Friday, May 14, 2010

Hip Hop Culture ruining African American Culture? Not so fast.

I have always been an ardent supporter of hip-hop and the culture of hip-hop. And guess what, that stance is not about to change anytime soon. I recently read an article about Thomas Chatterton Williams who has written a book called “Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture." In it he derides the entire culture of hip-hop, claiming that it actually holds back African Americans. I respectfully disagree. Hip-hop was started as a way to give a voice to disgruntled youths, and now while the commercialized music aspect may have gone somewhat astray, you can not deride the entire culture. Hip hop is much more than just rapping. As outlined by one of the pioneers of the art form Afrika Bambaataa there are four pillars to hip hop.
1. Mcing
2. DJing
3. B-boying or breakdancing
4. Grafitti

What he has done in essence is taken an entire subculture that is as complex as any other and dumbed it down to just the street raps which became popular with the rise of Biggie Small, Tupac, and Jay-Z. That would be like me judging who he was by one article of clothing he wore. It wouldn’t tell the entire story. He specifically takes aim at Jay-Z.

He specifically quotes a line from ‘Moment of Clarity’ where he tell the story of feeling no love for a father who was not there, yet forgiving him for his absence. “I dumbed down my lyrics and doubled my dollars.” He fails to follow up with what he said shortly afterward. “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s a win-win.” If you follow the arch of Jay-Z’s career as he has grown so has his music. On ‘Reasonable Doubt’ of course he talked about hustling, that was still fresh in his mind. He now raps about the lifestyle he leads now. And even some of his earlier works there were songs that no matter the genre, are powerful songs. On Volume One: In My Lifetime, he tells on ‘You Must Love Me’ of the bad choices he has made and his family’s undying love for him and forgiveness.

It appears he has made a few assumptions about hip-hop. First being that if some rap of violence and commercialism, they all must rap of violence and commercialism. The second and most damning example is that what we listen to and what we watch shape the decisions that we make. I used to watch the Incredible Hulk as a kid, doesn’t mean I exposed myself to Gamma radiation. Did some make a decision based on rap? Sure. People have also made decisions based on Catcher in Rye. No need to blame all of society’s ills on Sallinger.

I have listened to hip-hop my entire life and as I looked at the music as I would poetry or a short story. Artistic expression that can’t be taken as fact, just a brief escape from the day to day stress that we all endure. "Black never looked like my father sitting in a study underlining a book," Williams said. "It looked like a kid who could be walking in the South Bronx." Is his perception of black culture hip hop’s fault?

Maybe it’s just me, but growing up and to this day I feel that just like hip-hop culture one’s “blackness” is not defined by the music he listens to, the books read, or movies watched.

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