Monday, June 30, 2008
Rise Up Hip Hop Nation, Wise Up: Same Divide, Different Day
My hip hop summer session class just started so I've been catching up on some current events and debates via my favorite hip hop sites. Well it seems the "new" news is old news because the main debates that seem to still be holding the hip hop nation hostage are all very familiar: "real" v. "fake" hip hop, mainstream v. underground, hip hop elitism, & generation beefs (and not only civil rights v. hip hop but also old school hip hop v. new school hip hop).
I first wrote about these issues in 2002 when the KRS v. Nelly beef was the story.
Now, everyone hates Soulja Boy and he is single handedly killing hip hop according to some. And no doubt there is good reason to hate some of the vulgar and juvenile lyrics and music he represents. But then again, he is a juvenile...
Playahata.com has a couple videos of Ice-T criticizing Soulja Boy as well as Soulja Boy's diss reply (in profane language). Ice-T comes back with another video to offer a more thorough explanation and end to the debate.
Over on Davey D's myspace blog, there are a number of readings of interest with comments that add insight to the dialog, including an article debating hip hop from the south, Lil Wayne v. Al Sharpton, and hip hop elitism and Soulja Boy.
From the article on hip hop elitism by Adriel Luis, this quotation stood out to me:
"Regardless of what you think of Soulja Boy's message, it speaks to the youth that hip-hop has sought to speak to since it was first born. If the youth are in a position where the songs that they can relate to depict "supersoaking hos," there's a much larger issue at hand than just the song or the artist that composed it. If you feel like Soulja Boy isn't real hip-hop because of his graphic and negative songs, find a way to educate the kid or at least the kids that are bumping his shit. But plugging your ears and saying "Well that's not real hip-hop"...that would be like living in a neighborhood and seeing some kids from down the block stealing an old lady's purse and being like "Oh that's not very positive...those must not be real neighbors." Simply pushing it all outside of your consciousness, deeming it irrelevant, or disowning it from your utopian and fluffy concept of reality won't solve anything."
After reading all of these articles and the numerous comments about them, I went back to my original 2002 essay that talked about community unity, and I can't help but wonder how feasible unity is with so many varying opinions. And if it is possible, how do we get there?
I believe the three main obstacles we will have to overcome to try to achieve unity are ideological, class and generational divisions.
These debates highlight all of three divisions. I think when we are honest about these divisions, we get closer to where we need to be to achieve community progress. It's funny to me that the same generation that still has so many ill feelings toward their parents for rejecting them and their culture now are rejecting the youth of today for reasons that sound somewhat similar...everything really is everything.
While these type of community debates and dialogs are important, I hope we can also see a bigger picture and avoid repeating the mistakes I would argue made many times before, but specifically highlighted in the Booker T. Washington v. W.E.B. Du Bois v. Marcus Garvey debates. All wanted the same result - empowerment of our people – but fell in to a trap of challenging and degrading each other’s efforts. Du Bois intellectual critiques of Garvey’s movement and dismissing Garvey as a nut did not acknowledge the millions of people drawn and energized by Garvey’s message and movement... and Garvey’s framing of Du Bois as an intellectual elitist ignored the fact that Du Bois sacrificed his life to the struggle…While Du Bois rightly challenged Washington for accepting Jim Crow segregation, Washington's understanding of self-determination and a realistic ground-up approach to advancement could have been embraced. In other words, I think if we spend less time challenging each other's efforts and more time working together or at the very least, not working against each other, our unified goal to empower the people can be achieved (even if not in one unified effort).
I once heard Iyanla Vanzant say "Be against nothing...just be clear what you are for"...
I think this really is a motto to live by...when we concentrate on what we are against (racism, sexism, white supremacy, capitalism, fascism, homophobia, "mainstream hip hop" Soulja Boy, lol, etc.) we frame the struggle in terms of negatives and sooner or later can lose the true purpose of the struggle...LIFE...
...If we frame the struggle in terms of life affirming principles - peace, justice, love, and sustenance...our eyez remain on the prize...
"Life is your right..so we can't give up the fight..get up stand up"...Bob Marley...
So like I've told my students, while I understand some of the frustration over the nihilism and misogyny in some hip hop, spending less time and energy complaining about the state of hip hop (especially because it speaks to some real truths) and more time mentoring the youth directly will be more empowering...then they can be the voices that speak to the youth...not corporate radio.
EACH ONE, TEACH ONE. MENTOR.