“Don’t believe the lies/look me in my eyes…” – “Fear”, Drake
Recently, the History Network announced that it was launching a new program, “True Hip-Hop History.” The show is being promoted as a groundbreaking effort to expose America to the authentic origins of rap music. The first episode, scheduled to air later this month, is “Eminem: The Father of Hip-Hop…”
One of the most popular shows on the Discovery Channel is “Myth Busters, “ a program where, every week, the cast sets out to reveal the truth about long held falsehoods. With all the lies that have circulated around Hip-Hop for the last 30 years, the culture sure could use its own squad of Myth Bustas.
Although, November is traditionally celebrated as Hip-Hop History Month, much of the information that has been propagated about the genre has been more hype than history.
Like any other aspect of history, Hip-Hop is vulnerable to revisionism. Facts are often distorted, and sometimes flat-out lies are regarded as the undisputed truth.
Napoleon once said,”History is a set of lies agreed upon.” So it is with Hip-Hop. There are so many historical inaccuracies within Hip-Hop that it would take longer than a month to decipher them all.
Middle America loves to hear the fairytale over and over again about how the rapper, who is now a multimillionaire, went from rags to riches, One minute he was sellin’ crack on the block, and then magically, he became part owner of a NBA franchise based solely on his uncanny, lyrical ability to convey ghetto survival stories. While this was cool for those who wanted to live the ‘hood life vicariously through their favorite rappers, it became extremely problematic when those who knew better started to parrot the same tall tales.
Using Hip-Hop superstar Jay-Z as an example, in a recent essay, Damon “ProfessorD.us” Sajnani, of the Dope Poet Society , chastised artists who “organically understand the profitability of promoting the interests of the oligarchy in such a way that the masses mistake those interests as their own.”
In other words, we started to believe the hype.
If we are serious about celebrating Hip-Hop history, we must understand that history is a science and not a bunch of half truths strung together by some marketing executive at a record label, or some editor of an overpriced glossy magazine. More than 30 years after the recording of the first rap record, the culture can no longer escape the critical microscope of historical analysis.
One of the biggest myths is that Hip-Hop is controlled by “the streets” and is the legitimate voice of the proverbial ‘hood.
If you read books like Dan Charnas’ The Big Payback or Steve Stoute’s The Tanning of America, you will see that since the mid-’80s, rap music has been more the voice of Wall Street than the mean streets of the South Bronx. This is not much different than other forms of African American music that found crossover acceptance, courtesy of think tanks at the Harvard Business School, more so than Compton street corners.
Another myth is the one about the Hip-Hop generational gap. According to revisionist rap historians, there was once a line dividing Old School and New School Rap that was determined by the age of the rappers.
Like VP Joe Biden would say, more “malarkey.”
True Hip-Hop historians know the time period between what was initially referred to as “Old School Hip Hop” and “New School Hip-Hop” was a matter of months, not years. The changing of the guard had nothing to do with age, but the coming of a new style that made the older one obsolete. That’s why Old School, New School, and Now School Rap existed almost simultaneously between the years 1985 and 1988.
It must also be noted that the “Conscious Era” of Hip-Hop only existed for four years, which is about the same length of time of the apex of truly revolutionary movements in this country, from the Garvey Movement to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The last myth to be discussed here is the idea that Hip-Hop somehow did away with racism/ White Supremacy. Regardless of the rants of rappers like The Game proclaiming that “it ain’t about race, now, “ that premise is also false.
The master/slave relationship still exists in the music industry. Although there have been some exceptions to the rule (like Sam Cooke), historically, Black folks have possessed the talent but White folks have controlled the masters, publishing, and distribution. This dynamic has not changed all that much during the Hip-Hop Era. If you read Fredric Dannen’s book Hit Men, you will see that the music industry is still controlled by the same people or their biological or ideological heirs who controlled it during the ’60s.
The reason why it is imperative that we tell the true story about Hip-Hop is the further rap gets away from its origins, the more distorted the history becomes. We are facing the real possibility that one day our children will not be able to tell the facts about Hip-Hop from fiction. And the truth will be buried so deep in lies that they may not be able to extract it.
Like Lauryn Hill said on “Mystery of Iniquity“:
“You’ll find what you sought/was based on the deception you bought…”
For more information on the “Hip-Hop History Month Myth Bustas” series, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter (@truthminista).