Paul Scott wonders if hip-hop can save Black America. I can answer that real succintly. No. Hip-hop couldn’t save Black America, even if it wanted to, number one. And even if it could, the reasons he describes probably would have nothing to do with it.
In some ways, hip-hop seems to be like the miracle tonics of yesteryear that could cure everything — or at least, that’s what the salesmen wanted you to believe. In reality, they could do nothing of the sort. In this case, the salesmen are not the rappers themselves, but the people who would argue that hip-hop has some transformative power; people who would convince us that if “our” musical genre could get itself together, it would become a clarion call for us to mobilize and defeat our racist foes. Ain’t gonna happen.
Number one, Hip-hop is a genre of music. Like rock. Or jazz. Or funk. Nobody is asking any other genre of music to save anybody. Nobody is suggesting that any other genre could. What’s more, even more than most other genres, there is no real sense of history intrinsic to hip-hop. I’m fairly sure that the recording companies treated it as if it were disposable right from the door, but anything that’s not making profit is disposable to the record companies. More disturbing is that it’s disposable to us. For most other genres, there is a certain level of respect for the acts within that genre that have come before. There are classic rock stations, whose whole format is dedicated to playing songs from across the decades. A jazz show is going to play almost as many songs from before 1965 as after. Hip-hop? There might be a lunch hour mix of songs from the last decade or so, but that’s about as far as it’s gonna go. Many younger listeners have no idea of the seminal voices of the genre because they’re old, and therefore, in the minds of the young, wack. If there are no elder statesmen of the form, then there is nobody to pull the lens from the immediacy of the me…and that’s assuming that the elder statesmen are even that aware themselves.
Thing is, being that hip-hop is a form of popular music, if it’s not popular, it’s nothing. Meaning this: I’m sure there are artists who are making exactly the type of music Mr. Scott is talking about. I’d lay a dollar to a donut that Chuck D himself has a song or two recorded. But they’re probably not gonna be on the air any time soon, unless Chuck plays them on his Air America show. (Is there still such a thing as Air America?)
The part about Mr. Scott’s piece that really killed me was this:
Perhaps ,most important, is the Hip Hop vernacular. Just as the Right Wing folks are able to use code words such as “illegals,” “inner city youth” and “states rights” to galvanize their base, rappers also have slang terms to mobilize their fans toward political action right under the noses of unsuspecting Republicans.
“Waka Flaka what?”
“Gosh darnit, Jim Bob. I can’t understand a thing that they’re saying!”
F’real, though? The demographics of who actually buys hip-hop records kinda defeat this argument before we can even get to critique the rest.
Album sales aside, as a form of popular entertainment, I maintain that hip-hop ain’t built for that. Is it possible for the artists to include some thought-provoking content in their lyrics? Absolutely. And I agree with Mr. Scott that they should, by all means necessary. However, as Mos Def said 10+ years ago, there’s no sense in talking about hip-hop as if it’s some giant living off in the woods. Hip-hop is the output of the people, so whatever the people are doing, that’s what hip-hop is gonna do.
Besides, if hip-hop could save us, I’d be more pressed to have it save us from our internal problems than whatever threats “they” pose.