Facedown In The Mainstream: Cultural Pimpin' & Hip Hop

"Think it is when it ain't all peaches and cream/That's why some are found floating face down in the mainstream." --OutKast (Excerpt from

the song, "Mainstream" off the album, ATLiens)

Over a decade ago, Hip-Hop theologians OutKast used their southern-fried flow to send an impassioned plea on their

seminal track, "Mainstream:" Don't let a little bling blind your

perspective. The prophetic duo – with assistance from play cousins

Goodie Mob – exposed the trappings of fame, government corruption, and

AIDS via a cautionary rap verse. They knew then what many are

discovering now - Hip-Hop's mainstream coronation would be a welcomed

blessing and unforeseen curse. Hip-Hop, like many other Black cultural productions

post-Middle Passage, has been compromised by cultural pimps (record

labels, media conglomerates, corporations, etc.) seeking to censor its

revolutionary elements while green-lighting destructive buffoonery and

giving credence to long-standing stereotypes of Black life.

Consequently, artists of substance like Dead Prez, Jean Grae, and

Little Brother rarely make radio play-lists. Little girls dream of

being video vixens instead of spinnin’ soft Black songs like Nikki Giovanni. And

while outlets discuss whether Hip-Hop is art or social poison, the

larger question we must ask is how white supremacy and market forces

have altered the perception of a grass roots movement. Hip-Hop has sadly become a convenient scapegoat for

historical inequalities that deeply alter our quality of life. Art

ain't created in a vacuum, and Hip-Hop was originally birthed as an

underground anecdote to the psychological trauma of poverty, racism and

a range of human sufferings that flow through them. Trouble in Hip-Hop

paradise began when artists abandoned the tenets that once defined

Black existence (solidarity, social activism, etc.) and began to mimic

the values of a corporate system founded on greed, capitalism and


This abandonment of social conscious is aided by market forces and

label heads who care more about profits than prophets and offer

million-dollar deals to studio gangstas and anyone willing to drop

nonsense over hot beats. Today's Hip-Hop artists are a small cog in a

well-oiled corporate machine that has always used Black sweat,

toil and cultural production (remember slavery) to serve its seedy

economic interests. So, panel discussions like the one that took place

on The Oprah Show (April 18) are great for TV ratings, but miss the

mark when accountability is solely placed on vulnerable people without

power – power that dictates our economy and distributes wealth. In

other words, if we convict the rapper, we must convict parents who

dropped the ball, elders who turned their backs on the impoverished,

corporate pimps who pray for our demise, so called "Black" spokesmen

padding their pockets at our expense, and a system of commerce that

never gave a damn about Black folks in the first place.

The plight of Black folks is bound to escape the limited confines of

many talk radio and lunch room venting sessions. And Hip-Hop, like

Black life in general, is wrought with pain and struggle. Art reflects

the people and if we want Hip-Hop to change, we have to love ourselves

enough to change. Record deals don't change people, they only give folks a greater platform to be the fools or social activists they already were.

Edward M. Garnes Jr. is an Atlanta based award-winning writer,

activist, and educator who holds a M.A. in Counseling from Michigan

State University. Garnes is the founder of From Afros to Shelltoes and

can be reached at ed@afrostoshelltoes.com.


views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of AllHipHop.com

or its employees.