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The Gentrification of Rap: Did Hip-Hop Sell Us Out ?

EPMD_Crossover

“a.k.a. a sellout /rap definition/get off that boy/change your mission” – “Crossover”, EPMD

Although broken glass was everywhere, unemployment was at a record high and 911 was a joke, Clive Saddler’s Sedgwick Avenue neighborhood was not the jungle the media portrayed; it was home and full of promise. But everyday the six o’clock news would run stories about drugs, murder, and falling property values.That was until Universal Development Corp. came in with the bulldozers. One year later, the streets are clean, new businesses are on every corner, and the police know everybody by name. Clive still lives there, behind the garbage bin of Sal’s Deli. But what happened to the rest of his neighborhoods who couldn’t afford the rent of the new brownstones? Nobody knows and nobody cares….

If you live in any ‘hood in America chances are you have heard of gentrification. In every city it’s the same story, businesses close down, property values drop, and the local news starts reporting about how dangerous the neighborhood has become. Then one day, a development company rolls in and buys up all the property dirt cheap. A few years later, the projects have become a
paradise, and the news is reporting how it is one of the best places to live in America.

The same can be said for Hip-Hop.

In the early years, rap music was seen as the authentic voice of “inner city” America. Groups from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Run DMC made records about the trials and tribulations of growing up in the proverbial “ghetto.” Within five years, rap music had grown from just an obligatory observation to a critical analysis of the socio-economic conditions that created the ‘hood in the first place.

Although Hip-Hop has had a small group of hip, suburban fans since the early years, for most of mainstream White America, rap music was something to be feared and best avoided. However, by the end of the ’80s, MTV and major corporations had come to realize that the money that could be made from what they once considered ghetto garbage outweighed the risk of getting mugged in some dark alley way in the South Bronx.

As the popularity of “Yo! MTV Raps” began to grow, so did White America’s acceptance of Hip-Hop. So, by the time Treach of Naughty By Nature issued the chilling warning, “If you ain’t never been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto,” White America saw it as a party invitation. If you watch some of the throwback Hip-Hop documentaries, the climax is always when a teary eyed Ol’ School rapper reminisces about that glorious day when his majority Black
audience turned lily white.”

But, in retrospect, was that a good thing?

Of course, the added exposure meant more money in the bank, but at what cost? Contrary to the title of LL Cool J’s classic album, “bigger” ain’t always “deffer.”

Crossover kills.

Probably, the area hardest hit by crossover was Afrocentric, conscious Hip-Hop. While it was briefly tolerated by White America, it was never truly accepted by the mainstream. There were just so many times that Poindexter was gonna allow himself to be called a “slave maker and bloodsucker of the poor,” regardless of how funky the beat was. Thus, answering the great philosophical question, “can a man condemn himself?” with an emphatic no.

While much attention has been given to “gangsta rap” as the cause of the demise of pro-Black Hip-Hop, it must be remembered that the the less racially “offensive” De La Soul and the Native Tongue Movement, as well as the dance music of MC Hammer and the rise of Vanilla Ice, played a role as well.

During that era, while the average Black rapper rejoiced in his newfound suburban fans, it was, actually, white rappers, MC Serch and Pete Nice from 3rd Bass, that warned of the change that was coming on songs like “Gas Face” and “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

So, as time progressed, the measure of the success of a rap artist became how many middle class White kids bought his CDs. And eventually “Yo! MTV Raps” eclipsed the popularity of shows like BET’s “Rap City”. For instance, although many rap fans are familiar with Ed Lover, Dr. Dre, and T-Money, only a true Hip-Hop head can tell you about Chris Thomas, Joe Clair, and Big Lez.

While many may point to money as the motivating factor behind crossover, that is not entirely true, as one cannot put a dollar value on the psychological need for White acceptance in the Black psyche.

Have you ever wondered why the superstar rapper who always shows up grinnin’ at the Grammy Awards is always missing in action at the Soul Train Music Awards? There is that annual awkward moment when the nervous presenter has to say,

“And the winner of the Lifetime Achievement/Hip-Hop song of the year award is……Well, um, he couldn’t be here tonight, so…um..I’m gonna accept this on his behalf…”

It is said that, “Once you go Black, you never go back,” but once you go White forget about it. If Biffy leaves Sally Ann for Shaquana, he may get a little more swag in his style and start listening to “some Marvin Gaye, some Luther Vandross, a little Anita to set the party off right,” but he’s basically the same dude.

But when Rasheed leaves Bonita for Becky, he loses his darn mind. His whole world perspective changes. All of a sudden, even the most culturally aware brotha develops cultural amnesia and becomes a colorblind, Hip-Hop hippie, vehemently attacking any discussion of “Black” issues as outdated and racist.

As we wind down another Black Music Month, the point here is not to whine about what happened to our culture. But to develop ways to save it.

Or else, one day when our children ask us what happened to real Hip-Hop, we’ll just shrug our shoulders and sing like Joni Mitchell:

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at info@nowarningshotsfired.com, on his website, or on
Twitter (@truthminista).

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