Again, it is not purposeful censorship. It
is just that you dont make it to those positions. That includes the left (what
is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialized
and trained so that there are some thoughts you just dont have, because if you
did have them, you wouldnt be there.
-Noam Chomsky on What
Makes Media Mainstream
A couple of weeks ago I read an op-ed piece at BlackElectorate.com called Hip
Hop Goes to Ludacris Limits by Elisa Cramer. It was the typical "rappers
are the root of all evil in Black America" type of editorial that has become
all too common in recent years.
While I myself have been critical at times of
the lyrical content and imagery of certain hip-hop acts, I always try to avoid
the perils of reducing the negativity that permeates my beloved culture to the
actions of a few selfish and misguided individuals.
On the contrary, the problems that pervade hip-hop
music are the same problems that are currently endangering our democracy, particularly
when concerning apathy toward the consolidation of voices across the media.
In the case of hip-hop, I find it rather ironic how the same people who observe
the rap game from the sidelines are so quick to catapult themselves to the role
of referee, when in fact many of these Ivy League scholars and cultural critics
are sharing nose bleed seats with Bill OReilly and little Megan from the suburbs.
Consequentially, I would encourage the few public
intellectuals with book contracts to resign from their academic posts and start
flooding the mixtape circuit with their own material. I am sure they are capable
of stooping down to hip-hops level and dropping science on wax instead of pulp
for our sake.
Even further, I would urge each baby boomer out
there who feels that hip-hop is dying to make every effort possible to save
this music from the fates of jazz and rock and roll if they are truly committed
to practicing what they preach.
If our parents can’t even stop Michael Powell
and the FCC from pimpin
the masses, however, I find it hard to believe that they will be able to
save hip-hop from the cheap seats.
and essays I have argued that the music industry itself is to blame for the
current state of hip-hop. After all, any grassroots phenomenon that finds itself
co-opted and comodified at the hands of multinational corporations should not
expect its priorities to remain the same. Like the Civil Rights Movement which
brought black votes to the Democratic Party, hip-hop music has exposed untapped
markets to industry behemoths like Universal and Sony.
I still stand by that assertion but I think it
is important to expound upon the role of the socialized consumer because we,
yes we, are ultimately responsible for the nature of this music be it good or
Imagine if soccer moms in suburban America saw television advertisements of
new Clorox products and thought to themselves, "Damn! That new version
of Pine-Sol has a hot container! Its gonna sell madd units yo!"
As weird as that sounds, it is precisely what
happens with many hip-hop consumers today. I myself am not immune to it, and
based on several observations and conversations with my peers, it is quite evident
that I am not in short company.
Ill admit that I probably see the marketing side
of hip-hop from a different lens than most (not arrogance, just telling it how
it is), but I think it is fair to assume that hip-hop consumers are probably
more conscious of the "blow up potential" of a particular brand or
product (in this case rappers) than any other group of consumers.
We know who’s going to blow before they blow
and if you ask, most of us can tell you why. In essence, the hip-hop consumer
base (namely the mainstream consumer base) has been socialized to the point
that we think rather similar to the way market research firms (who spend millions
trying to understand us) want us to.
If one had not heard any of 50 Cents mixtape
material, a few minutes of his breakout video "Wanksta" would have
made it quite clear that 50 was headed for stardom and most of the reasons have
nothing do with his actual mic skills.
Is that a problem? Well for label executives its wonderful. Many critics have
argued that rappers like 50 Cent are bad for Black America, but on the flip
side, dude should probably be looked upon as mainstream hip-hop’s savior given
the prevalence of file-sharing and a sluggish economy.
In an interview with BlackElectorate.com
publisher Cedric Muhammad, Roc-a-Fella records CEO Damon Dash had this to say
about record sales: "Hip-Hop right now is easy. I can go gold now, sort
of with my eyes closed, ya know?" I can understand why Mr. Dash would feel
the way that he does, but if one looks at the big picture, there is reason to
believe that records sales are not easy right now but merely on life support.
As I said before, hip-hop music has benefited the music industry much how the
Civil Rights Movement has helped the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the black
leadership establishment has been privy to the bad guy/worse guy dichotomy of
party politics, but lacks the resources and/or willingness to contest it with
any vigor. As a result, the black
masses continue to be underserved
by both parties.
Similarly, label heads like Master P and P Diddy
have their best days behind them and as time will prove, will ultimately find
themselves irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things much like Jesse Jackson
and Al Sharpton. Im not hating on Percy Miller and Sean Combs as businessmen,
but I would be the first to argue that their viability inside a racist white
power structure is directly tied to record sales, nothing more, nothing less.
Theyre in the business of making black music
for white distributors and if they stop moving units, they will ultimately be
replaced. Thats why people like Elisa Cramer are so quick to name transient
rappers and visible moguls but find difficulty when critiquing hip-hop’s nameless
consumer base and faceless high level executives like Jimmy
Mottola (formerly of Sony).
Like the game of politics (electoral votes), the game of hip-hop (album sales)
will continue to under serve the masses so long as record sales are predicated
upon the effectiveness of ones image and marketability instead of
their ideas and talents.
The truth, however, is that that particular burden
falls upon the consumer. We are the ones that must change how we view this art
form. No Harvard intellectual or baby boomer is going to galvanize our generation
toward its own salvation. As Adisa Banjoko has already illustrated, the Hip
Hop Protest has been a myth up to this point.
Until we as a generation realize that there is
a something very political about contesting standardized radio playlists, $19
CDs and cheap booty videos, we will continue to fail in our mission.
A lot of people view politics as a white mans
game that involves empty promises, corruption, and 15 second commercials and
simply dont vote as a result. For us Reagan babies, what better way for us to
exercise our political muscles than to develop strategies that would save our
music from an industry that has pimped black culture for nearly a century?
The only way hip-hop is going to change is if we start viewing the music as
a radical arm of the black press instead of just a product for mass consumption.
The big five wants us to believe that its the music that is for sale, but truth
be told, music is just a vehicle for ideas.
When a song by 50 Cent, Jay-Z, or Nas is being
played on the radio, that particular song is ultimately speaking on behalf of
us all, whether we like it or not. In the eyes of outsiders like Bill OReilly,
rappers like Ludacris are the spokespeople for traditionally voiceless African-American
males like myself.
I would never shy from defending Ludacris from
the onslaught of outsiders, but at the end of the day it would be foolish not
to criticize my nigga behind closed doors. A lot of us young cats get profiled
by the police BECAUSE of the images and antics put out by rappers and if those
rappers are no longer willing or able to use their power to fight that injustice
(see Public Enemy, NWA, etc.), then quite frankly, they cant do anything for
Like the NAACP and SCLC, however, they’re not going to leave until they are
ultimately replaced. Who got beats?