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Reply to "The Sons and Daughters of Hip Hop"

ER I welcome your constructive criticism and curiosity, in my free moments I have spent this day formulating a response to your questions. Forgive me as I have a few things to say before I get to your request. In essence, the points I am about to present characterize both the economics and politics of the hip-hop generation, which I might add includes all of today's young people, not just hip-hop artists. My initial interest in replying to your response has heightened after reading Kresge's post, which appears to imply that my perception of the hip-hop generation's present and potential social impact is simplistic or as it was put naive:

More and deeper analysis is necessary. For example, the comment "we are pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and bringing capital America to its knees" shows an incredible amount of economic and political naiveté.

If more and deeper analysis is requested, I welcome such a request as I aim to stimulate conversations that bridge the gap between our generations. This post is denser than I would like it to be, but every point must be made, so enough of the fluff on to the analytical stuff.

The Politics and Economics of the Hip-Hop Generation

Every generation, this one being no exception, strives for the American Dream: reaping the financial rewards of hard work and personal dedication. We all can find common ground in this dream, but as we all know at some points there are disconnects between the Hip-Hop generation and its predecessors. These disconnects originated with the rise of new issues within the black communities. Post Civil Rights Movement, we are no longer fighting for segregation, but we are fighting against the side affects of integration within a society that remains racist and socially unjust.

The catastrophic affects of drugs, AIDS, rising percentage of black men in jails, the jail-like structure of urban public schools, increased unemployment rates, and teen pregnancy are now our issues of concern. On a superficial level today's young people appear to be caught up in materialism. ER, like many others, voiced her concerns when she said, "I fear that if this generation is only following money ... it will get lost real fast." However, they are already lost. With new concerns, minimal guidance, and an insufficient number of adults who share the historical context from which their issues originated, this generation is lost in a world that has long since given up on African American youth. Without ever having to be explicitly told, these kids are acutely conscious of how little their lives are valued in America. From the media, straight into their living rooms they are portrayed as criminals, ghetto, ignorant, un-ambitious, far from political, poorly educated individuals. There is no longer a fear of being lynched because there is now a fear of being shot, robbed, or sent to prison. Pre-Civil Rights Blacks could see their struggle and dream of better days to come. Black youth today walk around in their nice new clothes in over-crowded under-staffed schools and dilapidated neighborhoods and wonder to themselves if this is as good as it gets? Is a new pair of sneakers and some ice, as good as it gets? Is the Bling the only thing we have?

These questions directly relate to the origination and steady growth of hip-hop culture. Young people were seeing the social injustice in their communities and wondering why there weren't enough politicians, and leaders to help. Like old Blues singers they started turning their thoughts into rhyme, and putting a name to their communal pain. You question the violence, and you ponder the social contributions of hip-hop artists like 2pac, because there isn't enough explanation as to why people like Pac existed, and where the violent voice within the art form was coming from. As the son of a Black Panther and extremely political young man, Pac could take the violence of the streets and put it into a historical context for his peers. For many young people hip-hop is there nightly news. The corporations like the bling and sex because that's what they are selling, but if you listen to the music many of these artists are sharing their lives and experiences. In his song, Brenda's got a baby, 2pac talks about the environments that create our rise in teenage pregnancy, and young girls who don't know where to turn. On his 2005 debut album, The Game responds to 2pacs song when he says, "Pac is gone, and Brenda is still throwing babies in the garbage." The Game is making a socially conscious statement by showing how even after 2Pac's inspirational words; the same issues within the black communities exist. He talks about seeing his friends getting shot for their sneakers and how such a harsh life turned him into an Old G in the hood before he was 12. He talks about issues that are relevant to urban youth, but are not objectively discussed by mass media. Dead or alive, these artists are looked up to because their fans identify with the words and aspire for the fame. Granted we need more adult influence in the lives of these fans to balance the negative side of hip-hop, but it goes without saying that there is a political and social message within the music. As far as the adults are concerned, whether they fail to see this generation's potential, or just simply shirk the responsibility of having familial conversations about contemporary black concerns, the fact remains that many of our elders don't talk to the young people as much as they should, which leads us to look to these hip-hop elite as our sources for knowledge.

You ask "where are the positive uplifting images??" Truth be told, these positive images are few and far between because hip-hop music isn't just about telling stories, it's also about making money. In order to share their experiences, get themselves out of the ghetto, and find new ways to give back to their families and communities these young kids have to reinvent themselves within the industry. It's not right, but it's real. Corporate America does not want to sell social consciousnesses, they want to sell hits. When you have suburban raised, college black boys reinventing themselves as inner-city thugs, you have a clear understanding of what makes this industry work. Of course, you can chastise these young people for selling their souls, but first let me tell you what has come out of their sweat and toil while answering the question, "Why doesn't the hip-hop generation tell its story in a positive way, if the media does not?"

First, there is no way to get around the mainstream. For those urban youth unable to escape harsh lifestyles with higher education, names like "Cornel West", "Michael Eric Dyson", and even socially conscious hip-hop artist "Talib Kwali" hold no weight. They don't dislike or devalue these people. Honestly, they just don't know them, because these people get no real airtime. The hip-hop generation isn't just going off of who has the most money; they are emulating who the media let's them see. If white media does not write our articles or present our stories on television in non-stereotypical ways, where do you expect these individuals to tell their story. For most of them, their first and only chance at exposure is that record deal, and as I mentioned it comes at a cost. We got our Civil Rights, but we are still waiting for our 40-acres and a mule. These kids are coming out of communities with negative net worth and practically no political voice, how do you expect them to even begin to demand positive change with no resources?

In spite of coming out of nothing, hip hoppers have made something for themselves and their people. Prior to our generation, our elite were limited to a small group of blacks who gained their economical status through educational gains or athletics. Moreover, within this microcosm of the black community, were a limited number of black owned businesses. Within the hip-hop generation is an unprecedented number of black entrepreneurs. While the system fails them, and their parents struggle to make ends meet, the Sons and Daughters of Hip-Hop are creating Record Labels, Film Companies, Clothing Line, Jewelry, etc.; entrepreneurial acts that are not simply about blind materialism. In the midst of poor educational facilities and an employment crisis, these kids are aiming to create more black business. They are there own CEOs, they can begin to create restaurants, movies and write books about their issues. It's the John Singletons, Damon Dashs, Queen Latifahs, Ice Cubes, Will Smiths, Russell Simmons, and Spike Lees, Jamie Foxxs of this generation that are our social pioneers. They are creating spaces that never existed before and white America is taking notice.

In the 2004 election, "Black voters came out in significant numbers to cast ballots in Nov. 2 presidential and congressional elections, according to political observers and activists... "Our folks turned out and we as a community – especially our young people – showed up at the ballot box," said Melanie Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Her organization worked with hip hop, fraternal, church, community, and civil rights groups, Black Entertainment Television, syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner, the UniverSoul Circus and others to register one million new voters. " Hip-Hoppers voiced their political concerns, encouraging young people to come out and vote, and they did.

I proudly protest that "we are pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and bringing capital America to its knees" and laugh at the implication that hip-hop in its third decade has brought little to fruition for our people. In such a short span of time street hustlers have turned themselves into CEO's. No one gave them there 40-acres and a mule, they worked for it. Without degrees, being legacy children, or climbing the corporate ladder, they made millions on their own. Young people today are followers of Malcolm X's school of thought in so far as they are trying to build empires by any means necessary. They don't want to see their mother's suffer or their siblings get shot, they are hustling so they can get to a point of ownership, because they see that in American money talks. They can see the hypocrisy of politics when rappers who were never noticed, have people taking note and listening and they want to emulate these people. They want to be in a position of power. They don't just want to look nice, they want people to look at them and listen. They want the American dream, as we all do, but somehow their goal keeps getting misconstrued and oversimplified in the midst of pop culture and contemporary trends.

I'll end with lyrics from Jay'z song "Moment Of Clarity". If you are at all skeptical about what I have to say, listen to his words. Listen as he not only bares his soul as the son of a father he never knew, but as a socially conscious business man who understood that in order to affect change in the hoods politics he had to get with the politics of the industry.

(Turn the music up turn the lights down i'm in my zone)

Thank God for grantin me this moment of clarity
This moment of honesty
The world'll feel my truths
Through my Hard Knock Life time
My Gift and The Curse
I gave you volume after volume of my work
So you can feel my truths
I built the Dynasty by being one of the realest niggas out
Way beyond a Reasonable Doubt
(Yall can't fill my shoes)
From my Blueprint beginnings
To that Black Album endin
Listen close you hear what i'm about
Nigga feel my truths

[Verse One]
When pop died
Didn't cry
Didn't know him that well
Between him doin heroin
And me doin crack sales
With that in the egg shell
Standin at the tabernacle
Rather the church
Pratendin to be hurt
Wouldn't work
So a smirk was all on my face
Like damn that mans face was just like my face
So pop i forgive you
For all the shit that i live through
It wasn't all your fault
Homie you got caught
And to the same game i fault
That Uncle Ray lost
My big brothers and so many others i saw
I'm just glad we got to see each other
Talk and re-meet each other
Save a place in Heaven
Til the next time we meet forever


[Verse Two]
The music business hate me
Cause the industry ain't make me
Hustlers and boosters embrace me
And the music i be makin
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
Talib Kweli
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But i did five Mil)
I ain't been rhymin like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustlin since
Your inception
Fuck perception
Go with what makes sense
I know what i'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most impor-tant
And i can't help the poor if i'm one of them
So i got rich and gave back
To me that's the win, win
The next time you see the homie and his rims spin
Just know my mind is workin just like them
(The rims that is)


[Verse Three]
My homie Sigel's on a tier
Where no tears should fall
Cause he was on the block where no squares get off
See in my inner circle all we do is ball
Til we all got triangles on our wall
He ain't just rappin for the platinum
Yall record
I recall
Cause i really been there before
Four scores and seven years ago
Prepared to flow
Prepare for war
I shall fear no man
You don't hear me though
These words ain't just paired to go
In one ear out the other ear
My balls and my word is alls i have
What you gonna do to me?
Nigga scars'll scab
What you gonna box me homie?
I can dodge and jab
Three shots couldn't touch me
Thank God for that
I'm strong enough to carry Biggie Smalls on my back
And the whole BK nigga holla back


If there are any more questions for me I'll try to answer them as best I can, but I also recommend reading Bakari Kitwana's book "The Hip Hop Generation: Young blacks and the crisis in African American culture."