Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Downfall of Hip Hop

Hip Hop was once the artery of America. It was a pulsating vein in which any person of any age, race, or religion could plug themselves into and extract hardcore, uncut truth. If you wanted to know about the state of affairs in Brooklyn, Watts, Compton or Atlanta all you had to do was listen to the ghetto news correspondents (aka rappers) and they would bring you up to speed. The American media wasn’t ready for a force as strong as hip hop. America had CNN and ABC. Europe had the BBC. Brazil had Globo. And none of those media giants could’ve predicted that two turntables and a microphone could spark a global revolution and compete with them in terms of delivering change throughout the world. And when a little African-American boy purchased his first hip hop record and held it in his small hands, I too felt how powerful hip hop was. With that purchase I had become a part of that revolution.

Many children felt as I did. Little teenaged kids in suburbia who had been routinely fed lies and propaganda through their parents’ chosen news sources were shocked and strangely attracted to this truth. It was real to them. It went against the very words of fear, separation, and racism that they were fed. What’s more, it spoke to common sense thinking and their very intelligent and impressionable minds. Black people used hip hop to their advantage. Sure, we didn’t own any politicians classified above the level of militant, trouble-maker or novelty act by White America, but hip hop provided a platform for anybody with a grievance and a certain amount of skill to get to the source of change for the future; the children.
And that is why today has become so painful for me.

Hip Hop has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Truth is no longer the friend of hip hop. That has been replaced with dark fantasies of drug empires, luxurious lifestyles, and frighteningly exploitative dumbed-down lyrics. Teach? What is that? If hip hop were a professor in your local university, they’d lose their job, be sentenced to 30 years in prison, and shot by a firing squad all in one day. What was once an art that pushed its members towards intellectual supremacy through competition now is a gimmick that regularly exploits its listeners and manufactures fake “beef” and disagreements for album sales. These elements have always been present in hip hop, but not on such a large scale.

And hip hop’s close connection with the youth? The connection that once pushed children to challenge the traditional ways of thinking and to pay attention to social issues has now become compromised. That connection is now used to push product and product only. As a parent I’ve become almost paranoid about hip hop and its effect on my child.

Somebody has to stand up. Somebody has to protect the art that provided so much for us. And so today we hold court.

If you could put 5 individuals or elements on trial for crimes against hip hop, who would they be and why?
I’ll get things started with my list.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
1.       The Record Industry: For me, this entity holds a large portion of the blame for the decomposition of hip hop as an art form. Profit has become the primary reason to sign artists. There is no emphasis on originality. Instead, a cookie-cutter system has been created and every artist is primarily erected out of the same dough. Money doesn’t care about education. Money doesn’t care about loyalty. Money doesn’t care about love or being factual. Money on cares about money.

2.       Black Entertainment Television (BET): Bob Johnson started out with all of the best intentions. The point was to create a television company that gave America a positive view of who Black People were and what we aspired to be. And then things blew up. Like every television company BET began chasing ratings. Soon the advertising dollar became most important and the quality fell off. After a while you started seeing shows and music videos that blatantly played on stereotypes of Black People. Ultimately Bob Johnson sold the company and made a ton of money. But not before he threw a royal wrench into hip hop and America.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3.       Drugs: This element has always been present in hip hop. But the abstract effect drugs have had on hip hop is through the erosion of The Black Family. Tough and unfair drug policies have created far too many single parent homes. When a mother or father is absent, how can you properly educate children? Hip hop has suffered because of this.

4.       Technology: I struggled to put this one on my list. It has helped hip hop and hurt hip hop equally. On one hand we can do things with sound and chop samples in ways that we previously couldn’t. There’s no doubt that technology has enriched hip hop. But there is also the down side to technology. Theft, manipulation of imaging, and money. Music can be easily be stolen and bootlegged on a global scale. Now anyone can use the internet to speak untruths and distort facts. And then there’s the money.
Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5.       Failure to Protect: Russell Simmons and others are owed a lot of credit for making the world love hip hop. Without them we wouldn’t have numerous artists. But in their desire to sell the product, they didn’t think about protecting the product and legacy. If others can take or use your product and you don’t control that perception, you will eventually lose it. No one is saying that this is Russell’s fault. But if we want to sell something we also need to devise a plan to protect it. And for that reason, hip hop has faltered.


So now that I’ve laid down my 5 guilty parties, I want to know what you think. Who would you sentence? You don’t have to go into lengthy explanations, but just tell me what your opinion is and why. Thanks for participating.



----Black Jay