[The article that this refers to can be read here]
Student Outreach Specialist
As someone who came of age as hip-hop first took off into mainstream culture, I agree with your sentiment that hip-hop’s original spirit and the quality of the music has fallen by the wayside. However, the degeneration of the genre has to do with more than simply how it sounded. Originally, hip-hop displayed the African-American oral tradition which values “clever rhyme schemes and word play,” but despite its checkered past, it was often socially conscious. I would love to see another image of hip hop rather than the tired stereotypical images of thugged out, drugged out rappers who have no sense of hip-hop history.
The history of hip-hop pre-dated A Tribe Called Quest. Run DMC brought hip-hop to the mainstream with their classic album “Raising Hell.” Their song “It’s Tricky” celebrates the value of word play with lines like “It’s tricky to rock a rhyme/to rock a rhyme that’s right on time/It’s tricky.” But in that same song they downplay the use of drugs and the stereotypes of African American males as drug uses with the lines: “We are not thugs; we don’t use drugs but you assume on your own/They offer coke and lots of dope but we just leave it alone.” The image presented by Run DMC is a far cry from the visual that you presented in “The Samohi” of Mr. “Spliffton” and his colleagues.
When I “hearken back to the golden age” of hip-hop, I think of KRS-One who talked about the value of multicultural education in the song “You Must Learn” when he states: “I believe that if you’re teaching history, straight up facts, no mystery/Teach the student what needs to be taught/’Cause black and white kids both take shots/When one doesn’t know about the other one’s culture/ignorance swoops down like a vulture.” Back then, KRS-One saw himself as an urban griot, the African storyteller who kept history and culture alive while commenting on our current reality. These are the true roots of hip-hop.
You might consider celebrating a rapper like K’Naan who teams with KRS-One to define what a “real man” is in his song “Think of All the Things” and informs us about the political and social issues in his native Somalia. K’Naan also states that he does not use drugs or drink and never will. YouTube him, and hear him talk about why he has never smoked marijuana, not even while on tour with rasta, Damian Marley. He says, “I just don’t do anything outside of music that would make me feel better about my life… I keep it pure because I don’t want anything to take away from my natural high. I just don’t want to risk it.”
It’s not enough to reclaim hip-hop by being able to put a rhyme together. Remember the positive values that it promoted back in the ‘80s and ‘90s as urban communities were plagued with gang violence, crack cocaine, and little hope of a future due to poor education levels in the “hood.” To read more about the history of hip-hop, check out “Hip-Hop America” by Nelson George. Perhaps a look at hip-hop’s true past can guide the youth of today into a brighter future.