Kerry’s speech was airing, I received e-mails and IM messages from people I would’ve never expected to give much of a care for this sort of thing. They were asking me questions; they wanted website recommendations for research and so on. It was encouraging to know that for all the bombast and hype, they were attentive. Will they continue this sort of interest after November? I hope so because as I always tell young people and anyone within earshot: politics are most interesting and important on the state and local level. That’s where we need to have efforts like the ones MFA and other groups are taking on. This movement has to be sustained beyond the election.
My friends probably also noted how little they were represented on that stage. Not to say that visible luminaries of Hip Hop weren’t involved in some form or fashion but none of the major news channels gave them half the light they deserved. As in 2000, the DNC did little to make certain that Hip Hop culture and the supporters of that culture that keep it afloat were a part of this epic event. There were half-handed attempts made by progressive organizations but when you’re about to throw your valuable vote behind someone, you should be addressed and made to feel as though what your support and vote matters. The empty soul of the convention echoes in me. I started to wonder if it would ever occur to these folks attempting to rally voters that there needs to be some sort of inclusion in those moving and resounding speeches. As Davey D noted in a piece for San Francisco Bay View, Hip Hop’s presence at the DNC was definitely felt but hardly seen. The Boston Social Forum and Russell Simmons’s Hip Hop Summit in Roxbury deserved just as much airtime as any other event near or around the DNC. There should’ve been cameras and reporters on a national level covering some of these major events. The stigma that America isn’t in tune with the movements of young people was solidified by that very exclusion.

Kerry claims he loves Hip Hop (did he call it "the Hip Hop"?) but did he get down in a middle of a cipher or even breeze by any events? I’ve said it in this blog column enough times but these politicians would get major props from the kids and even the old-heads if they would simply show up – even if it’s just to grab a bunch of photo ops and perhaps inspire some kids to give half more than a passing care. How dope would it be if the Democratic presidential candidate got on stage with one the acts even if he would’ve done something corny like a b-boy stance? That would’ve set the whole joint on fire. It would’ve been in every major newspaper worldwide and it would make a lot of young people feel as though this man is of the people of for them as well.
Just to wrap it up this week, check out this article from writer Hans Zeiger as he lets us know how he REALLY feels. I’d like to know the readers feedback on this piece so drop us a line in the comment box of this blog. This should be a rather interesting read considering the happenings of the week.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I Thought I Told You That We Won't Stop: Puff Daddy Making Politics Sexy?

In a recent article published by the Associated Press by way of the Tucson Citizen, there was an announcement of a new, nonpartisan alliance between Sean "P Diddy" Combs, James Carville and others to form the newly minted voting initiative project titled Citizen Change. Beyond the potential anti-Republican rallying cries this group could potentially express, they claim to want to invoke dialogue between both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates at their respective parties’ national conventions. Citizen Change will host events centered during both conventions and will present invitations to the candidates. We should applaud P Diddy for using his money and influence for the greater good. We should also note that the group will be working closely with other organizations and clothing companies such as the the Hip Hop Summit Action Network and Ecko Clothing . True enough the shock slogan of "Vote or Die" on the front of T-shirts and clothing items is quite ambitious yet we should still question the motives of those involved. Companies with far-reaching marketing appeal are still advertising items during these rallies and voter drives. While we shouldn’t knock these companies for attempting to cash in and expose their product to all those easily influenced eyeballs, the corporate specter looming overhead could prove to be bothersome. That isn’t pessimism; it’s reality.

I’m a firm believer in the theory of using whatever works to get people interested in productive things. I sincerely hope Puffy doesn’t make a mockery of himself and his position as a mogul for the sake of gaining favor in higher places. I don’t know the man’s motivation other than what he’s already stated. I want to trust him when he says he wants to make voting, in his words, "sexy", which I take to mean the he intends to craft this campaign into something the younger potential voters won’t mind participating in. I can’t imagine why the stakes became suddenly high when just a few years ago he wasn’t even registered to vote yet was urging others to do so at a voting rally held by close friend Russell Simmons out in the Hamptons. These actions, while noble, should still be under scrutiny. Not to downplay the significance of what P Diddy is doing but along with telling people they should vote, are they explaining the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Are they giving true history behind the power of voting and the hell people had to endure to gain those rights or are they just collecting bodies? Voter registrations without voter education hold little weight.

In comparison, why should Donna Brazile , the former campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 Presidential run, and her urgings to the Hip Hop community be taken any more seriously? Is it because her credentials are stronger? Is it because she has the backing of reputable and long-standing organizations? She speaks with the urgency and sincerity many politicos employ when looking to galvanize groups but that does not excuse her from caution. The challenge we of the so-called Hip Hop generation face should most ardently engage in is one of making sure these political figures, entertainers and others truly understand that we expect them to be true leaders. We're a nation of people hopeful and perhaps desperate for a reason to believe in the power of true democracy. Not every message to us needs to have the backdrop of a dope beat or fancy threads to get us interested. All we can hope for is that the messages and the messenger won't let us down when we do decide to step in unison with them.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Hip Hop Witch Hunts & Misinformed MC's

The deification of so-called conscious or socially aware Hip Hop artists is a minor annoyance when compared to the various complaints from columnists and the media that Hip Hop is worse off than ever. This stems from the very nature of some people to only acknowledge what the major players force down the public’s throat. The only time Hip Hop participants seems to enjoy any type of true discourse is when the music is under fire for whatever controversial reason.

Jadakiss , an MC with the rap trio The Lox and currently a soloist, has managed to get the interrogation light pointed Hip Hop’s way again with his current single, "Why?", which poignantly asks some deep (at least compared to some of his usual content) questions and offers the idea that our President had a hand in the World Trade Center tragedy. As columnist Jason Alston suggests in his piece for the Daily Dispatch, J to the Muah really took the conspiracy angle to an unnecessary level – but fails to note that in his defense of Bush and country that Jadakiss is allowed his say and doesn’t recognize that at least it’s getting the kids talking about something other than the usual fare of popular Hip Hop. Jadakiss is more than misinformed but if anyone took this his lines as gospel could stand to let go of the remote every once in a while.
Bill O’Reilly, the Hip Hop witch hunter, is all over this as anyone with cable should know. Labeling Jadakiss a "smear merchant", O'Reilly is his usually consistent and annoying self. But that's nothing the Hip Hop nation need to pay attention to. This issue further illustrates one of the points made in last week's Confluence entry. When we have popular rappers with all this media influence and attention uttering statements without facts to back them up do nothing to serve up Hip Hop as a potential beacon for information and change. That isn’t said to condemn Jadakiss or any other rapper for their right to free speech and expression but we have to make, at the very least, partially educated declarations and accusations. Jada likens himself a martyr, someone to take the blame as he notes in this article from writer Rashuan Hall. But as noble as that seems, the glaring problem in all of this well-meaning dart throwing is that the subject is far too layered and esoteric for a rapper to inject into song without boring an audience. It’d be good to see Jada or other rappers that may support theories similar to this to get involved in a televised debate. If he’s truly concerned with stirring things up as he states in the Hall piece, let’s see him do it with some folks that can challenge him on a different platform.

“Why" is currently a hit all across the country and while that’s good for Jadakiss’s label and his royalty checks, let us hope that he’ll use this leverage that he claims to have planned to be used for the greater good and simply more than boosting sales of his LP.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Rappers Take Note: It's OK to Change The Topics Every Once In A While

Hip Hop music’s place in the world as a global phenomenon has long been established yet what remains the most baffling occurrence in the music is how across the globe, rap artists use Hip Hop’s influential power far better than our artists employ here in the states. In fact, M-1 of the rap group dead prez illustrated a common apathetic thought amongst rappers and young people in a recent piece from Adam Phillips of Voice of America. Mr. Philips posed the question to the activist-rapper if he has ever voted and M-1 made it clear he’s never voted and will not until revolution is on the ballot. Just to note, this occurred at this year’s Hip Hop Political Convention . It makes you wonder just why he was on the panel if he doesn’t support the choice and right to vote. Again, a clearer description of what many consider political in Hip Hop needs to be constructed. Being politically charged is one thing, being politically minded is another. This isn’t to say that rappers need to become preachy and dogmatic but it can’t hurt to try to creatively drop some politically-themed messages in the music.

Although the talented Atlanta-based rapper Ludacris threw some lyrical shots at Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly , his television spots with other rappers encouraging young people to vote won’t hold weight if he doesn’t come with the material to back it up or display more of his apparently impressive intellect when called to do so. Commercials are fine; voting drive concerts are fantastic. But do these people know how to answer questions about the electoral process? Do they know who passes and denies laws in their respective states?

With one word, these entertainers could make it "cool" to research that and we’d have a nation of highly informed people but that’s becoming a more utopian thought by the minute.

Amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, Hip Hop with a message thrives. Israeli emcee’s T.N. and Segol 59, highlighted in a great piece from the New York Times and author Ben Sisario, employ the popular rhythms of Hip Hop and couple them with lyrics inspired by events of their homeland. While T.N. rails violently against the Israeli military, Segol takes a lighter approach yet preaches equality for all involved in the land conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces. As the piece states, Hip Hop is barely a decade in motion in Israel but they’ve taken the potency of the art form and are using it to advance their messages. It is indeed amazing to ponder how unifying Hip Hop music can be. All it needs is a steady influx of emcee’s willing to take a chance, lose a little bit of sales and perhaps change the pulse of the music by sheer determination and creativity. Not everybody who supports and participates in Hip Hop music is in search for easily grasped songs with simple, catchy hooks. Sometimes, it’s good to challenge yourself and the listeners as an emcee. Give the people more of what they need, not just what they want.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Women & Gays Ain't Down With Us?

In my June 17th entry for Confluence, I received a comment from a reader, wrath-of-jubei (which happens to be one of the freshest usernames ever). He or she raised two very interesting points:

"No one knew how big Hip Hop would get. Hence, the present state of confusion and trying to figure out what to do with it. Really, you have two perspectives vying for control of Hip Hop - one commercial, the other activist/political. The only difference is that the former is not afraid to admit that it's in it for the money and fame ..."

I make it quite known that I’m annoyed by the current swell of Hip Hop academics and their almost lecherous need in attempting to validate themselves by quoting that occasional 2pac lyric at every lecture or panel appearance – as if that’s the official badge of Hip Hop acceptance in doing so. These folks are cashing in on Hip Hop and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it seems as if it’s masked with this false feeling that they’re truly doing this for the benefit of society. I just want one of these stiff shirts to admit freely that they’re in it for the lecture tour cash. There are so many levels to discuss when we speak about message-driven Hip Hop and it’s never discussed why we try to place it in the hands of men and women who do not actively immerse themselves in the full spectrum of Hip Hop. Some parts of the genre are ugly and a perhaps a small measure of caution in dealing with the culture should be applauded. Still, to ignore any part of Hip Hop in favor of the other does a disservice to those who seek to be taught more about the art form and culture. It’s more than to Hip Hop than quoting popular rappers and trying hard to make it deeper than it needs to be. I apologize for saying this but until one of these Hip Hop activists and intellectuals quote some Mr. Lif or Blitz I don’t think I can take another 2Pac reference seriously.

The other point that wrath-of-jubei raised:

"But, to say that brothers are somehow unable to express intelligent, developed and mature political views simply because they don't agree with a particular social lifestyle and orientation (that should remain as private as heterosexual behavior) is disagreeable. In addition, rather than focus on a need for "gay" tolerance, Asim and others need to discuss the fact that many African American boys are not being raised to recognize their roles and obligations as men."

Make no mistake about it. A lot of male artists in Hip Hop could use a little sensitivity training. Yet with that, many of the attacks Rap music endures could definitely be avoided. Women and those of gay and lesbian orientation have valid reasons in feeling excluded and poorly valued in the culture. Alienating a potential fan base has never seemed to be a concern for the music yet when we discuss Hip Hop’s potential to alter society’s fabric, the gay and female fans and their comfort do not seem paramount. Part of the problem in making this a reality lies in the fact that most rap artists do not see themselves responsible for anyone’s actions beyond their own. Most artists seem to ignore this amazing amount of power they possess. I wonder if the rap artists that do get involved in community-enhancing projects recruit those of their ilk or check each other on their lyrical content. It is indeed comforting to know that with the recent Hip Hop Political Convention, Hip Hop artists are making strides to get politically active but once election day is over are we going to wait another four years to give a damn? Political activism and involvement, much like Hip Hop, is something that has limitless potential. Are we going to sustain the effort? Are rap artists willing to compromise their output for the sake of gays and women’s comfort? We have a long way to go before those questions can be answered.