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

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Generation to Generation: You Did Your Thing, Let Us Do Ours

Luckily I’m not the only person who finds Jeff Chang’s book “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation” such an important and pivotal book. Writer Kevin Y Kim seems to note in greater detail than I ever could in how important this book truly is to our culture. I assume that one day, I’ll read this book in my old age and embrace the culture of Hip Hop that much more – this book truly proves that while black and brown people are widely recognized as the creators of the culture, it has crossed so many color lines long ago. I usually like to think of Hip Hop music and culture as the “great unifier”. Without it, I wouldn’t have had as nearly as much exposure to the world as I do now. I am eternally grateful for Hip Hop’s many influences.
But see, there’s this negative connotation that goes along with being a part of Hip Hop: thuggish posturing, violent lyrics, degrading women, disrespect to the gay and lesbian community, promoting of drug selling and culture – the list goes on. In fact, you have some ham-heads in the NBA and sports media referring to a style of dress of some of their popular athletes as the “Hip Hop image”. NBA legend Rick Barry recently told an ESPN reporter via a television interview that Miami Heat all-star center Shaquille O’Neal needs to lose “the Hip Hop image” and “work on his game”. Now, Mr. Barry was a fantastic ballplayer and there’s no disputing that but he comes across as a bitter man who feels as though his game and accomplishments mean more than a man being himself. Rick Barry is one of those old-school blue-collar players, but to have vehemence toward a thing you obviously don’t get is just a little asinine. There again, we’re dealing with this “us vs. them” mentality and it’s ruining the fabric of true and honest discourse. The so-called Hip Hop generation can and will not prosper without the wisdom of the previous generations; we need to study not only the mistakes but the heights of achievement of those earlier times.

Hip Hop culture suffers from bad press and individuals who claim to be part of it that aren’t good people and a general feeling of misunderstanding. These aren’t new problems or issues – if you’ve been reading this space in past weeks and months, you know how much of a broken record that is. But we need the older cats to look at us (and hell, I’m headed to old cat territory as a so-called Gen-Xer) in the X and Hip Hop generations and not shut us out. We appreciate the reasoning behind the advice and even the disdain; we don’t appreciate feeling as though we’re offending sensibilities for simply embracing what’s natural for us. Change, to borrow a cliché, is one of life’s many inevitable progressions – but just as that is a sure fact, you also need to hold fast to your beliefs and ideals. We’re still forming our history in those generations I’ve mentioned. All that we ask is that our elders grant us the patience to improve just as ardently as they expect us to listen.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Write Us Off

I’ve certainly lamented in recent days of the quiet that seemed to overtake the once robust Hip Hop and politics frenzy. As recent as last week, some exciting and enriching things have been happening on that front – some in my own back yard and I’m hearing little about it. The cameras aren’t as invasive as they were when this sort of thing was a sexier news item – i.e., pre-election hype. The Hip Hop voting and activism sector will not be overlooked after the next two years and we can expect more of the same old thing: a so-called unified collaboration to get folks in line with being participants in democracy. 2000, 2004, 2008; get used to the cycle of media attention, folks.

It is a shame I missed the 2005 TransAfrica Annual Foreign Policy conference held at the University of Maryland this past Saturday. I wish I knew this was happening as it is the sort of activity I need to be around in order to make sense and order of what’s happening within the confines of political activism and Hip Hop. If they’re to be conjoined, I want to know every how and why as to how it’s faring. I do recognize that those of us who have the ability to reach wide audiences are usually celebrated for our prowess – many seem to think we’re pontificating braggarts defending a non-culture and farce of a musical genre. Even as influential as Hip Hop is and how attractive that is to those who want to promote sincere grassroots messages through the culture and music, there are many critics who live to depict Hip Hop as a vehicle for societal demise.

This is why the story of Lavie Raven’s University of Hip Hop in Chicago is precisely the kind of story those critics need to witness. Mr. Raven, the minister of Hip Hop, teaches inner city Chicago youth the beauty and creativity of Graffiti art – and Chicago has many famous Graf writers who have crafted amazing pieces on some of the abandoned (and sometimes active) trains on their local transit system. Sure, it’s not high-brow stuff to some but these kids are learning about an important start to the culture that currently dictates what’s fresh and hip to nations abroad.

And then there are the efforts of the L.I.F.E. group at the University of California in San Diego which students can come together and learn about Hip Hop culture and all the many facets that exist within it. There are so many of these small collectives and units across the country – each with their own unique spin but common goal of using Hip Hop for more than a way to brag about their gains to a beat. There are educational merits and positive social mobilization present in these groups. There’s always this doom and doldrums discussion about what Hip Hop has become but I truly believe that these groups showcase successfully what Hip Hop should and will ultimately be. No, this change will be far from sudden but everything indicates that we’re moving in the right direction.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Fame Gets You Attention. Use It Wisely.

Hip Hop requires serious study and discussion amongst people who can effectively speak on not only the deeper impact of the culture and lyrics on today’s society, but also the technical skills of the artists that practice it daily. I still believe that academics can hurt these discussions by over-thinking and over-analyzing the music and culture; some of the analyzing comes from a root of indifference and disdain. Am I saying that I don’t enjoy that Hip Hop enjoys a platform in many a college and university classroom? Of course I’m excited at that prospect but I fear something will get lost in the meantime.

What gets lost? I think what gets lost primarily is the many nuances of the lyrical content, the importance of the societal impact of the culture, the many styles of Hip Hop within itself and just how innovative the music continues to be. I do not enjoy how much Hip Hop is both used to attract the youth and is dissected by the generations before us as some rouge sub-culture that should’ve have ever had the success its had. I don’t enjoy that a lot of current Hip Hop isn’t help my case by having artists behave like common street thugs who are using street cred (imagined or real) to sell records. It’s just as offensive as trying to attract young people with these artists by having them endorse the “coolness” of voting when half of them care not about the power of democracy.

Politics and Hip Hop will remain cock-eyed cousins as I don’t think the two entities will be focused on the same goals and ideals. I have my doubts of trying to force the two together because by and large, fans of popular Hip Hop don’t care if the Yin Yang Twins telling them to write their senator and vote. Now, if a sector of those fans of that group or other groups of that ilk, I apologize if I assume the worst of you. Hell, if those cats are civic-minded and take their fame to the streets to promote a positive thing then I’m all for it. The reality is I don’t see that happening. What is happening is that they have a hot song that has the banal refrain of “Wait Til You See My D*ck” – and the song has no signs of playing out soon. How soon before pop radio is forced to play it due to demand thus having a boom of suburban kids shouting the chorus in glee?

I’ve said it in this column and I’ll say it again: Popular rappers could change the political landscape just by demanding their ravenous fans get involved politically, socially and responsibly. If you couple that with true education, sincerity and a focus on state and local issue, you could see a true voting bloc with awesome power. I’ve spoken about this since 2000 and in 2005 I’m nearly ashamed that I have to repeat myself. But if that’s what I have to do to get the industry to pick up the ball, count me in for the long haul.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hip Hop Needs Help, Not Heckling

Controversy and Hip Hop have been common bedfellows since the late 1980s with groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy absorbing the ire of anti-rap proponents denouncing the importance and worth of the music and culture. So to note that Hip Hop’s most visible artists and images of today leave little to be desired is perhaps the greatest understatement in some time. The most ardent protest thus far has been the Essence magazine campaign to stop the negative images of women and I’ve mentioned in a previous column about the current Feminism and Hip Hop conference in Chicago. Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice gently spanks Hip Hop on the bottom but at the very least recognizes that what’s being touted as Hip Hop is just only more prominent and exposed. She seems to be aware that there is more to the music than what MTV, BET, Clear Channel and Radio One have forced us to endure. Finally, someone out there who’s ready for a change without seeming to drag Hip Hop into some unnecessary mud fight. I can get behind that.

It’d be great if those women at the conference would allow supportive voices (or would that be opposing?) that could show that there’s more to Hip Hop than Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video and other negatives songs that are dance floor popular. Take for instance the Advanced School of Knowledge event out in the Bay Area in California mentioned in this story from the San Francisco Bay View. These young people are using Hip Hop and applying themselves in ways many people probably never gave them credit for nor would expect them to maintain. For every instance of negativity, there are many stories of this magnitude being repeated in many neighborhoods in this country over and over - people actually using Hip Hop as a means to cope and to educate those who are headed down dark paths. As I’m fond of saying, positive Hip Hop stories aren’t “sexy” angles for the media outlets. I mean, Hip Hop can be peaceful? Who knew? It doesn’t ring with the same punch as, say, reports of label mates Game and 50 shooting at each other over ill spoken words and hurt feelings.

This remains my hope: that while we can politic and pontificate until we’re blue in the face about the problems in much of current Hip Hop music, I pray that we can use that same glaring assessment on the acts, youth groups and others in the music industry who use their influences and ability to communicate to young people for the higher good. To demonize Hip Hop doesn’t fix it; the repair is ongoing and will not be a quick fixer-upper. I demand that these anti-Hip Hop groups do more than just the bare minimum requisite as far as research is concerned. If we can remember that it took 30 years for it to get to this highest height of foul, it may take us 30 to snatch it back. Are we patient enough to wait it out? Time will tell.