HIP HOP & RAP: A Cross Atlantic Perspective

by Donald Taylor and Angela Hinds

A Sister From London, England asks:

What has happened to American Rap lately? Originally when hip-hop came to the attention of an international audience it was a much-needed breath of fresh air, an exciting flavour. A new voice for a new generation, black American youth, challenging the status quo. Even for black people around the world who were not living in the United States, the message was one that appealed to us, we understood it loud and clear. The international black audience was captivated by this new genre. When one listened to Rap, the words, the messages were as captivating as the beat, so what has happened to American Rap lately? Watching more than one hour of MTV becomes mind-numbing listening to repetitive lyrics about money, women and cars. Every video is just a slight variation of the last, same song, different dancers. Scantily clad young black women, easily purchased, easily discarded, easily used "bitches" and "ho's." Ghetto bad boys hyping the thug life, glorifying ghetto fabulous. These values, these aspirations are presented to us by rappers who have left the ghetto a long time ago, moved on and up by those exploitatively gained US dollars they used to complain so bitterly about.

The lifestyle portrayed in many of those rap videos of big sumptuous houses, big sumptuous cars, champagne, free flowing dollars and women with large sumptuous behinds waiting in a bikini to greet you at the door each evening was amusing for a while, now it's boring. What is that all about? Whose version of keeping it real is that? You can watch as many episodes of "Cribs" (the celebrity homes programme shown on MTV) as you want it still won't teach you how to become a homeowner any quicker.

Can someone please tell me where the choice of rap with a message has disappeared? Rap that seemed to represent fairly accurately black youth and the black situation. Who does Rap represent now? It makes one wonder if after watching these videos it doesn't have the cumulative effect of making black folks feel as disaffected as watching white corporate America spouting some impossible dream. I see very little in these videos that represent me these days. Nobody is suggesting that all Rap music needs a conscience, let's all hold hands and save the world type of music, but a choice is needed nevertheless. Even when people were putting music out there with a different message that may not have been our flavour, at least there was scope for being original and different and it provided variety.

Why is this entire crotch grabbing, "ho," "bitch" it's all about the Benjamin's type of Rap being promoted above all others? Why is it some of the most thought provoking Rap of late has come from the mouth of the only prominent white rapper, Eminem? Is it because he is the only one making it? I very much doubt that. It would appear black Rap that is actually saying something is/has been forced underground for some reason in favour of this "about nothing" bullshit that is the records companies marketing dream. One has to remember because of the power of the American media, Rap music videos are often the only images that countries and people around the world who have no contact with the black race have of what the "black" situation is about. I don't know about anyone else but that is not what I would wish to have my people anywhere in the Diaspora represented as to the unknowing. Whether we acknowledge it or not, images stick. The power structures that be are well aware of this; one has to wonder if some of those Rappers couldn't care less as long as they are getting paid. Maybe they would say they are taking their slice of the pie. Maybe some would ask at what cost? If this is the newest voice for a newer generation, it is a sad reflection. Like many other black people I have tired of listening to the nonsense that now masquerades as hip-hop. One of my old time favourite Rap songs was "don't believe the hype". Seems to me that is a message that someone, somewhere needs to rework and quick.

A Brother From American writes:

I was born and raised a black male in some of the poorest American neighbourhoods, often referred to in popular American culture as the ghetto. Some people have said that the ghetto is more a state of mind than a physical place. I believe the former and have seen with my own eyes that the ghetto state of mind can be detrimental to many people, especially the black males' psychological and social development. I have watched many a potential businessman, lawyer, doctor, poet, devoted husband and loving father destroyed mentally and physically because they believed more in the false manhood attributes of the ghetto than they did in their true selves or the examples of strong black men and women that came before them. Today, trying to be true to our black selves and ancestors is much harder because we have allowed outsiders to teach us how to be black. Corporate America for one, has found a way to market black behaviour to blacks and all people in the form of "ghetto fabulousness," seen by most in the world of rap videos.

Most of the ghetto lifestyle presented to us thought the media is materialistic, misogynistic, anti-intellectual and unrealistic. Basically, it is escapist bullshit promoted as "reality" to make millions off of the role model starved but miss-educated Negroes and now black culture hungry suburban white teens that crave that lifestyle that is Hip-hop culture. Hip Hop is supposedly "keepin' it real" as far as what is means to be black in America. Many people have come to believe that the hip hop/ghetto life is the true life of all black people. Unfortunately, many black Americans who should know better are willing participants in helping to promote this foolishness to their own people around the world. Thanks to my mother and a host of aunts and strong male role models I was never allowed to be totally consumed with the false manhood beliefs the ghetto lifestyle teaches and let that become my state of mind. Many blacks in America have done the same and come out of the ghetto and remained in the ghetto as solid and successful citizens but many more have fallen for the hype of hip-hop culture and its symbol: ghettofabulousness. I can empathize with some blacks who are "proud" to be ghetto because it is a resource they have to increase their self esteem and show pride in their communities in a society that is very willing to acknowledge and shower attention on blacks who are singing and dancing. But in the end thinking ghetto is of not much social value in my opinion. I loved the old-school hip-hop from the 80's because it was not just fun but enlightening. Today we are bombarded with the absurd and the redundant in hip hop and rap. We are presented with a modern day black mistral show starring those who are quick to play buffoons in quest of the Benjamin's.

If you think I am just a "player hater" the next time you meet a young promising black child in America, the UK or Africa who can recite the hottest rap lyrics without missing a step but can"t speak a complete sentence coherently because they believe getting an education is for white folks and all he or she can aspire to be in life is a rapper or other entertainer when the chances of that happening are slim to none, please ask yourself this question: if having a strong work ethic, positive social values and studying reading, writing and arithmetic and speaking coherently, the stuff that makes you successful is acting white to our children then what is acting black supposed to mean to them.

HIP HOP & RAP: A Cross Atlantic Perspective by Donald Taylor and Angela Hinds

© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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