I Know Rap, My Man..I mean HIP HOP! (c) Madlib
I never play the race card in this column; I recognize that many with an ability to discount an entire group of Hip Hop detractors (especially dealing with a genre and culture so reflective of Black and Latino influences) would and could do so. Not a soul in America or abroad can deny what Hip Hop’s roots are as far as the many influences from the dances, the beats, the rhythmic rhymes and styles of fashion. Isn’t it fair time to say that Hip Hop culture has paid its penance to society and should enjoy its many fruits of labor? Is it truly Hip Hop’s fault that vapid lyrics, easily remembered hooks and canned keyboard beats are the flavor of the year for the last few summers? Is it true, like many rappers feel, that because a bunch of young black people make a ton of money at this that it threatens the fabric of this country’s elite? (On a sort of matter of fact side note, Lyor Cohen is about as black as the snowcaps in Aspen. Does he count?)
The fans have as just much stake in the elevation and failure of the music and culture. The lyrics we repeat over and again are just as much our fault as it is corporate pressure to make hits. The hit songs of the 80s and early to mid 90s were dictated by the consumer. Now, the consumer is given a limited amount of choices and has to pick the lesser of two evils – or whichever track has the hot hook and expensive video. The underground scene is thriving and rich with so many innovative producers and MC’s but what happened there is that the complexion of that scene is so wholly different than the Hip Hop scene of the 80s and 90s. It’s nearly segregated in some ways whereas Hip Hop shows of past were more mixed in hue. At a recent MF Doom concert (a well-received MC and black man well into his 30s), I was one of 8 black people (not including the acts performing). I note this because young black people today have a far easier time with this microwave culture of getting it cheap, easy and free from the endless barrage of video shows on cable and music file sharing programs. They aren’t going to the shows for some reason unless its one of the larger acts that the world has deemed popular and necessary.
I don’t spend my days exhausting my mental resources on trying to change minds; I simply offer what I know to be a still good music and culture and I latch on to what makes it so for me. I will continue to share that with people but it comes replete with limits: I will not debate into the wee hours of the night with anyone about the value of Hip Hop – especially when I can detect that no matter what, they’re going to believe what they do. If I can’t expect compromise in the face of unyielding criticism over something I cherish, I don’t think I should have to endure sneering ridicule and such to prove how much I’m in support of Hip Hop.