I had very little exposure to hip hop growing up behind the orange curtain of the OC until I moved to east Africa in college. Kids in Nairobi were listening to commercial hip hop in bars and clubs and I frequently heard Tupac in villages in Uganda (I heard a lot of Britney Spears too). A few years later when I moved to DC, I was fairly familiar with the west coast classics but didn’t really know what hip hop was all about until I met my husband in 2003. He listened to hip hop 24/7 and I became a huge fan of Gang Starr, Outkast, Eminem, Biggy, Missy Elliot, Atmosphere, The Coup and others. I understood that it was poetry but the good stuff sounds good too, like the 2nd track on Deltron 3030. While in DC, crunk dominated hip hop and I had a blast bumping and grinding in dark basement clubs, sweaty southern style.
As the years went on, I began to think more deeply about hip hop and what it means for the African American community and the rest of us. For example, Bill Maher on his show asked Russell Simmons about the negative influence of gangster rap on the African American community and Stephen Cobert asked Nas a similar question a few weeks ago. Both rappers denied its negative impact and replied with the same answer – I’m not going to be positive if I don’t see things positive. I understand the argument, but certainly much of commercial hip hop promotes violence, sexism, and glorifies the life of a gangster. People who promote selling crack and destroying their own community should be ashamed, not selling records. The importance of telling the countless stories of tragedy in inner cities is critical and necessary for our society to grow. It is vital to expose the isolated white majority to police violence and social problems that they are unaware of, but there is a big difference between an intelligent rapper like Nas and an a-hole like Master P. Why don’t the consumers of hip hop music have higher standards? In addition, it seems that the top singles each year include songs by Jay-Z, P-Ditty, 50 Cent, ect., just talking about how rich they are…so boring. So many of the most popular rappers are one dimensional. Like all communities, people have different perspectives and not everyone in the ghetto sees everything negative. Why aren’t positive rappers more popular (like Pigeon John)? One dimensional negative rappers have dominated hip hop for too long.
I have a lot of respect for positive rappers, political rappers like The Coup and Public Enemy, and rappers that have musical genius like Outkast. I think hip hop is a powerful art form that people use to express themselves and should not be limited to inner city black males. Many female rappers have talked about how hard it is for women to survive in the industry. Eminem proved that he has more skills than anyone out there and there are a lot of poor white people that have serious social problems. No matter how much his stories make me sick, he is talking about some very important realities of this country (you really have to listen to all his songs to get what he is talking about).
Last weekend I was in a San Francisco club watching some local hip hoppers rhyme on stage and a girl inspired me to write this blog. She was very ordinary looking with blond hair to her shoulders dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She was rapping about things that interested her like the Food Network and TLC channel. I was so amused because I love the Food Network channel. As hip hop becomes more mainstream, it is evolving and diversifying. I hate people who say hip hop has to be “hard” or “gangster.” Hip Hop is an art form about expressing yourself and the hip hop community should embrace anyone who can do it well.