We Are the Revolution: An Open Letter to Members of the Hip Hop Generation by Drahcir Marie Smith

| June 20, 2012 | 0 Comments

Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame

I have been critical of the hip hop generation. i’ve described us as being superficial, apathetic, lacking in substance, disdainful towards women, and celebrity-obsessed.  the popularity of things like World Star Hip Hop–a site which has gained notoriety, primarily because of the violent fights and sexually explicit material posted to the site, and reality t.v. shows such as VH1’s Basketball Wives (obviously geared towards hip hop generation members)–only added credence to my beliefs.  so despite my [relatively] tender years, i have often found myself disappointed in our generation, and the legacy we will leave behind.
Don’t get me wrong —  there have been countless pioneering efforts and movements, spearheaded by hip hop generationers–in the early days of hip hop, particularly. we watched artists (and entrepreneurs/future moguls) from urban “ghettos” form and express a voice which had been previously un-conveyed.  early hip hop artists told a collective story of the hood:  the young men trying to support their children with little education and fewer professional opportunities; the single mothers trying to survive; the innodation of gangs, crack and other drugs into our communities–from the perspective of dealer, user, child of user, supplier, and bystander;  the tragic beauty of hood life.   it wasn’t about agreeing with the specific message being conveyed in the songs.  it was about the truth of it.  artists like RUN DMC, Boogie Down Productions, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Queen Latifah, Black Thought, Tupac, Wu Tang Clan, Biggie, Nas, Jay Z, and Diddy created, dominated, then eventually, changed the game…indeed, by the late 90’s/early 2000’s, hip hop became about more than just music. it became about culture–and, ultimately, branding.

with these changes, however, it seemed that the hip hop “movement” suffered.  suddenly, the majority of hip hop songs being played on the radio told stories of model chics, bottle popping and expensive clothing.  shit that 95 percent of the population couldn’t really identify with.  things people could only envy and emulate (which many did).  as time progressed, what was being said in songs began to matter less and less.  a dope beat and a catchy hook became enough to put a hip hop song on the top ten charts for months.  half of the time, what some of these artists were saying didn’t even make sense.  and when it did make sense, the lyrics were sometimes just plain embarrassing.  i began to long for the days of Wu Tang videos, where group members drank two dollar forties with the same vigor & enthusiasm that artists were now pouring [their personally branded] liquors down scantily clad video chicks bodies.  and i found myself listening to independent artists more than anyone else.
Unsurprisingly, i was not alone in this sentiment.  In January 2005, a scathing article written by Greg Tate, entitled, “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?” appeared in the Village Voice.  In the piece, Tate identifies these, and several other issues with hip hop culture.  specifically, he was critical of the commercialization of hip hop and the dilution of the art form as a result of “hip hop” and the “hip hop industry” becoming one and the same.Tate wrote, “If we woke up tomorrow and there was no hip hop on the radio or on television, if there was no money in hip hop, we could see what kind of culture it was, because my bet is that hip hop as we know it would cease to exist, except as nostalgia. It might resurrect itself as a people’s protest music if we were lucky, might actually once again reflect a disenchantment with, rather than a reinforcement of, the have and have-not status quo we cherish like breast milk here in the land of the status-fending. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting to see…”
“it’s not like we didn’t have our ‘bullshit’ fun rap back then. you know,” commented an Atlanta hip hop artist.  “We had ‘Humpty Dance’ and ‘Me so Horny’ and all that. but everything had its place and we appreciated it for what it was.  now…people are confusing that with TRUE hip hop…we got Nicki Minaj running around with Medusa hair and shit…and Drake killing the charts just by singing catchy hooks…”
Just as i was getting ready to pen my own article thrashing the current state of hip hop–both the music and the culture–i found myself on Twitter (as I frequently do), procrastinating (as I frequently do).  There were various discussions going on, but the tweets that caught my attention revolved around newly released evidence in the Trayvon Martin case. I read tweets from respected writers, teachers, artists, and intellectuals–all members of the hip hop generation–and found many of their thoughts to be compelling, astute, and agreeable.  these comments, however, WERE laced with a few “fucks,” “motherfucker,” and perhaps even a Rick Ross reference or two. definitely not the typical intellectual banter of yesteryear;  or even the typical intellectual banter of this year.
That’s when a profound thought hit me.  maybe our generation is doing the same thing that the early hip hop pioneers were doing.  but we are using platforms which were previously unavailable to us to do so.  and in the course of that, changing the world.
I mean, think about it.  it is undeniable the national and international impact that people like Russell Simmons, Alicia Keys, Common, and other prominent hip hop figures have had through their humanitarian acts in recent years.  in fact, it is rare to find a hip hop figure who is not involved in some charitable endeavor these days.  indeed, activism has become a critical component of hip hop.  consider it.  what would the last national presidential election have been without “Vote or Die,” and the involvement of so many prominent figures in hip hop?  so maybe…just maybe…hip hop artists no longer feel the need to address the ills of society through their art, because, now, they can address the ills of society through their actions.

Rapper B Stacks is helping keep hip hop relevant via is lyrical skills

Moreover, with the development of hip hop culture, there has emerged an inner sanctum of righteously intelligent writers, journalists, and intellectuals within the generation.  The Dream Hamptons et al., who have stepped up to the plate in terms of activism, discourse, and the education of our community.  they are using their proverbial pens as a new form of civil disobedience and leveraging their relationships with hip hop artists, producers, and executives to spread their messages.
And creatively, the recent popularity of artists like ASAP Rocky, J. Cole, Tyler the Creator etc.–all of whom are expressing a fresh voice–has encouraged me.  If they are any reflection of where we are headed, i think we actually have much to be excited about.
So although i may still long for hip hop’s yester year, and yearn for more conscious content in hip hop songs, it may be time for me to accept that every creative medium evolves.  as does every culture.  perhaps this is just part of the revolution.  perhaps we ARE the Revolution.
And if that is the case, only one question remains: what will we do with this unprecedented opportunity to influence the world with our voices?  our pens?  our beats?  our business relationships?  our writing?  our humanitarianism acts?  what will we SAY?  right now, it’s still not clear.  so, for the moment, i shall drop my judgment, and wait with breath that is baited for the future of hip hop.
I have faith in us.
Drahcir Marie is a regular contributor to Hip Hop Enquirer and her articles can be found on our site by searching her first name or by visiting her personal blog by clicking here.
Follow her on twitter @rebel_witacause
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Hip Hop Historian and accomplished photo journalist

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