October 11, 2004
The Big Lie of Political Hip-Hop
(This is basically a sequel to what I wrote here)
The worst thing about all these 30th Birthday Hip-Hop retrospectives is how many of them are perpetuating the "real hip-hop=political hip-hop" mythology. Like this one from Kristi Turnquist of the Oregonian:
Hip-hop Has Transformed Pop Culture -- and Vice Versa
Ugh. What kills me this time is how Todd Boyd tries to help this writer see the error of her ways, and she even includes his quote, but still clings to her fantasy in the rest of the piece.
"People seem to routinely agree that hip-hop was political at one point, then it became gangsta, then it spiraled downward in terms of its significance and importance," says Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television. "That is not true."
It's about beats and rhymes. Why is that so hard to understand?
Why has everyone become so attached to this fairy tale that hip-hop was all about "socially conscious" lyrics in its early days? That it was only when rap went commercial that everyone started bragging and boasting and kicking party rhymes? And that those party rhymes are inherently less valuable?
Anyone who is at all familiar with hip-hop's history knows that is a bunch of baloney. It is a lie that not only distorts our history, it demeans the art form and all of its pioneers by assuming that hip-hop is not important or valuable as a musical form.. that its value derives only from the content of its lyrics, the subject matter it chooses to address.
I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll have to say it 1000 times again: this is the biggest lie that's ever been told about hip-hop.
Hip-hop is important because it is great music. Period. All the "conscious" anthems these writers exalt would never have mattered one iota, if they were not delivered within a musical form so compelling that it forced the world to listen.
Hip-hop's influence has extended far beyond the music, but it's always been the music that made everything else possible. And that music can be equally valuable no matter what topic the emcee chooses to discuss. "Ante Up" and "Who Shot Ya" are every bit as important to me as "The Message" and "Dear Mama." Because they speak to me musically in ways that no concrete verbal expression ever could.
That is the essential power of music, and hip-hop's pioneers knew this. They understood there is no greater purpose, no goal more noble for any man, than a commitment to rocking the party. It's a shame that after 30 years, so many people still haven't figured that out. They all must lead such drab and grooveless lives..