Prophetic Hip-Hop or Socially-Conscious Rap?

“Rappers suck, when they spit I doubt ‘em/

The crap they sing about make you wanna slap the f**kin sh** out ‘em.’”

–   MF Doom, El Chupa Nibre, The Mouse and the Mask.                   

No

doubt, MF Doom’s indictment of today’s rap ‘artists’ comes off as tame

when compared to the overall emotion expressed by Hip-Hop fans around

the world. Doom, who once promised to “[c]atch a rapper by his toe and smack off his tattoos

is not too far off in translating the desires of Hip-Hop fans who have

witnessed a drastic degeneration of content, drive, and concept, in

today’s rap songs. Many, such as Nas, have since declared Hip-Hop

“dead,” for its devil-may-care attitude toward dominant forms of

hedonism, materialism, despotism and chauvinism within the culture. Whether

one agrees with the concept of resolving Hip-Hop’s problems through

violence or hyperbolic rhetoric, one thing remains irrefutable –

Hip-Hop is morally sick and in need of divine help. In this perilous

age, a prophetic change must come.

 

Though

we all find many parts of modern-day Hip-Hop unbecoming of the vision

inspired by Afrika Bambaattaa, we cannot save the Hip-Hop generation by

engaging in the same pathetic exercises of bemoaning and complaining

about the loss of the ‘Golden Age’ era – where everything operated

under the canopy of perfection. It is disrespectful to the present and

does not provide much inspiration for the future. In fact, I have

consistently maintained the premise that many elements of the so-called

Golden-Age

paved the path for some of the more-discouraging aspects of our beloved

art-form today. The ‘Superfly-generation’ was neither faultless nor

flawless. Can anyone confidently make the claim that Big Daddy Kane, in

all his majesty, was devoid of misogyny? The art-covers of “Long Live

the Kane” and “It’s a Big Daddy Thing” – all ’80s-babies – do little

justice to the causes of Feminism and Womanism. The grand lyricist

would, years later – in his Count Mackula character, from Prince Paul’s

“A Prince Among Thieves,” – suggest that “thirty-six prostitutes and

thirty cents in your pocket” lends credence to the claim that “hoes

come a dime a dozen.” Following this logic, Big Daddy Kane should be as

much a misogynist as Nelly, 50 cent, Ludacris, Jay-Z and even Common,

are professed to be. It is, therefore, clear that the problems of

Hip-Hop are not specifiable to our myopic generalizations of 21st

century Hip-Hop artists. Another development which I wish to address,

and hopefully arrest, is the notion that social-consciousness within

Hip-Hop is the solution to our countless problems.

 

Politically-charged

Hip-Hop, while temporarily conducive, is not the answer.

Socially-conscious artists simply react to the catastrophic casualties

surrounding them. This explains the rise of social-consciousness, in

Hip-Hop, shortly after the initiation of Reaganomics and the influx of

crack into Black ghettoes across the nation. As the ‘80s swept in the

debris of arch-conservatism, Reagan swiftly became the punching bag of

frustration for artists who grew up in the inner-cities, and witnessed

the commercialization of their neighborhoods – especially the Bronx –

through scandalous governmental contracts. As a bonus, this era of

depression would yield an unprecedented demand for crack, cocaine and

other miscellaneous drugs. Busta Rhymes informs us in “Takin’ What’s

Mine” – produced by the inimitable J. Dilla – that though finances were

scarce, “the coke was so good, the fiends was smoking the capsule.” In “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run,” Dilated Peoples express similar sentiments, noting that “crack

and gangs flourished under Ronald Reagan.” As a result, a surge of

social-consciousness was inevitable, as Hip-Hop artists, with their

mic-clutched hands on the pulse of the ghettoes, could accurately gauge

the emotion of Black and Brown neighborhoods. Nevertheless,

with social-consciousness at the apex, several artists recognized its

inability to render long-lasting remedies to ailing-communities across

the country, and the world at-large.

 

A

few, such as Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, Lakim

Shabazz, and eventually, Tupac recognized the need to elevate Hip-Hop’s

consciousness from the political to the prophetic. They all, at some

point, incorporated the prophetic tradition of bearing unmitigated

witness in their truth-telling, through the vehicle of Hip-Hop. It

should come as no surprise, to readers, that this writer believes

Tupac’s legacy of prophetic truth-telling will remain unparalleled for

years, and perhaps decades, to come. In

Blasphemy, a truly prophetic offering, Tupac encourages listeners to

bring critique to bear on the politics of religion and theocracy:

 

“The preacher want me buried why? Cause I know he a liar/Have you ever seen a crackhead, that’s eternal fire/Why you got these kids minds thinking that they evil/While the preacher being richer, you say honor God’s people/Should we cry, when the Pope die, my request/We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X/”

Tupac

remains an inextinguishable icon in popular music, and literature, for

this reason. What he understood, which many, otherwise,

socially-conscious artists are unaware of, is that the prophetic mode

resists the temptation of simply reiterating the problems of crime and

inequality, but instead offers viable resolutions to liberate the

mental and spiritual faculty of listeners. Tupac understood, quite

clearly, that socially-conscious artists simply underline the social

ramifications of society’s actions – nothing to do with personal

character – yet, prophetically-aligned artists seek to address the

problems of the world in a truthful, candid, complex and

divinely-sophisticated fashion – through exemplary leadership that

provides hope for the future.

 

If

Hip-Hop’s official reaction to the recent U.S. presidential election

was of any significance, it goes without saying that the prophetic wing

was surely missing, in its uncritical embracement of President-Elect

Obama as the ‘change candidate.’ Safe for a few politically-conscious

artists, such as Dead Prez, NYOIL and Rebel Diaz, the Hip-Hop realm was

engulfed in ‘Obamamania,’ as it sold itself short in proclaiming Obama

the “first Hip-Hop president.” Seconds after Obama unveiled his iPod,

and revealed his love for card-carrying misogynists, a la

Ludacris and Jay-z, the Hip-Hop nation professed loyalty to ‘Bama, over

Bambaattaa.. Prophetic Hip-Hop, which operates as a countervailing

force of righteousness against war, empire and unrest, was omitted in

the unmerited support thrown Obama’s way, as he rode the high carriage

of popularity and celebrity into victory. This phenomenon of the

Hip-Hop community abdicating its prophetic mission to compensate for

social-consciousness took form as early as 2004, when, as Rosa Clemente

– National Hip-Hop Political Convention co-founder – remembers it,

the convention was more concerned with recruiting Black and Brown

voters “to vote for John Kerry,” than building a movement of substance

to counter the corporate forces Sen. Kerry represented.

 

It

should be, at this point, clear that social-consciousness would not

suffice in rehabilitating the Hip-Hop community. Prophetic Hip-Hop

seems to be the only savior for a generation bred on Lil’ Wayne, Jim

Jones, Young Jeezy, Lil’ Scrappy, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Soulja Boy,

etc. With prophetic Hip-Hop, the years of industry-sanctioned

Black-on-Black violence – be it verbally or physically – can be finally

laid to rest, and washed away over the oceans of memory. Prophetic

Hip-Hop can also help stop the bleeding begun by corporate executives

of record labels, and begin a genuine healing process for female

Hip-Hop listeners. A New Year should herald a new phase and a new

beginning. By the end of this New Year, there would be no doubt as to

whether Hip-Hop survives as an art-form, or devolves into the

commercial enterprise it is becoming. So, what’s it gonna be: Prophetic

Hip-Hop or socially-conscious Rap?Tolu Olorunda is a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com.   

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