Monday, May 10, 2010

Hip Hop! Hip... Hip Pop!

When pairing Jay Z with Betty White on SNL sounds like a good idea, something has changed in hip hop. Some people say that hip hop is dead. Many people malign the ever increasing trend of rappers to focus on record sales and material achievement over art and culture.

Today I briefly joined a conversation that was inspired by Dr. Cornel West talking about living and loving out loud. Dr. West and some of those commenting on his lecture were making the argument that hip hop needed to become a more positive force. This is not a new argument, and it is a popular one. I would argue that it is even a necessary one. However, I do not advocate the eradication of some sub-genres in hip hop.

I think everybody who makes the most of their opportunities to succeed in music, deserves all the rewards and applause that they receive. Far be it from me to label my preferred messengers acceptable, and admonish the message of others. Both Common and Soulja boy are necessary. Both Queen Latifah and the Queen Bee (Lil Kim) serve a function.

The only way that hip hop will die is if the human spirit dies. Only if we cease to embrace diversity and encourage creativity, will hip hop die. Only if inequality ends, if injustice ends, if suffering ends, will the voice of my generation end its oration. Hip hop is alive and well, driving our global societal evolution.

I think we need all representations of hip-hop. In differing proportions. The dominant message needs to transition toward uplifting, unifying, aspirational and away from self-centered, divisive, aspirational. The Capitalist rap can only take us so far, and if hip-hop (and those moving it) wants to remain the driving force of cultural change, it has an ethical obligation to drive responsibly.

Yes, hip hop is alive and well. I may not like everything that every artist puts out, but I can appreciate their efforts. For those ready to see a new season in hip hop... a season where the dominant message is peace and love, I say hold on. It's only been 30 years. The first wave of hip hop artists haven't even fully retired yet. Give it time. A better day soon comes.


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