Hip-hop will always serve as a valuable tool in the struggle for liberation

Whether hip-hop is dead or alive is debatable, but one thing is certain: it will always serve as a valuable tool in the struggle for liberation

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Hip-hop is dead!

This bold statement is being hotly debated in the rap community.

Hip-hop isn’t simply a more poetic and conscious form of rap; it’s a culture composed of four elements: emceeing, deejaying, break dancing, and graffiti.

Though it began with a DJ " Kool Herc, a.k.a Clive Campbell " it’s the emcee who starred in hip-hop culture. The emcee isn’t “a” hip-hop artist " they’re the hip-hop artists. A DJ is just a DJ, a break dancer is just a break dancer, and a tag artist is just a tag artist. Emcees remain the artists of hip-hop.

But if hip-hop is dead, what gave it life? It began as party music, but thanks in part to Afrika Bambaataa in the 1970s, conscious and political rap emerged. Ice-T, Public Enemy, and Boogie Down Productions contributed to political rap’s explosion in the ’80s. Conscious rap, meanwhile, was less invasive but still carried a message. A Tribe Called Quest was quintessential for the genre, and in the ’90s rappers like Nas, The Lost Boyz, and Tupac added to rap’s voices. Today, most people consider conscious rap and hip-hop synonymous. Hip-hop is rap’s deeper, more soulful side, while rap itself is nothing more than Americanized dance hall music about blunts, beef, bling, bottles and Berettas.

Over the past few years, rap has found its home in bars, clubs and music videos. Jay-Z said it best: “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man.” Rappers are no longer content with just a microphone; they need a record label, clothing company, shoe deal, movie role, rim shop, night club, basketball team, cologne line, champagne product, and phone company, among other things.

It’s no longer just about the music " it’s about using the music to explore other business-related ventures. A rapper begins his career talking about the ghetto and quickly moves on to rapping about his excess wealth. First you have to be a better thug. Then you move on to simply being better.

By the end of the ’80s, hip-hop was crippled. Rap was its only recognizable leg left to stand on, and any conscious messages remaining in that leg have been waning ever since.

In its inception, hip-hop provided an identifiable culture many urban minds could relate to. It had a political voice. It raised awareness and fought against social and racial injustices. The voice is still there, but it’s merely a whisper lost amid the bass lines and high hats of club anthems and street bangers.

Again, Jay-Z’s words help paint a picture of today’s prodigious rappers: “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.” It’s no longer about saying something. It’s about saying anything to get a dollar.

Hip-hop began with a basement party, and it should never lose its attachments with celebration. But it was raised in turmoil and its fight for liberation should be remembered. Racism has a new guise; the black struggle continues in both old and new forms, and slavery continues shackling wrists with darker skin. Hip-hop will always bring people together to dance, but it should never give up on bringing people together to fight.

Black History Month reminds us of those who fought and died before us. It’s a month in which we ourselves must remember that fight isn’t over.

If hip-hop is dead, let’s hope it can be raised once again, because we need all the arsenal we can get.

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