I guess I shouldn't be surprised that people still subscribe to this "hip-hop is only good when it's about something conscious and positive (and that's the difference between 'commcercial' and 'underground')" fallacy, but after all these years it still drives me up the wall that people are rewarded for perpetuating it. And far too much coverage of "international hip-hop" is framed in a way that perpetuates this fallacy.
Exploring hip-hop abroad
Jerry Large, Seattle Times
...Aisha Fukushima is about to launch herself on a new journey of discovery in which she will travel the world for a year exploring hip-hop culture, looking at what's common across borders, what songs say about social conditions in particular places, how rap is used to protest or educate.
Her interest is not in the booty shaking and bling of commercial rap. She believes the best hip-hop explores issues, stimulates conversation and opens a window to the lives of the young people who create it...
People, please stop doing that! Hip-hop music's value will always come first and foremost from its musicality. These other elements, like which subject matter it covers, can have great value is well but it'll always be secondary to the music, and only matters as much as the musical foundation is strong underneath it.
I'll quote once again the most important thing any academic ever said about hip-hop:
"Much of this [social science] literature not only conflates behavior with culture, but when social scientists explore 'expressive' cultural forms or what has been called 'popular culture' (such as language, music and style), most reduce it to expressions of pathology, compensatory behavior, or creative "coping mechanisms" to deal with racism and poverty. While some aspects of black expressive cultures certainly help inner city residents deal with and even resist ghetto conditions, most of the literature ignores what the cultural forms mean for the practitioners. Few scholars acknowledge that what might also be at stake here are aesthetics, style and pleasure."
- Robin D.G. Kelley
Any analysis of hip-hop that assumes its value comes from its choice of subject matter, that places its political/sociological value over its musical value, any analysis that treats hip-hop's musicality -the "aesthetics, style and pleasure"- as an afterthought, is completely missing the point. Well meaning though it may be, this approach to analyzing hip-hop does it a terrible disservice.
(btw I'm speaking more to the reporter here, the subject of the piece may well understand this better than the article conveyed..)