Sunday, November 15, 2009

Crack and Hip Hop Politically Underdeveloped Young People


On a fluke a few of weeks ago, I picked up a dvd about
Black Panthers and the student and employee strike at
State that created the first Black Studies department in the country.

It was in watching this video that realized that both crack and hip hop
politically underdeveloped young people.
Much of this statement comes
out of my reading two or three books a week
along with five or
six articles last month, while simultaneously watching the fall out

from Sasha Frere Jones's post about the end of hip hop and a post
about rap critics. Blog posts, long blog posts take a lot of work. At least
coherent ones do.

Reading and writing is labor and I am thinking about to which
ends, those of us who are in our twenties and thirties, are reading
and writing.

While watching the responses percolate, I wondered what would
if we invested the same time in rap blogs in making politics
to address our lives?

What is our investment in a music that has made it clear that it doesn't

give a fuck out us in a time where we live in an unsustainable world?

For the folks who say that hip hop is related to a political project, I would say,
place a link in the comment section. By political I mean a group of
people organizing to serve a communally determined group agenda.
This doesn't mean that it hasn't
served as a conscious raising tool,
in the past, but Post Chronic or even Post Blueprint, the music has
ceased being for itself and currently exists for Black respect and White dollars.

Given that this is the case, what does this mean for Black people
and what does it mean for Black music?

To the extent that this applies globally, remains to be seen
Chuck D has argued extensively that young people globally have
used rap music as tool to make sense of their position is society.

Based a couple of documentaries that I have seen about hip hop
in Cuba and North Africa, to a certain extent this is true.

Given the impact of AID's, mass incarceration and the systemic
undereducation of Black, White and Latino students, what are the
in which that the music, at least since The Chronic, has helped
us make sense of our world?

I come from the Leroi Jones school of Black music, which looks at
Black music both as it relates to our history in this country, and as being
representative of a particular point in time in this country.

Three month's ago, Rafi said that rap music use to be the street talking
to the street. In commenting on the ways in which Nike used Cube's
Today is a Good Day for a skateboarding commercial he

It’s just another example of hip-hop’s transformation to lifestyle
marketing tool and its astonishing disconnect from the reality it
used to represent....Three years ago I saw a big hip-hop show in
New York City just days after Sean Bell’s murder. The city was
buzzing with rage and confusion everywhere except inside the
show where the incident wasn’t even mentioned. I said back then
that there was “a time when rap was supposed to speak to and
speak for the streets”. But shows like that Rock the Bells performance
and ads like this one from Nike show how far we’ve come from that.
The acts and songs of that era are being used to market to aging
hip-hop fans like myself but it is all sound and no fury.
Rhythm and Blues affirms Black humanity, modern rap music affirms
our subhumanity.

This doesn't mean that Rhythm and Blues was all warm and fuzzy
Black humanity encompasses both the aspects that we are proud of

our collective darkside as well.

Birkhold thinks that this is really crude statement, and criticizes me for
saying so. Yes it is crude. But I stand by it, because Black music
changed from a being for itself to being for others. Rafi's comment
is an illustrations of this.

This isn't a conscious vs. thug dichotomy. My argument is a little more

nuanced than that.
Cube, Dre, Too Short, were dudes, street or not,
talking to the street.
Peep the VH1 NWA documentary, The Worlds Most
Dangerous Group. Popular gangster rappers wanted
to make some money
but they were trying to become corporations themselves. That wasn't an option,
so it wasn't a goal.

I mentioned the content of this piece to Birkhold shortly after I wrote it and
he disagreed with my statement that rap use to exist for itself, and is now being
for others
(thuggin' for cash),

His issue was with the fact that rap has always been, for the most part,
about Black men performing Black male, machismo, fantasy. Being for others.
Cold Crush brothers, Funky Four Plus One, Africa Bambaata were either on some
party shit, some machismo steez, or some super Black masculinity. He tried
to say that Cube was from the suburbs, but he's from South Central, according
to Wikipedia. However he did attend
Phoenix Institute of Technology in the
fall of 1987, and studied Architectural Drafting. Chuck D, Russel and I believe,
Run DMC were middle class cats from Long Island and Queens respectively.
In rap, Black men have always been performing some other 'ish and I
agree with that.

However, I responded that, while it very well may be true that early rappers
were performing a macho, fantasy, partying, Black masculinity,
the scale, risk and harm in the1970's and 80's isn't analogous to
1990's and 2000's.

The fact that Byron Hurt made a movie, Barack and Curtis, about Black
masculinity comparing 50 to President Obama is indicative of this.

Currently, rap music is conflated with Blackness. As a result some Black
children who are not from the 'hood feel compelled to perform thuggery in
order to be accepted. After all the sacrifices their parents have made,
pursuing higher education, moving to the suburbs, working the corporate
gig, the children want to be exactly what their parents have been sheltering
them from, a thug. The pervasiveness of rap music in 1990's and 2000's
plays a big role in making this possible.

The notion of acceptance and assimilation is an important one. In fact, much
of the homophobia that we observe in both American culture and in Black culture
stems from the resentment that a gay man or lesbian woman
has the audacity and courage to walk around being who they want to be,
not who others expect them to be. We have been socialized to resent the
courage to be queer. We are angry because they refuse to fit into the box that
society has created for them, and we are uncertain of how to get ourselves
out if it.

Back to Huey. Watching the documentary on The Panthers, the irony of fact
that Huey Newton was murdered in a dope deal gone bad
on the streets of
West Oakland isn't lost on me.

In listening to Eldridge speak in the documentary, it became to clear that
while I was familiar with
his open and aggressive misogyny, as he famously
stated that he practiced raping Black women, as preparation for raping he
white women. He was also charismatic, extremely handsome a
nd in some
ways the clip of his speech reminded me of many of the rappers that I
grew up listening

All these cats accomplished a lot in their twenties and their thirties.
What are we doing?

How can our generation build a movement when we can't even
be honest
with ourselves about where we are?

There has been very little analysis about the ways in which Black communities
have been impacted by 20 years of the war on drugs.
There has also been
very little analysis of the ways in which crack
wiped out the last vestiges of
60's and 70's era Black resistance.

What does it mean that 30 years later our young people and many older
people are more concerned with whether the music
is dead than with
whether neighborhoods that birthed the music
will survive over the next ten
years given the impact of globalized
gentrification of 'hoods in the US and
around the world?

Have you been to Biggies old block lately?

How was the FBI able to eliminate the Black Panthers but unable to contain
The Crips and The Bloods?

If Black peoples contribution to this country has been music and free labor,
what does it mean when our music is a lifestyle
marketing device, and that
Black men are systemically under and unemployed?

Thank you for reading this. Clearly, I am trying to work some thangs out.
In proofreading this piece it has become clear how Sociology of the Self
is teaching me how to look at the person and society simultaneously.


abbkrii.tumblr said...

wow. thank you for this...

"Rhythm and Blues affirms Black humanity, modern rap music affirms
our subhumanity."

Firstly I think its important to note that rap music is primarily music from and of the streets, rnb is not. Conditions in the neighborhoods that birth many modern day mainstream rappers are somehwat subhuman in their condition and the values exhibitied in the music, reflect as much. Rnb is under no obligation, and often has nothing to do with being hood (at least not the good stuff)

But modern rap music is on the turn and now includes individuals who are not part of the gangsta paradigm (Cudi, Drake, even Kanye), key word being individuals. The shift from tough guy to rap guy is a significant one and not to be ignored. Mainstream rappers have to first regain their humanity, imperfect as it may be (Kanye), before they can become socially/politically relevant.

"Currently, rap music is conflated with Blackness"

And I say Gangsta rap is conflated with rap in its entirety.

I actually think one of the biggest problems is that there are very fewer and fewer true fans of the genre. If you are relying on television and magazines for your hip hop information then you're no different than the teenie boppers who throw their jonas brothers album in the bag along with their soulja boy album- in which case hip hop is dead. Gangsta rap music is conflated with blackness, and that is problematic. But rap music is alive and well, and as diverse as its ever been, its just that the exposure is not what it was in say, the early 90's when BET's rap city would showcase artists from every region, each with their own message and style. But then, technology has changed as well and ironically those who thirst for a greater diversity of hip hop are more often than not, individuals who spend their time digging through online crates and those people dont spend money on music- the money that the artists need for their work to really get out there- those people download the music for free.

M.Dot. said...


I am glad you like it. Thank you for stopping by.

I responded to your comment below.

Firstly I think its important to note that rap music is primarily music from and of the streets, rnb is not.
While I understand that rap is largely from and of the streets, I am interested in the genealogy of Black music in the US, in the ways in which these genres are related.

That one is from street and the other is not isn't relevant to my argument.

What also bears being noted is that once Rhythm and Blues decided to be more commercial, to exist for white/black entertainment, instead of Black survival/partyandbullshit it ceased being both Loving, Political and Soulful

Cadillac records and the VH1 documentary on Staxx illustrates this.

are somehwat subhuman in their condition and the values exhibitied in the music
Black people were able to find their humanity and resistance while we were enslaved. Our humanity exists in Bed Stuy, East Oakland, The South Side and South East DC. Mainstream media and academia may think we are subhuman but we are not.

Mainstream rappers have to first regain their humanity, imperfect as it may be (Kanye), before they can become socially/politically relevant.
I am less interested in expecting rappers to be political and I am more interested in the impact of the investment that twenty and thirty somethings Black, Latino, Asian and White folks have in talking about "the end of hip hop."


Nexgrl said...

I don't think the FBI is concerned with the Bloods/Crips warefare. Since the majority affected by the violence between the two gangs and black and brown, it's not a pressing issue. When they stumble into the afluent neighborhoods and midwest, there are efforts to run them out, but not defeat them. They alternate arresting key figures in the gangs. I believe that the same goes for the Nortenos and the Sorenos.

Vee (Scratch) said...,
Great post. My response is kind of all over the place, but hopefully it makes sense.

Many of the points you brought up reminds me of McWhorter's long but interesting book Winning the Race. Some times I see hip hop-the struggle-the movement as more performance art than anything else. It is easy to NOT address, misogyny, mass incarceration and the systemic undereducation.

The question, "I wondered what would happen if we invested the same time in rap blogs in making politics to address our lives?" is so serious. The differences between Kanye telling college girls to throw Rosie Perez D's on them, Drake revealing the path toward success through money cars, clothes and hoes as opposed to the business acumen demonstrated by Jay-Z, Diddy or 50-Cent are distractions. If they're not discussing the end of hip-hop, then they're discussing another distraction.

Back when I read Soul on Ice a while back I was shocked. I was wondering, are they doing background checks on these brothers that lead these organizations? Psych evaluations?

I know the FBI-Blood-Crips question was rhetorical but between Baron Davis' Crips & Bloods: Made in America and the equally great Bastards of the Party by Cle "Bone" Sloan spells it out.

I know this is off-topic but abbkrii.tumblr, if rhythm and blues is not from the streets, then where did it originate from, particularly blues in America?

Brother OMi said...

my biggest beef with this "hip hop is dead" and "hip hop is harming us" theories is that we are looking for entertainers to somehow educate us or lead us to the promised land.

while it is true that some artists such as PE and KRS One has educated a generation or two of us, they were not and are not our saviors.

Hip hop music, whether we say is an artform or not, is still a reflection of what is happening to our community.

was it mos def who said "if we are smoked out, then hip hop is going to be smoked out"

Let's be honest, the best hip hop music came out during the height of the crack cocaine era and during the onslaught of reaganomics. we did not start to see a decline until the economic upturns during the Clinton administration.

what we should do is see how the music we produce is a measure of what is going on around us. we also should stop looking for certain artists to come out and save "hip hop."

two weeks ago we celebrated our 35th Anniversary of the Universal Zulu Nation, something WE (bloggers, writers, intellectuals and others -- I don't expect the mainstream media to do this), ignored AGAIN.

if you ask me, EFF a rap blog...!

Model Minority said...

What up BO,

Thank you for responding.
I got a few questions for you.

Where in my piece did I talk about entertainers leading us to the promise land?

My argument turns on this quote, "I wondered what would happen if we invested the same time in rap blogs in making politics to address our lives?"

Why do you assume that a "rap blogs" job is to cover the Zulu Nation


Brother OMi said...

I never said "rap blogs" i said "bloggers, writers, intellectuals and others"

as bloggers, writers, intellectuals and others, many of us claim to want to present things that the mainstream media and other outlets ignore. I started my blog for that reason alone as well as the other blogs i read (such as yours). A good number of the blogs i read are put together by writers and intellectuals such as yourself.

when i referred to the "promise land" I was pointing out how many people expect the next MC (Lupe, Kanye, Drake, etc.) to somehow come and "fix" hip hop (as if there is something wrong with it to begin with -- again, i look at hip hop culture from a wholistic view -- think Zulu and Bambaata-- not just from what BET/MTV and commercial radio plays) . It's easy for us to say this and that artist is ruining it instead of seeing the structural problems that need to be fixed.

I did say "eff a rap blog..." because 99% of the rap blogs out there are just celeb blogs. We all know we don't need any more of those.

it is important to discuss not just history in general, but the history of hip hop culture as well. That CANNOT be done without mentioning the Zulu Nation and the Nation of Gods and Earths (i don't expect rap blogs to do that).

Hippo said...

Interesting post. Two issues. First, I think while your comments correctly highlight the performative aspect of hip hop, what it seems to gloss over is that what has changed (and most dramatically since the early 90s) is the target of the performance. Is there a performance of black masculinity going on? Yes, but it is not only the artists that are performing. I think a more interesting approach to the question of the performative would be to ask: what are the listeners allowed to perform in the act of listening, bobbing their heads, and rapping along? This gains cardinal importance when one considers who it is that purchases the majority of hip hop albums. Suburban America. Half of the pleasure of a Curtis album is the fact that it allows for a moment of hyper masculine role play in a world where men (in particular middle to upper class men) are portrayed (and most importantly, see themselves) as emasculated, impotent, and weak. The violent self destructive fantasy of hip hop sells so well because it offers momentary respite (in the form of self assured bravado) from a growing feeling of disconnect and powerlessness. Hip hop's gangsta image may once have been the street talking to the street, now its the shelves in Walmart telling the street how they'd like their fantasy served. Obviously, this is a broad over-exaggeration to make a point, but I think it holds water.

To your larger question concerning hip hop blogs and politics. Who is to say this is not politics? I think that the old conception that politics is limited to parties and rallies is thankfully on its way out the door. Politics is much more about changing what people imagine is possible in the world. It is about re-presenting the same in a new way. If hip hop blogs are not politics, then neither is literature or any form of written criticism. This is, of course, not to say that some are not better than others. For more on this idea of politics, pick up any books by Ranciere.

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