In my article, The Rehabilitation of Hip Hop Culture: Can Hip Hop Recover? Part 1, I introduced The 12 Steps for Hip Hop Recovery, a set of concepts that can be used to help hip hop return to the culture that Afrika Bambaataa created. “The Steps” were developed to increase unity among members of the hip hop culture so that it could protect itself from threats outside of the culture. I suggest that before you read this segment of the series, you read “The 12 Steps for Hip Hop Recovery” in their entirety by clicking here. This may enhance your experience of this segment of the series.
Step 1 – We admitted that hip hop isn’t being used the way it was intended and that we’re partly responsible for this
Years ago, hip hop culture was created and controlled by youths to be a voice for angry and disenfranchised youths, but today, it’s controlled by corporations who use it to market products to and influence the behavior of youths. These profit driven corporations are not concerned with the well-being of those in the hip hop culture, but instead of making corporations wholly responsible for this situation, members of the hip hop culture have to be honest about our role in it. Corporations were only able to hijack the hip hop culture because (we) the older members of the culture allowed it to happen by abandoning the culture and its younger members.
Years ago, when hip hop was new and only embraced by a minority of people, members of the culture were ridiculed and told that “hip hop wouldn’t last.” This caused many members of the hip hop culture to distance themselves from the culture, and although they secretly enjoyed listening to rap music, they didn’t publicly support or take pride in the culture. This abandonment, plus high rates of Fatherlessness, addiction, and incarceration (due to the crack epidemic and the “war on drugs”) caused more “ol heads” to disappear from the lives of young members of the hip hop culture.
When corporations learned of a generation of impressionable and unprotected youths, they saw a business opportunity, and they took advantage of it. Similar to how street gangs provide a sense of family to lonely youths, corporations paid attention to our youths when we didn’t, and they used the language of hip hop to engage them through radio, videos, and movies.
Corporations used hip hop to promote images of misogyny, hyper sexuality, and promiscuity to youths who had raging hormones and sexual curiosity. They used hip hop to promote visions of wealth to youths in poverty without informing them that only a small percentage of people actually lived like this. In fact, the implicit message was that this level of wealth could be attained by becoming entertainers, athletes, or drug dealers, careers that youths were statistically unlikely to achieve or careers that made them statistically likely to become addicted, incarcerated, or victims of homicide. Corporations used hip hop to promote criminality and to romanticize prison culture, so youths who viewed incarceration as ‘a rite of passage’ were sent to prisons (that are owned by the corporations) that make billions of dollars from contracts where inmates (young hip hop fans) are used as laborers who work for a few cents an hour.
It’s probably painful to admit, but the despicable way that corporations use hip hop to manipulate our youth was only made possible because of our absence in their lives. Had older members of the hip hop culture been present in the lives of the younger members of the culture, we could have socialized them to ensure that the culture’s history was understood and respected. If younger members were taught about the Zulu Nation’s message of peace, positivity, and unity, they wouldn’t gravitate toward rap music that glorified violence and criminality. Had younger members been taught how original and creative lyrics were used to express having fun, cultural pride, and social activism, their lyrical palate would make them reject what’s played on the radio (over and over), elementary and redundant lyrics that glorify murder, mayhem, materialism, and misogyny. Had younger members of the culture been taught these lessons, we wouldn’t have to demand that radio stations change their playlists because our youths would simply choose not to listen to what they’re playing.
Had older members of the culture been present in the lives of the younger members of the culture, we would have learned (before the corporations) how influential rap music was, and we could have used its influence in positive ways. Imagine if we used hip hop to promote education, therapy, conflict resolution, and only supporting businesses that invested in our communities? Still today, older members of the hip hop culture abandon the culture because “we’ve outgrown hip hop” or “it doesn’t speak to us anymore.” If older members of the hip hop culture stopped thinking about ourselves, we would remain present in the lives of younger members of the culture. This would allow us to monitor and support them, so even if they tried to emulate the negative behavior promoted by corporations, we could stop them before they exhibited the behavior, explain why they shouldn’t exhibit the behavior, and discuss alternative behaviors with them.
This segment is Part 2 of a series, and future segments are forthcoming. In the next segment, a few more of “the Steps” will be explored.
This article was influenced by concepts from the Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous Programs. The article was also influenced by concepts from The Laws of the Universal Zulu Nation and The Infinity Lessons of Universal Zulu Nation
Ronald Crawford is a mental health professional and author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas that uses an analysis of rap lyrics to teach social skills. Connect with him on facebook or at [email protected] Books are available at www.amazon.com.