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

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Is Hip Hop Activism A Reality Or A Passing Trend?

There exists this undercurrent of political Hip Hop activism yet the racial and gender lines still matter much in determining the relevance and potential of Hip Hop in popular American culture. A critical point emerges in these talks of music and politics, however: When do we find that point when gender issues, racial matters and talks of economic empowerment sound good to the beat again? This line of thinking (of which I do not feel I’m alone in sharing) is a strong question that many writers and authors need to take inventory for. Popular Hip Hop tunes of today celebrate excess wealth, sexual promiscuity, objectification and other themes that do not and will not advance the music to higher heights. With that said, when do we find ourselves prepared to move for the demand of music that promotes a countering view to what is heard now? It’s possible; the consumer has more power than he or she knows yet nobody is championing loudly enough for the surge of counterpoints and varying themes to appear.

Author Bakari Kitwana seems to think that closing the generation gap and perhaps updating the politics to a current Hip Hop generation-specific theme is what will bring about the changes needed that will hopefully improve the fabric of not only Hip Hop music, but youth activism and politics as well. This piece from freelance writer Jeff Hagan for the Plain Dealer features an interview with the author and Kitwana expresses a view that is clear to any current Hip Hop fan: Although Hip Hop is deeply influenced by African, Caribbean and Latino rhythms and culture, the music has been embraced by whites and, for the most part, seemingly with a purist’s angle. Just this past Thursday, I was at a party hosted by Scion which featured DJ Premier of Gangstarr fame. Every “b-boy” (breakdancer) was white; there was one b-girl and she was the lone black face in the circle. Oddly enough, Pete Rock’s younger brother, Grap Luva (Of I-N-I fame) was angered by the lack of participation and rushed the floor – nearly resulting in a fight. There was a tension of epic proportions in the room that night. (Check out this interesting piece on Scion's marketing angle here:
Speaking of tense, this opinion column from Pop Matters writer Ben Rubenstein is one of the most pointed detractions to the nearly messianic (to some) messages of Public Enemy and, for the later generation, Immortal Technique. I find it odd that Mr. Rubenstein takes umbrage with those artists (what with his prefacing everything with so-called and “conscious”) and that he thought himself “part of the problem” as he explained his disdain for Public Enemy. I don’t think Chuck D’s vehemence was born of a hate of affluence but certainly race matters were definitely strained then; it seems as if nobody remembers that Public Enemy’s first release was in 1987 – nearly 20 years ago. Sure, the messages resonated with a great many people then and still do but there are so many other angles and approaches now. What I don’t find odd is how kindly his pen treated the Anticon and Def Jux collectives (Mr. Rubenstein, I’m quite black and I’m a fan of both collectives with many white members). There’s this sneering Right-leaning tone to his words and if I never read another line of his, I don’t think I’d be heartbroken. However, I’d be willing to debate to the wee hours with this man should he want to partake in that.

While I’ve never been the largest fan of west-coast MC, Paris, I’ve always respected that he was educated and uncompromising in his views. This interview conducted by LA City Beat reveals that the former MC turned producer is working with the aforementioned Public Enemy on their new LP, "Re-Birth of A Nation". The impressive tone in Paris' words have always been the one hallmark of his that is not only captivating, but assures his place as a relevant, if gruff, voice in the critique of today's Hip Hop scene. His words ring true: large corporations are throwing acts large sums of money and in turn the artists do nothing to add value to a steadily declining artform. Will our criticism reverse the trend? We cannot answer that but we should remain relentless in our disdain in the failure of improvement. No, we shouldn't eliminate these acts from the public eye - fans have right to buy and listen to whatever and whomever they want. But is it too much to ask for an upswing in quality and themes? Not at all.


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