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

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hip Hop Culture From The (Under)Ground Up

In the start of my first forays into melding activism and Hip Hop in the Washington Metropolitan area, I met one of the most interesting persons in William "Upski" Wimsatt. Billy, as I’ve grown to call him, was a dynamic speaker, energetic activist and, at that time, a brand new author. Some of you may recall his books "Bombing the Suburbs" and "No More Prisons". Between 1999 and 2000, I had a chance to pick this man’s brain and he always encouraged me to keep up with the writing thing. He probably doesn’t know how much his encouragement has sustained me. We had this now defunct organization known as the D.C. Hip Hop Federation and while that movement has died, there is a rather large Yahoo e-group (SpreadLove) that was born of our earlier efforts. We would meet at an area non-profit that Billy worked and concocted all these grand schemes that sadly never got off the ground. Still, those times are some of my fondest memories. I hope some of our Canadian readers had a chance to check out Upski at this recent talk of his.

Wimsatt’s example of direct exposure to an element that he could’ve possibly been denied access to because of his skin and background shows that we must, at the very least, be willing to risk ridicule and criticism from people we wish to be our peers. I’m fond of saying that brotherhood, like trust, is something one must earn. In the realm of Hip Hop culture, there is a wariness of the "new kid" as you’re not sure if you’re going to relate to them or not. I remember when I did my brief stint in a small graffiti writer crew how I had to essentially "earn my stripes" with these men. It’s funny to think how protective we were of the culture and now, anybody with a cracked Fruity Loops program and cheap microphone can claim Hip Hop as ardently as anyone – and even feel justified in doing so. Hip Hop in my time was definitely more about waiting on the elders and masters to deliver the goods but everybody and their mother wants to be a hack MC or producer. I don't want to even start on the "toy" (read: novice) graf writers of today. The DIY movement in music period is to blame although some of those efforts are worthy of respect.

A recent conference featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D and west coast former MC Yo-Yo showcased just how repetitive we must be. Hammering home the point of being politically active and taking charge of the polls is a message that will never get old; Chuck D speaks to this toward the end of Mr. Chery’s piece. Broken records, some would say but you cannot underscore the importance of what he’s saying. You cannot underscore enough the words of Yo-Yo regarding what sounds and images commercial radio and television choose to promote in Hip Hop. The times are critical and message music is soon to become a dinosaur if this trend continues. As I’ve grown up in this culture expecting it to teach and guide me, I’ve had to learn the hard lesson that I also have to be just as active in gaining my worth and knowledge in other arenas as well. The passion and expectations we heap upon Hip Hop and the personal responsibility that every non-fan, Hip Hop detractor or fire breathing politician demands needs to come from the pulsating core within those tightly wound Hip Hop circles.


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