June 2, 2003
Regarding Hip-Hop Blasphemy
A post in this fresh young blog speaks of "Hip-Hop Blasphemy". He throws a bunch of different ideas out there, and I'm not going to touch most of them right now. But I will say that Hip-Hop's fundamentalist sect has been a concern of mine for quite a while. Some of us have been taught to enforce such a rigid orthodoxy that we risk stifling growth in the name of upholding traditions.
The most common example is the Gospel of the Four Elements. Personally I do not subscribe to this, partly because graffiti was a distinct culture of its own before Hip-Hop was born, so I wonder whether it is fair or accurate to classify it as a subset of Hip-Hop. On the other hand, I'm all in favor of celebrating the great contributions that writers and b-boys/girls have made to the culture, and ensuring they are not forgotten just because they couldn't be commodified as effectively as the music. So I suppose this bit of dogma is fairly benign. But it gets a little silly when folks come at you like "thou shalt love and cherish each of these four pillars with equal fervor, or be subject to stoning". If you have a passion for the music you should feel welcome to express that without fear of being chastised cuz you don't know Taki 183's birthday.
Other strains of Hip-Hop's fundamentalism may be more troublesome. My least favorite trend of recent years is how the term "freestyle" has been redefined as referring only to rhyming off-the-top, which has led to a vehement (and IMO irrational) disdain for performing written rhymes in any cypher or live venue. I believe this mindset is entirely misguided, and can be terribly unhealthy for the art form. I'm sure I'll get deeper into that in a future post.
I think this strict constructionism is often a product of insecurity, especially among younger heads who weren't around for Hip-Hop's early days or the Golden Age of '85 to '91 (or thereabouts). Without these credentials they need a concrete list of rules to which they can conform, and thus reassure themselves that they are "real" or "true". Which isn't necessarily a bad thing I suppose. There's nothing wrong with putting together a system that helps you maintain a sense of tradition.
But you've got to keep it in perspective. A system of law should serve to protect your freedom, rather than take it away.