"The Politics of Hip Hop"

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Gr8Veto, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. Gr8Veto


    LoL, gotta love the economist...


    The politics of hip-hop
    Jun 26th 2008
    From The Economist print edition

    Can rap change the world?
    Illustration by David Simonds
    “WRITING about music is like dancing about architecture,” intoned Elvis Costello, a pop star. So a columnist approaches the subject of hip-hop (which includes rap) with caution. One cannot hope to capture its sound or fury on the page. Instead, Lexington will ask what it signifies. Is it “pavement poetry [that] vibrates with commitment to speaking for the voiceless,” as Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University, believes? Is it “an enormously influential agent for social change which must be responsibly and proactively utilised to fight the war on poverty and injustice,” as the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), a pressure group, contends? Or is it mostly “angry, profane and women-hating…music that plays on the worst stereotypes of black people,” as Bill Cosby harrumphs?

    None of the above, argues John McWhorter, in a new book called “All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America”. Mr McWhorter, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, is a hip-hop fan. He likens the group OutKast to Stravinsky. He admits that some hip-hop lyrics display an ungentlemanly attitude towards women, but he doubts that listening to violent lyrics causes people to behave more violently. If it did, there would be more opera fans stabbing their ex-lovers outside bullfights.

    Mr McWhorter also thinks people take hip-hop far too seriously. Those who disapprove of it vastly overestimate its capacity to corrupt. And those who expect it to foster a political revolution that will dramatically improve the lot of black Americans are going to be disappointed.

    The most popular rappers are brilliant entertainers. They have also done a lot to make people aware of the difficulties facing poor urban blacks. But their political views are neither particularly acute nor central to their work. Consider the hot album of the moment: “Tha Carter III” by Lil Wayne. Its central message is that if you are a rap star, you will get laid. The song “Lollipop”, for example, celebrates a young lady who treats Lil Wayne as she might a lollipop.

    On the last track Lil Wayne does get serious. He laments that “one in every nine black Americans are locked up” and that “the money that we spend on sending a motherfucker to jail…would be less to send his or her young ass to college.” Troy Nkrumah, the chairman of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, thinks it wonderful that Lil Wayne is speaking truth to power. But if Lil Wayne is to be taken seriously, it needs to be pointed out that his “one in nine” figure is inaccurate—it is true only of black men aged 20-34, not black Americans in general. And his analysis is simplistic: the government’s spending priorities are not the sole determinant of whether you break rocks or read books.

    Earnest hip-hop fans often argue that “commercial” rappers such as Lil Wayne are beside the point. Hip-hop’s revolutionary potential is best expressed by “conscious” rappers who focus on important issues rather than babes, bling and booze. The Roots, a group from Philadelphia, are often cited as an example. Their message? “If I can’t work to make it, I’ll rob and take it. Either that or me and my children are starving and naked.”

    But crime and starvation are hardly the only options. Even without a high-school diploma, a black man can probably find a job if he looks. And some manual jobs, such as plumber or cable technician, pay quite well. “It may well be that you can’t write much of a rap about training someone to fix heaters or air conditioners,” sighs Mr McWhorter.

    Conscious rappers are often well-meaning. Dead Prez, a duo from Florida, sometimes toss apples into the audience to encourage healthy eating. But when it comes to more contentious political issues, hip-hop offers no plausible solutions; only impotent and sometimes self-destructive rage. In “Lost in tha System” by Da Lench Mob, for example, the vocalist says, of a judge: “He added on another year cos I dissed him. Now here I go gettin’ lost in the system.” The disrespect in question was a suggestion that the judge perform fellatio on him.

    Fans love rappers partly because they strike such a confrontational pose. Dead Prez sometimes burn dollar bills to protest the evils of capitalism, and their lyrics accuse teachers of teaching “white man lies”. Mr McWhorter summarises the message of hip-hop as: “Things will keep sucking until there is a revolution where the white man finally understands and does a complete 180-degree turn.” This was true half a century ago in the segregated South. But today, it is nonsense.

    The limits of protest
    Some people argue that hip-hop is politically consequential because activists can use the music and the culture that surrounds it to communicate with young people who might otherwise shun politics. There is something to this. For example, in 2004 the superstar P. Diddy fronted a fairly successful voter-registration campaign called “Vote or Die”. And HSAN once co-sponsored a rally to protest about a proposed $300m cut to the New York City school budget. The cut never happened. HSAN trumpets this as a great victory. But it is hardly evidence that hip-hop can change the world. That $300m is a tiny slice of what New York spends on its schools, and lack of money is far from the main obstacle to improving them.

    Civil-rights activists in the 1960s were inspired by protest songs, but the songs did not drive the movement. Political change requires hard and often tedious work, as the thousands of weary volunteers working for Barack Obama can attest. Incidentally, one might think that Mr Obama’s spectacular rise undermines the argument that a black man can never get a fair shake in America. But Mr Nkrumah shrugs that even if Mr Obama is elected president, he will be powerless to implement progressive policies because the corporate power structure will not let him.

  2. I wonder if this guy believes what he wrote?

    listening to violent lyrics causes people to behave more violently.

    This contradicts the science and concepts of advertising. If you hear the same message (slogan, catch phrase, jingle) over and over and voila you have a customer.

    OTH "Mr McWhorter also thinks people take hip-hop far too seriously. Those who disapprove of it vastly overestimate its capacity to corrupt." This reminds me of cigarette advertising, no ads no kids to corrupt. In this case though, Hip Hop advertising thier ghetto ideas has no effect?

    Dress for success, you are what you eat, but somehow you are not what you listen too? You are not what you hear day in and day out? Of course this is not true in all instances but repeat it enough times. Put a shirt on a kid that says "I am loser" and soon you will have one.

    But Mr Nkrumah shrugs that even if Mr Obama is elected president, he will be powerless to implement progressive policies because the corporate power structure will not let him.

    I love it "Corporate power structure" will not let him? Must be a misprint, "Congressional power structure" would be more like it.
  3. Whoops, left one thing out.

    "...the money that we spend on sending a motherfucker to jail…would be less to send his or her young ass to college.”

    yea thanks for remindng me, don't forget about the 9 to 11 grand a year we wasted on the the formative years till ya dropped out of high school.
  4. I notice that this article does not account for any disagreement or disdaining that would cause turning into the face of the storm and bucking the trend to, "do the easy or the wrong thing." The tendency to take, accept, the path of least resistance is the norm for the malcontent. Do you ever hear their discussions about, "how hard it was to do the crime?" The actual criminal act may have taken a certain amount of adrenaline boosted by drugs, alcohol or peer pressure. It was not natural! It was a learned behavior.

    Pavement poetry? It's poor diction and gramar attempting to be glorified and segregated, period! Attempting to wax eloquent about poor choices to garner acceptance and deciphering the supposed messages for the fractions, that's Eric Dyson. He's the suit that can walk in the hood so to speak. Professor? You gave him the platform to stand, not I. He's a stern browed, well dressing (on occassion), run-on sentence. And because he can be loud and appear forceful, someone says you should pay attention. A quasi-intelligent guy spouting gibberish is just that. STOP!!! Being a professor does not grant immunity form bad judgement. Be doubly leary when the expert is a professor. Their lab for discovery, is a lab!!

    Nowhere in standard rap today is responsibility taken for the participants bad decisions. No statements of, "I dropped out of school and started having sex and drinking and damned my future, on my own!" Yet the evidence of that course of behavior leading to hardship is everywhere. Au contraire, they don't feel that they make bad decisions, just (in their minds) the only decisions possible. And to that I say, BULL!!

    I move that they focus the lens for social change in the wrong direction. I'm always confronted by folks who adorn that type of lifestyle with the statement, "going to school doesn't guarantee me a job." And I always make sure to state in my explainations to them that, "the behavior and choices that they are making now does in its own right, guarantee that they won't be able to get a good one anytime soon!" But you can't stop the statements there. And I make sure to give them an earful.

    Laws truly are made to govern those who break the plane of right and wrong in society. They help us to reinforce personal and societal boundaries. The performing community's embracement of failure to conform is being used as a basis to justify the themes of the music. The mindset that this is ok and profitable to do/be is being developed at early ages and acceptance by the white community of the cultural embodiment is the real foundation for continuation. The fact that sales represent a large number of the public is a major misnomer. You should honestly evaluate what a million seller album represents in a country of over 300 million.

    Another sanitizing piece is what I would characterize this article, this gibberish, as. The writer in piviot pointing a statement like, "ungentlemanly attitude towards women" just makes me cringe. Simple enough to say the truth, yet we clean it up in the name of PC behavior. Screw PC-ness!!!!!

    We need to take the hip-hop community serious because it is desensitizing us to the consequences of poor behavior. It's improperly imaging ALL of us as to its value to the general well being of the complete mass. I'm not trying to change the minds of EVERYBODY, nor would I want a complete unity of thoughts. But I do want base standards. Crap is packaged in with supposed quality everyday. But that does not make it the right, nor does it give the right for infringement. We must task bad behavior to rise above the madness at every opportunity.

    We MUST prove to them that they truly are achieving a difficult, detrimental and monumental task at a time when it IS, unwarranted. They are managing to hold still and lose ground at the same time in a prosperous environment! :)

    The brilliance in this hip-hop genre as in all instances, is relative. Hitler was brilliant too! But who condones his bevaior as a right to freely express and practice. Commenting on the rest of the article, for me, would lend it too much credibility as relevant. Govern yourself accordingly!! :)