KRS-One is often quoted as saying, “rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.” However, what does it mean to ‘live hip-hop’ in this day and age?
Hip-hop was originally created in a similar manner to that of the blues. Like the music that was born in the ‘juke joints’ of rural Mississippi, hip-hop was also created as a result of black struggle and ingenuity. Indeed, the early ‘park jams’ in New York City were as much about showcasing ones individual talents as they were about forming community and celebrating an entire culture that had been enslaved, ignored and disenfranchised.
Today, although alternative outlets exist that continue to maintain these original ideals, mainstream hip-hop, or the most popular forms of rap music have become much more negative. Disguised as party music and marketed to people of all ages and race, the hip-hop lifestyle has been transformed into a commercial entity that is now in the process of destroying its original values in search of greater profits.
This lack of lyrical credibility as well as social value is demonstrated on a daily basis, every minute of the day, on mainstream ‘Urban radio.’ Claiming to represent “hip-hop and R&B,” these commercial radio stations promote ignorance, misogyny and violence to the tune of billions of dollars. [Checkout a lyric from the Number 8 song on the Billboard Charts this week]:
“I bounce in the club so the ho’s call me Rocket, posted in the cut and im lookin for a blockhead, yup in my white tee, i break a bitch back, and i keep a big bank, oh i think dey like dat, before i leave the house, im slizzard on a goose, and im higher than a plane, so a nigga really loose, and i can lean wit it, and i can rock wit it, and if u gotta friend, she gotta suck a cock wit it”
(from, “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” by Dem Franchize Boyz)
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Earlier this week, Detroit rap artist ‘Proof’ of the group D12 (which includes Eminem), was shot and killed in a night club on the infamous 8 mile. According to police reports, ‘Proof’ allegedly shot first and was then killed by a subsequent gun shot to the head.
Since Tuesday, it seems the reaction to this deadly event has been mixed between mourning and disgust. I have since spoke with many who say they are sick and tired of all the violence associated with hip-hop and others who merely express sympathy for the loss of life. However tragic an event this may be, one thing is clear, it is certainly not the first time such an incident has occurred.
Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Big L, Freaky Tah, Jam Master Jay, Mac Dre and now Proof. All hip-hop artists. All murdered by gun violence over the past decade.
(Of course there have been many other violent incidents during the last ten years including the recent fatal shooting at the Busta Rhymes video shoot, the brawl and stabbing at the Vibe Awards and even New York’s good samaritan and sometimes marathoner, P-diddy’s champagne bottle incident with record executive Steve Stout.)
Certainly their are sizable differences when comparing the death of super stars like 2pac and Biggie, with rappers such as Proof or even San Francisco Bay Area legend Mac Dre, however there is one glaring similarity that all these dead young black men have in common?
Nothing will be learned.
(I’m sorry to say but it’s the hard truth! For example, let’s take a look at the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Mac Dre, two rap artists who grew up in my native Bay Area.)
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Tupac Shakur, in all his frailties was a talented hip-hop artist and a very passionate human being. Although his personal flaws and contradictions (and his involvement with criminal minds such as Marion “Suge” Knight), spelled his ultimate demise, Shakur did make valiant efforts to stand before the world and call for change. A direct quote from Shakur on his thoughts about the future were as follows, “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee I will spark the brain that will change the world.” (2pac was gunned down after a boxing match in Las Vegas in 1996.)
What is 2pac now? Is he a bootlegged remix? A VH1 special? A t-shirt?
On the other hand, Mac Dre, with all his valid accomplishments before his death was not an extraordinarily talented lyricist. Although he was a savvy promoter of his music, he did not strive for much more musically than his hustle (to his credit he never claimed to do anything more than that). Indeed from his early records which were literally “too hard for the f*ckin radio,” to his stint in prison for alleged bank robbery, to his return and re-birth through a Bay Area rap craze he helped create called “Hyphy” (which literally means to “get stupid,” or “go dumb” from drug use), Dre didn’t stand for much more than pimping and getting high. (Mac Dre was gunned down after a concert in Kansas City in 2004.)
What is Mac Dre now? He’s an icon? A hero? A t-shirt?
(If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been to the Bay Area lately.)
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Obviously, the virtuous legacy of hip-hop artists like Tupac Shakur is not lost and there are indeed people who will continue to keep his memory alive however, it seems to me that over the past ten years or so hip-hop has taken a turn for the worst. Sadly, messages concerned with change and consciousness have been replaced by threats of senseless violence and calls for mindless behavior. Although both criminal and party elements have always existed in hip-hop, there were once many other aspects or ‘elements’ that were equally represented. Today, rap artists can’t get on the radio unless they “Get crunk,” “Get hyphy,” “Get stupid” or “Go dumb!”
Imagine 2pac in a video, dancing around in a triple extra large white t-shirt, exclaiming, “Get stupid! Get stupid! Go dumb! Go dumb!” While it is true, that ‘Pac’ was often involved with less than virtuous activities, I cannot for the life of me imagine the man would ever put out a record that wack!? (wack: adj. meaning lacking lyrical integrity.)
Of course, the argument is raised that this type of hyper, mindless rap music is a release valve for folks and a direct reflection of their socio-economic situation… AND I understand that there is a lot of potential positive energy behind such a release… However what is the energy being used for and by whom is this energy being harnessed?
If three white guys walk into a hip-hop club trying to sell “Hyphy water” and “R.I.P. Mac Dre” t-shirts, is that hip-hop?
If two young men (white, black, brown or yellow) do a bunch of exstacy because they’re favorite rapper does it, is that hip-hop?
If one young person, anywhere, loses their life to a bullet in a hip-hop club, is that hip-hop?
I don’t know … I guess it is up to you?