The New Face of Hip Hop

common06Sometime last week, while I was mid crisi mode about exams and what not, Chicago born rapper Common dropped a quote to linking President-elect Barack Obama to the hip hop community.

Obama “is going to change hip-hop for the better,” predicted the rapper, whose eighth album, “Universal Mind Control” (G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen), hits shelves Tuesday.

“I really do believe we as hip-hop artists pick up what’s going on in the world and try to reflect that,” he told CNN, outlining his belief that mainstream as well as so-called “conscious” rappers — the more socially aware — will pick up on what he sees as the more optimistic prospects of an Obama presidency.

“I think hip-hop artists will have no choice but to talk about different things and more positive things, and try to bring a brighter side to that because, even before Barack, I think people had been tired of hearing the same thing,” he said.

That was a quote from CNN and here’s the link for those interested.

Believe it or not, my friend and I had had this conversation probably summer of 2007 when Obama was happily our U.S. Senator and only a few black folk on the South Side of Chicago mused happily about what it would be like if he made it through the primaries; the thought of him running and winning was still a fantasy.  My friend back in Chicago, who I’ve known since kindergarten was telling me about how hip-hop can save America and he was using people like Common, Lupe Fiasco and another Chicago hometown fav Rhymefest who’s shut down a few local venues based on word on the street.

Well, my argument was that “I’m gonna buy you a draaaaaank” which was T-Pain’s latest vocoder disaster at the time is emphatically NOT going to save America.  So, of course, one of America’s favorite black conservative’s John McWhorter dropped a book aptly entitled All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America.

It’s on my Christmas reading list.  (I’d put it on my blog on the side, but WordPress ultimately sucks!)

Here’s a link about a write-up Black Snob did on him when she did her series on black conservatives.  It’s interesting to see his take, particularly on Obama, but as far as hip-hop is concerned.  Here’s another link to a story he wrote that his last line ominously reads

Hip-hop creates nothing.

I’m sure based on his linguistic approach and the article that I just linked (I know it’s long, but it’s the Christmas holidays, get a cup of cocoa and read it in it’s entirety) that I’m probably not going to agree with most of it, but I respect his opinion and as far as the title premise is, I agree with him.  Me and Soul Jonz or should I say, The Critical Cleric both have had this argument, heavily based on our Christian Ethics class taught by Dr. Riggins Earl that ultimately, these rappers have to take agency in what they say.

To hell with the ad companies and the distribution labels such as Sony (which Al Sharpton did march on, but no one wants to talk about that), but ultimately what does the individual rapper choose to do with their own life.  Clearly, it’s heavily focused on the material possessions.  The CNN article goes on to say

Not that Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., is altogether removed from the temptations of his hip-hop brethren.

He serves as a spokesman for Lincoln Navigator and purports on his new album to “rebel in YSL,” a reference to designer Yves Saint Laurent. Money is also a weakness, as Common — No. 14 on Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of richest rappers — regularly invokes the greenbacks he makes and spends.

Still, Common has come at hip-hop from a different angle from many of his colleagues. He was generally considered “underground” until he linked up with Kanye West, who produced his albums “Be” (2005) and “Finding Forever” (2007).

And anyone who has followed Common (I actually pulled up to him in a Range Rover when I was a freshman in college on the corner of 73rd and Stony Island and he had the windows down blaring to some song) knows that he does not follow the stereotypical mode of rapper, or even actor.  He’s clearly from the Chi and exudes everything that I think is indicative of a positive male black role model.

Most of my long time readers know I’m not at all a hip-hop head.  I rarely talk about it, but I read The Gospel Remix: Reaching the Hip Hop Generation that included younger pastors such as Jamal Harrison-Bryant (yes, the one that has come under much fire for his proclivity for sleeping with women in his congregation) and Rev. Otis Moss III and I realised that regardless of my knowledge of hip-hop as music, I’m still part of the hip hop generation: I talk it, I write it, I dress it.  As a result, I’ve tried to be a bit more engaged in these debates about the lyrics of the songs.

Where me and McWhorter fundamently will probably disagree is that he blames it all on hip hop.  I’m with AverageBro and a good chunk of sensible American citizens: I blame it on a breakdown of community and family–in other words, I blame the parents.  Of course kids are going to sneak and watch what their parents tell them not to, or listen to it, and memorize the lyrics of what their parents tell them not to, but it presents a problem when the parents openly endorse their children listening to such misogynistic lyrics by listening to it with the kids, or moreover encouraging them to dance to the lyrics.

I’ve seen worse.

Even though the first was silent, clearly we have a situation on our hands.  Some adult (and that word is used loosely) decided to film that.

That being said, I’m hopeful, particularly that this new face of hip-hop will eventually emerge despite the doom and gloom message that McWhorter is putting forth.  Moreover, it would be nice if Chicago finally defined what midwest rap was.  Because it’s quite clear that much like the bounce music of New Orleans, that despite being in the midwest, I need NOT for midwest hip-hop and rap to be defined by Nelly, Chingy (where the hell is he?!?) and now I heard Murphy Lee reappeared on the scene.

Anyone remember J-Kwan’s “Get Tipsy”?  Wonderful one hit wonder.

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3 responses to “The New Face of Hip Hop

  1. Great post. Unfortunately, I think the mainstream will ALWAYS misinterpret what hip hip and hip hop culture is, and that’s mainly because there isn’t going to be anybody making any money off the real thing. The success of Common is an anomaly in the music business, as well as a group like the Roots. I mean, these guys had to work for YEARS before getting any recognition, but essentially, in both of these cases, the reality is that it only took one person to notice each–in Common’s case it was Kanye, as you mentioned, and for the Roots, it was Jay-Z. Hell, I’m happy they got put on, they deserve it! But I also think it’s kind of disheartening because the merits of their work should have been enough.

    btw. . . it’s a cheat, but if you create a Page labeled Reading List or whatever, you can create a sublist beneath that Page title, thus creating your reading list. On the new Page screen look on the right where it says attributes and under Parent let it stay Main Page for the Reading List, and then create a new page with the title of a book, and then make the Parent for that book Reading List.

    All the Best,
    Phil

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