Find the soul behind the glitter: Hip-hop is generated by a social movement-not bling-bling

By By Anne Looser

By Anne Looser

Hip-hop is a cultural revolution that should be recognized as such. It is a lot more than cute beats and hot-diggity lyrics.

Hip-hop, like many other music genres in a beginning phase, was touted as a passing fad. It gets labeled as some sort of deviant music that promotes deviant behavior. But if you take the time to dig a bit deeper, you’ll find the whole story.

MCs like KRS One, Talib Kweli and Mos Def use their rap to promote social justice and uprising among marginalized populations.

Take the song “30 Cops or More,” produced by Boogie Down Productions. The MC tells the history of African Americans.

“Years ago a black man couldn’t be a cop, they could only be great dance’as./ When the whole police department was white justice was the black panthas.”

He goes on to remind the young urban listeners that, “We’ve been robbed of our religion, our government and social position, and you won’t see no quick solution.” He then calls for action, “until you see the black revolution.”

He tells the current situation in the urban ghettos, “They arrest us by the hour/ because the black man in the ghetto has power.” He again calls for action, “If he would wake up and unite/ the police department would lose the fight.”

Historically, African Americans have used music to fight the marginalized status they held in society. During the Civil Rights Movement, organizers would often sing gospel songs to get people fired up at the citizenship schools (places to teach reading, writing and strategies for protesting unfair treatment). In fact, many of the protest songs from the 1960s were used in these same schools.

Going back even further in history to the slavery era, slaves sang as they worked. Often the words directed those traveling on the underground railroad. The songs also relayed messages to the underground-railroad hosts.

Hip-hop plays the same role for urban youth today as gospel music did for early Civil Rights activists and African slaves.

Hip-hop is not just some haphazard happening. It is the story of a marginalized people. Whether we recognize it or not, there is much more to the lyrics and the beats. These are stories of struggle and triumph used to create community.

In fact, KRS One has formed “The Temple of Hiphop.” He repeats over and over on several of his albums, “Rap is something you do; Hip-hop is something you live.” He argues that hip-hop is a culture with a spiritual base, morals and principles. According to The Temple of Hiphop Web site, “Hiphop Kulture is an inner city movement that seeks victory over the oppressive routine of inner city life…we spell kulture with a ‘K…in recognition of the many African languages that have no letter ‘C’ in their usage…”

I will grant that, as often happens in a consumption-based economy, some hip-hoppers have perverted the art and tradition to make money. They have taken what some use to empower and unite and twist it into a commodity.

But hip-hop will go down in history. The good stuff will last, and the bad stuff won’t. In 30 years I expect to hear classic hip-hop on the oldies station.

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