"People Talk About Hip-Hop Like It’s Some Giant In The Hillside…We ARE Hip-Hop…"

11 Mar

Last night, I went to University of Michigan to check this symposium, “Hip-Hop 101: An Introduction.” The four-man panel consisted of the MC Buff 1 from Athletic Mic League (which is based out of Ann Arbor), another MC who goes to U-M named Lord Blessed, an intellectual/actor fellow (forgive me for not knowing the name), and the person who I had went to see, journalist/author Jeff Chang, whose book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History Of The Hip-Hop Generation, has been widely regarded as the most passionate, most comprehensive book ever written on hip-hop. The panel was really well put-together (besides the fact that there weren’t any women on it, which was addressed in discussion), and everyone on it did a great job of answering the questions that the audience presented them with. **By the way, much props to Jeff – thanks for the love, and we’ll definitely be in touch.**

I enjoyed the symposium, but a common question that was asked was in the vein of, “What do you think is the state of hip-hop right now?” This type of question annoys the hell out of me.

Normally, when someone is asking that question, they already have an idea of the answer that they’re expecting, or the answer they want to hear: something like, “Hip-hop is in a terrible state of affairs. Someone has to save it.” They don’t enter the discussion with the intent to hear something new, but they bring it up to hear someone else agree with them, and to look like they’re ahead of the curve in the world of hip-hop/rap. That’s what catalyzes people who like certain artists just because they’re “independent” or “underground,” and people who hate artists just because they’re “commercial.” There’s good commercial hip-hop, and there’s good underground hip-hop; there’s wack commercial hip-hop, and there’s wack underground hip-hop. Take the music for its quality, not for its label.

Also, even though a lot of nowadays’ music (on all fronts, not just hip-hop) is life imitating art, in general, it’s the other way around. When many people ask that question, they’re referring to hip-hop/rap music; but hip-hop isn’t just a form of music, it’s a culture. It isn’t just the four elements of DJing, MCing, Graffiti, and B-Boying/Breakdancing, either; while they are core elements that can be guidelines to help study it, hip-hop is a culture with many facets. Lord Blessed said that he knows some people who have never written a verse in their lives, but that
they’re more hip-hop than other people who can rap their ass off or man turntables with the best of them.

On his album Black On Both Sides, Mos Def said, “People talk about hip-hop like it’s some giant in the hillside. We are hip-hop. So next time you ask me, ‘Where is hip-hop going?’ ask yourself, ‘Where am I going? What am I doin’?'” The actor at the symposium said that we should ask ourselves questions about what fuels the culture’s negative fantasia in the people themselves, not just in hip-hop/rap music.

I say, “Do you.” As far as the music is concerned, just support what you like, and don’t support what you don’t like. While critiquing the culture, focus on the people; major record labels do what they do for sales, and as far as I know, rap music still makes a lot of money. If you aren’t feeling the music, don’t just critique the music itself; investigate and figure out why other people are feeling it. From there, if you aren’t happy with the way that the people are thinking, either live with it, or make your own forum for change.


7 Responses to “"People Talk About Hip-Hop Like It’s Some Giant In The Hillside…We ARE Hip-Hop…"”

  1. Ryan (RPM) rEVOLUTIONS pER mINUTE March 12, 2006 at 5:34 am #

    I’m glad we were able to attend the Hip-hop 101 panel discussion together. Your writing is good. I liked how you discussed the importance of recognizing our presuppositions about hip-hop culture. I agree that many of the questions asked seemed seasoned with preconceived answers in mind. Attending the summit made me realize that I need to open my eyes and learn more about Hip-Hop culture, so I’ll probably copping Mr. Chang’s book soon. My question is: Since hip-hop is a culture and is made up of people, did hip-hop music give birth to the culture or did the culture always exist and the music simply provided a means of expression for the culture? Give me a call soon so you can answer my question. Oh, and keep writing…

  2. spchrist March 12, 2006 at 5:10 pm #

    great post…why did this make me think of the movie Brown Sugar and the question the movie kept asking…”When did you fall in love with hip hop?”

    I’ll become a regular visitor now…like your style.

  3. Mr. Clark March 13, 2006 at 10:53 pm #

    I’m pretty sure that meeting Mr. Jeff Chang was an interesting thing. Especially since his blog is a nice read. Was going to read his book when I was snowed in New York about a month ago, but… picked up “Confessions of a Video Vixen” first. Then read the autobiography of Shawn Michaels (WWE — last name Hickenbottom, can you same lame?). My question for you is this; Jimi Izreal said that you have to have the fire so where people would preach the gospel of your writing for you. Do you believe that to be true? If so, what has happened to verify that?

  4. Smack (Johnny Storm) March 14, 2006 at 8:39 pm #

    Hip-Hop really isn’t in a “terrible state.” See, I used to think that way as well but I’ve come to terms with, like you said, there will be both good and wack music out there. People can’t really hate on the South for blowing up like they’re doing because they’re obviously appealing to SOMEONE to get recognition. And with that said, the 28th seems so far away to wait for Fishscale. Heh at dude with the WWE reference. Oh, that damn Shawn Michaels…


  5. M.O.S. Ologist March 15, 2006 at 9:15 am #

    As a culture Hip Hop is stronger then ever. Whether or not the mainstream music represents Hip Hop the way I would like Hip Hop to be represented, Hip Hop as a culture is in a powerful place. It’s music is all over the airwaves, it’s culture is represented in commercials and TV. Hip Hop is everywhere you go.

    Where is Hip Hop going to go? Only time will tell. But like Mos Def said “We are Hip Hop, Hip Hop is going where we’re going.” So if you want to see a change, change yourself and the culture will follow.

    These are just my 2cents as a Promoter and a Hip Hop fan.

    P.S. This was a good read, definitely got me thinking.


  6. Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness March 21, 2006 at 11:09 pm #

    Love the view point about hip hop being more than rapping etc.. I write YA fiction and I look at my work as fiction with a hip hop twist. It has nothing to do with music, tagging, dancing etc…it’s about the vibe of the characters.

    It’s frustrating when people (and the media, especially) try to put things in a nice, neat box. The way they understand hip hop is to break it down to one element or two. It minimizes the impact.

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