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

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hip Hop: The Thinking Man's Sport?

Those of us who are proponents of Hip Hop culture and enjoy everything that has stemmed from that root understand the difficulty we face trying to extol the good virtues of that culture. Then there are the academics and philosophers over thinking Hip Hop’s place in the world – and I’ve been guilty of it myself. So this leads me to the first item to get my goat for this week. At a recent Emory University panel discussion , a few notable academics got together to discuss Hip Hop’s impact for their fifth annual State of Race forum. Michael Eric Dyson was present, probably butchering Hip Hop thinking he’s helping it.

But what’s annoying is that why are Jazz men like Stanley Crouch and professor Dwight Andrews weighing in on what Hip Hop is to them? It’s apparent their worlds naturally collide by the association of their backgrounds alone. I’m sure he’s a brilliant man and all, but this is becoming a tiresome trend. You need experts in the field you wish to discuss and dissect. Professor Dyson, for what it’s worth, is not someone I consider an expert, proponent or champion of Hip Hop. Plus, many of his views are stuck on 3 artists at best. I don’t see Dyson going to Fat Beats NYC digging for the next hot record. But that’s another topic for another day.
I just wish the day will come that universities that hold these forums recognize that not all the great minds of the culture are teachers and professors rehashing what they think is right. The best minds are the people who have shaped and are shaping continually what the worth of the culture is today. As the professors from that forum noted, there are glaring problems within Hip Hop yet the problems are only made so when you do not focus on the other side. If we’re to just embrace this one-sided view from these so-called academics, then Hip Hop is doomed to an eternity of scrutiny by people who don’t even know it.

But then again, I can’t blame the less informed for having narrow views since much of popular Hip Hop isn’t advancing anyone mentally or socially. The message-driven music of the 70s and 80s only truly had a similar phase in Hip Hop during the mid 80s to mid 90s – of course with various exceptions to that rule. Many people could easily say I’m foolish in my hopes that the music will return to those nearly archaic roots. And I say nearly only because of this experience recently at the barbershop I attend. They had an Old School Hip Hop video block on one of the cable stations (I assume MTV Jams?) and we’re all watching. Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power‿ video came on and all of the age 25 and over guys in the shop are pumping our fists and grinning ear to ear – remembering where we were in our lives when we first heard it.

Almost every young person in the shop looked at the screen blankly and looked at us as if we were aliens. They couldn’t even fathom why it made us so happy to see that. I have to remind myself all the time that because these kids are just as tall as I am, they weren’t around when I had my vocation and that I should allow them to have their experiences with Jay-Z, Nas and all the mundane rappers with typically dope beats (not to say all of what's currently hot is bad). They don’t even care about lyrics the way I did when I was kid – MCs nowadays are phoning it in with the rhymes (and the messages too) because ultimately nobody’s listening. It’s not the end of the world, however. For every Chingy (who I don’t think is necessarily wack but definitely under whelming) that fits a person’s listening lifestyle, we’ll have rappers like Mr. Lif who can deliver a message without it beating you over the head.

There has to be a delicate balance between sounding dope and saying something meaningful. Those few rappers who can achieve that are dwindling but let’s not give up on Hip Hop just yet.


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