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We Care About Hip Hop But Does Hip Hop Care About Us?

    When Hip Hop first appeared on the scene the critics and the industry questioned whether it was even technically music. After 40 years and a chart domination unparalleled in modern times rap has surely answered that question with a resounding yes. Rap pioneer Melle Mel once said, “an art form can only be as good as its masters.” Considering that “The Message” the first Hip Hop song to quickly go platinum and the very first rap record to be added to the United States national archive.  It would be easy to suggest that the cornerstone of Hip Hop has had a clear mandate to comment on the pervasive politics of oppression. We have had some amazing accomplishments in the medium of Hip Hop but no matter how many billionaires and moguls are made raps true wealth has always been found in its meaning. In spite of, what blogs and the media appointed gate keepers want you to believe, this is not pop music and the message will always matter.

    There’s a long and laudable history between Black peoples political struggles for freedom and music, entertainment and performance. As far back as the beginning of the 20th century Black actors and musicians have advocating for equal treatment and justice for all Black people. Actors like Paul Robeson and entertainers like Bojangles (Bill Robinson) had to make compromises but they were always dedicated to opening doors and creating opportunities for others to advance. Josephine Baker who at one time was the highest paid entertainer in the whole world was willing and able to challenge the status quo when it came to segregation and this was well before any organized civil right movement. She stood alone in her status as a star and in her standards. Flash forward to the current day and when confronted with injustice our mega stars smirk and tell us that “their presence is charity”.  The people who have seemingly made it in Hip Hop have a habit of dismissing the need to be responsible for the images they promote. Take Pharrell for instance when asked about images of Black women he couldn’t wash is hands of the issue fast enough. If only all of us could simply step over people suffering and scorn them for even asking for our help. Unfortunately most of the fans of these stars will never have the opportunity or the chance to achieve even a fraction of the wealth and status of the people they admire. Some entertainers are too scared or oblivious to even offer something as benign as an opinion!

    “The we to me phenomenon” Chuck D

    Rap music used to have a secure place in the community as a social tool to stimulate pride, inspire consciousness and encourage self-knowledge. There’s no denying the ‘party power’ of Hip Hop to entertain and bring joy to millions but right now it’s literal product placement for  car companies, corporations, fashion houses and millionaires. The music videos just like commercials on television sell merchandise and celebrate lifestyles but offer no new ideas or ideals. There are now acts who rent their accessories and even their identities to fit into a character rather than anything resembling actual reality. Once in a book I saw this quote, “you can grow whatever you want after you really understand how your root is.”  The root of Hip Hop is undeniably tied to the progress of Black people in America. Yes, they’re many different branches and versions of Hip Hop. But the root of the music lies in the heart of the people who originate it. The same is true of Blues, Jazz and even Rock & Roll. Hip Hop needs its heart to grow and to survive and without it we see the slow erosion of the core values of the genre and a redundancy in the music offered by the artists. The heart may beat outside the body for a time but a body without a heart is going nowhere.  Rapper and independent label founder MC Lecrae wasn’t lying when he recently stated that Hip Hop cannot only scream one long note of “murder, misogyny and lawlessness”.  The current formula seems to be: money, bitches, money, fashion, bitches and of course money. That is all the artists aspire to have and that is all they inspire, material envy nothing more. In a recent interview Chuck D asked all the current MCs a serious question, “Do you spit what you believe, do you spit from within”?

    You can’t tell me people feel the same about the current Hip Hop top ten they way they did about Rakim, Biggie or Tupac. A lot of the sentiment people have for the golden age rap music is not because people were less materialistic then but because the artists offered more than a laundry list of self-serving accomplishments. Bun B a pioneer in the Southern Trill said it best; “In the early days it wasn’t about the money it was about the vitality of the artist” Rap music used to be the first to hold society’s feet to the fire over issues affecting the community. The silence around such high profile acts of injustice like the Trayvon Martin murder is a deep disappointment. It clearly illustrates how far the culture has fallen off the pulse of the people. To any who think this is a generational issue, if you bothered to take one look at social media you will see that young people are outraged and speaking out. Not surprising considering all the evidence shows it will be their lives on the line and yet the music industry has no one willing to be a voice for the people. It beginning to appear that everyone is a corporate commodity and the value and social significance of their work is nonexistent. Every week a new MC is claiming to be the King of this or that but not one of them is willing to do what a King is required to do in order to sit on the throne.

    “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King Jr.

    The people are unheard not because they are voiceless but because they have no platform to reach mainstream society. Their cries can be ignored and even erased from the majority dialogue. This is where music can bridge the gap between the world as we know it and the world as it is. “A change is going to come, Strange Fruit, War, Say it Loud Iam Black and I am Proud. All of these songs were delivered into the mainstream by artists of color who utilized their hard won platforms to say something about society. In 1971 Marvin Gaye penned one of the most profound and important songs of the 20th century. It was called “What’s going on?” He was already by this time but with this one song he challenged the land of his birth, his country to make a decision to turn away from war, violence, racism and the politics of class and urged American society to be a land of fairness and peace. He has been dead for nearly 40 years and his words still ring true today  and elevate him to the level of an icon. Can we say the same for any of our current Hip Hop heavyweights?

    Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Renisha McBride. Victor Steen. Aaron Campbell. Oscar Grant. Timothy Stanbury. Sean Bell. Jonathan Ferrell. Amadou Diallo. Kimani Grey. Darius Simmons. Eric Garner

    These are but a few of the young Black men and women gunned down by state/city officers and trigger happy citizens. Instead of outrage and aggressive artistic wordplay we are greeted with silence. One of our most valuable and sacred places for self-expression, Hip Hop is now silent on the vicious suffering of the very people and community that birthed this great art form.

    “You can’t love this music without loving our people”. Immortal Technique

    Where have the voices gone? Why the frightening silence over the outright hunting down and murder of a teenager? Hip Hop has always been from its inception a mirror not only for Black culture but also for the greater society that we live in.  When in 1970 Nina Simone sang, “Young, Gifted and Black” in Paris it had the same impact of Kanye’s 2011 “Niggas is Paris”. And to be honest it had a much more empowering message. I for one refuse to believe that moral depravity, disrespect and escapism is all that today’s Hip Hop has to offer the world.

    The only time these mainstream MCs even mention racism is when they think they are going to have go without some endorsement deal or money making opportunity. Jay Z and the Barneys embarrassment comes to mind and even people like Nicki Minaj are quick to call racism when they feel their paycheck is threatened. Think about it, the only time Nicki Minaj has brought up racism this year is not when Eric Garner a fellow New Yorker is choked to death by the police but instead when she is criticized for her attempts to sell her music by first selling herself as a sex object. Nicki is unfortunately not the only one. Big Sean, Soulja Boy and Usher all took time to refute the charge of being a racist from the, “one less lonely nigger” Justin Bieber but have nothing to say about the blood spilled in Ferguson, interestingly enough neither does Bieber. The message is clear young Black boys are old enough to be shot to death walking to their grandmother’s house but white boys are too young to be called out are their open bigotry and racism. POC entertainers seem to have forgotten that making stereotypes of themselves simply reinforces mainstream ideology. It’s not complicated to see why it’s easy to sell these images and ideas within and outside the community. Dancing to a tune of an ethnic stereotype affords you untold riches and influence. But these entertainers should keep in mind a solemn lesson. After all the years of laughter Bill Cosby gave the American media machine he could not save is only son from the rampant global anti-blackness that brought an immigrant to U.S. shores with murder in his heart for a young black man. The ugly truth we must face is that our silence today may buy the price of our children’s funerals in the future.

    Nas One pen, One word, One mic

    As an artist freedom of expression is the corner stone to your ability to entertainment but also to subvert and educate. While we all have heard the overused explanation/ excuse, “I’ve got to feed my family”. When the masses of our people can’t enjoy the freedom you take for granted why should we care whether you eat or not?

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    Allegra Geller is a pop culture enthusiast, a lover of books and an over qualified hipster. She is currently writing her 2nd screenplay and living the fantasy of a radical critic. For more observations from the edge follow her on twitter @bakingurnoodle