Hip Hop Culture Shock
More Sex, More Lies, More Videotape
Before I get into it, I would like to dedicate this article to a very
good friend and fellow musician, Joseph Wallace Grant, who was fatally
shot by an armed intruder on June 11, 2003. He owned and operated
Nashville East Recording Studio here in Delaware. Rest in peace, Big
Now to get to a subject that has me steamed.
How about that hip-hop? That art form is so cool, the way it tells
stories and keeps you dancing. And you can't get away from the novel
clothing styles born out of it. Some artists are intentionally funny and
witty, while others are straightforward and serious. And it all seems to
have a message of some sort. A really good solid art form with
redeeming qualities that stir our youth to think about positive thoughts.
Well, at least that's the way it used to be, back in the Run-DMC days.
It really began even farther back than that, if you want to be
historically sound. Rap culture started out in its most popular form as
poetry being recited in bars and speakeasys by beatniks contemplating
the plight of the world to bebop music. But it started to assume its
present form being ranted by militants and revolutionaries in the 60's,
smoking pot and dishing out line after line of socio-economic and socio-political
prose. Figures like Gil Scott-Heron and Nikki Giovanni started doing
verbal battle on the front lines amidst continuously changing political
struggles, running dialog like, "The revolution will not be televised."
Enter the era of Black consciousness, and the beginnings of "Afrocentricity",
where folks like James Brown start off a lot of TV and radio
campaigning for civil rights;"Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud."
Then when it all began to mellow out, the people did too, aided by drugs
like cocaine and heroin. Ever hear James Brown do "King Heroin"? You
should find it and listen to it. Prime example of the roots of rap
Rap culture as we know it was reborn as stories of inner city life,
reflecting both the good, positive side, where families were the most
important thing in the world, and the dark, negative strains of urban
pain and conflict and struggle. It told spirit-lifting stories of how
kids enjoyed playing and laughing together, and even if things got ugly,
the worse you could get was a black eye or bloody nose. It taught
lessons about the importance of getting an education, and staying out of
trouble, and having respect for yourself and those around you. It even
spoke of the consequences of not following those very simple directions.
The artists who pioneered hip-hop took rap to the next level by beefing
up the musical content and choosing more empowering lyrical content. Run-DMC,
Grandmaster Flash, and the Sugar Hill Gang presented it in its purest
form, along with guys like Kurtis Blow and others. At this point it's
still a novelty, fun music with explosive yet radio-worthy lyrical
It's interesting to note that the bulk of hip-hop culture was created
and nurtured on the East Coast, and particularly in New York City, like
its sibling art form, breakdancing. Of course, there are those who would
beg to differ. But they're usually the ones who didn't do much research.
But then something happened that would change hip-hop culture forever.
Its very presence would serve to begin the strong downward plunge of the
best new art form in the business. Its influence would change lives,
wreck lives, even take lives. That something was West Coast rap.
While it's true that most large cities, New York especially, have gang
problems. There really is no getting away from it. And the gangs are not
all Black, either. Some gangs, or "posses", are White, some are
Jamaican, but all are quite dangerous.
The big difference between the East and West Coast rappers is that East
Coast rappers always seemed to focus on survival, while West Coast
rappers were more cosmetically inclined. Also, seems like the West Coast
is the birthplace of some of the most violent movies of our day. That
existence spawned gangsta rap (thanks a lot, NWA), and laid the
groundwork for the seemingly endless barrage of sex-hyping, gun-toting,
money-flashing, female-bashing, gang-related, self-praising psycho-babble
being forced down the throats of young people today. You think I'm
kidding? Go to New York or L. A., and ask any 10 year old kid about an
average day for him or her. If you are lucky, you won't get a blade or a
Glock stuck in your face, and they will tell you stories that will
scare ten years off your life. They will relate to you a frame of mind
that you will most likely find in a Death Row inmate. And when you ask
where they learned it all, they will tell you from the music they hear.
You can hear them recite the cold, hard lyrics from records they really
have no business listening to. And don't think for a minute they don't
know what they mean.
Now, as bad as that sounds, I was actually starting to get used to it.
But then, true to form, it happened. Sell-out time. As sickening as it
is, hip-hop has grabbed the attention of Corporate Retail America.
Companies making everything from soft drinks to sneakers are using the
high level of visibility in these rappers to hawk their wares. A shoe
that was $50 last year will cost $200 this year because they were
featured on some rapper's video. And what makes it so bad, Americans are
eating this crap up by the bowlful. Worse, if the items become real
fashion statements, kids all over the world will be robbed at gunpoint
for their "gear", sometimes losing their lives. And don't front on me, y'all.
You know I'm right.
My thing is this: our youth are culturing themselves right out of a
chance for acceptance in the real world, where real survival skills are
needed, and the powers that be aren't too willing to offer opportunities
to people who appear before them with their hats turned to one side, or
their pants halfway down their butts. Rather than show readiness to
enter the workplace, their attitudes say, " I really don't give a damn
whether you give me a job or not", or, "even if you gave me one, I would
never be there." And they may very well be willing to work hard.
The absolute worst ones are the local wannabes. I live near Philadelphia,
and I hear some really crappy hip-hop stuff coming out of the Philly
underground. These guys are actually talking about killing people! In
addition to the fact that the music isn't even performed well, there can
NOT be that much anguish on the streets. And some of these wannabes are
old guys. I mean 30's and 40's, trying to flow with the young set.
Trying to act like gangsters, and half don't even have jobs!
Recently, I happened to catch a glimpse of an article on hip-hop mogul
Russell Simmons, and in it he says something to the effect of, "these
kids need an outlet for their feelings, they really need to be given a
chance." OK, Simmons, I'll make sure to tell that to the mother of the
next mugging victim when some wannabe gangster runs up on him to take
his brand new $200 sneakers, or the kid who catches a bullet in the head
because he happened to be wearing a New York hat in L. A. Better yet,
Simmons, don't even sweat it, just keep on getting rich on somebody else's
I'm out. Peace.
You Can Email B.K. at firstname.lastname@example.org
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