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

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Can Hip Hop Transcend Its Already Lofty Heights?

I can appreciate a writer such as the likes of Jeff Chang. I’ve been reading his work and blog on and off for the past year – coming away impressed for the most part each time. This interview with Mr. Chang gives a little insight about the man and how his mind works – but I encourage you all to peruse his work whenever you can.

Hip Hop music and culture is so amazing in the fact that it unifies a lot of individuals from varied demographics yet there is never a lack of cohesion (at least when everyone’s on the same page). There are plenty of active Hip Hop groups across the country – just like this group in Detroit – that champion the virtues of Hip Hop and unifying all the sub-genres within the genre.

Again, the beauty of Hip Hop is that it is multi-layered in both sound and approach; there is something in it for everybody. Like partisan politics, there is the “aboveground‿ (read: mainstream, commercial acts) and the underground (read: groups that’ll never move units). For Hip Hop to survive on the lower tiers, the divide has to be narrowed. I’m not satisfied with what’s on the radio save for the occasional Nas single of late. But the days of groups of both sides sharing air time are dwindling fast as the Hip Hop music industry is disgustingly consumed with sales and not quality.

Armond White, film reviewer for the New York Press, recently wrote this piece recalling Public Enemy’s groundbreaking It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. You may ask yourself, “Why is a film critic discussing a Hip Hop LP at lengths and then comparing it to the Sex Pistols?‿ Why couldn’t PE’s second album stand out on its own without comparison – because frankly, there isn’t another piece music in the world quite like it? He is correct; to listen to PE makes one recant the tension and desire of hope for the times. At the time, I was 15 and confused as hell about my station in the world. I was considered bright but I felt forgotten and left behind. I studied the civil rights movement and their successes and failures; I would read anything that dealt with revolution (I discovered Marxism at the time). The entire experience was pivotal for me and I know I am not alone in that experience. Mr. White, however, seems to turn the blind eye to the likes of Mr. Lif, El-P, Tahir and maybe even dead prez – although it seems as though the last group mentioned have devolved a bit from their earlier stances. There are plenty of vocal and active MCs – I’ve written about them in this blog column at lengths. Mr. White speaks of a “political and cultural promise‿. But I hope he does a little more research in his next attempt to wax in remembrance of a time of Hip Hop old.

I have a question to pose to you all. Do you want the intelligentsia – namely the Black Intelligentsia – to introduce novel ideas in bridging Hip Hop and academics? Or do we join forces as a huge Justice League of sorts to combat the evils and downward spiral of Hip Hop? I don’t think it’s impossible for academics to apply Hip Hop’s lucid ability to embody youth culture and yet be one of the most diverse social settings ever. But do I see it working? Only if the egos of those involved can be checked and understand the true need for collaboration and not try to bully their ideas ahead of anyone else. This piece from Harvard University’s Kwame Owusu-Kesse details in brief how that could and should happen, but I still feel it misses the heart and soul of what we need. Hip Hop isn’t in need of repair nor does the political and social aspect of the culture suffer on the grassroots level. What truly is at hand is steady undercurrents of change abound and all of us – the academics and Hip Hop proponents – need to find out our roles and stick to them.


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