Wednesday, March 30, 2016

US VERSUS THEM - INSIDE HIP HOP'S CIVIL WAR By JayQuan




Conflict & division. It’s woven into the fabric of America, and it’s as American as apple pie. The need to have an adversary and a target for conflict. The sub culture of Hip Hop is a microcosm of American society, and mirrors many of its values. In recorded Hip Hop’s infancy the first adversary of Hip Hop fans was our parents’ generation. Even though many in that generation enjoyed the recordings of Kurtis Blow & The Sugar Hill Gang, many saw it as a fad and disliked the music, especially once recordings like Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel were released (’81) and the recordings started to reflect the actual street culture that birthed Hip Hop. That us against them mantra made us feel empowered back then! As all young people do, we felt that it was us against the world, and that this was our music; and our parents just didn’t understand. And we were correct! My Grandmother detested rap records! She would look at the grooves of the records and say “there’s not even half a song on there”. I didn’t even bother explaining that it was a single. When she heard the first record ever with scratching (the previously mentioned Adventures On The Wheels of Steel by Grandmaster Flash) she absolutely hated it. Which confirmed and re enforced my love for it.
Throughout recorded Hip Hop’s history we have had to weather several conflicts both external and internal. This borough vs that, coast against coast, gender against gender, underground vs mainstream and generation vs generation. One of the biggest conflicts in our current meme driven social media era is real Hip Hop vs fake and Mc’s vs rappers. I fully understand the theory. Mc’s are “real Hip Hop” and rappers are products of the big bad recording industry. One of the biggest problems that we face today is absolutism and the absence of critical thinking. There is grey area in every life situation. Take for example the meme that quotes KRS ONE. Im paraphrasing but it says that “rappers spit rhymes that are mostly illegal – Mc’s spit rhymes to uplift their people.” That’s a dope line and it’s true in a few cases. But what about the incredible amount of Mc’s who are dope and don’t uplift their people? They just say dope shit that is many times a detriment to their people and communities! Biggie was an incredible M.C., who didn’t uplift his people, and that’s fine! We didn’t have that expectation of him. There are tons of others. Kool G Rap, who with the exception of Erase The Racism and Streets Of New York never wrote uplifting rhymes is one of the best M.C.’s ever, hands down. I don’t even think that I would want uplifting rhymes from G. Rap. That’s just not what he does.
The other meme that annoys me is the one that says “Hip Hop died when beats became more important than rhymes”. That’s simply not a truthful statement. Some fans cared more about beats than rhymes since the genres inception. If you subscribe to the theory that Hip Hop is dead (the rap element), I would suggest that many of the practitioners of the genre
maintain that it died or began it’s death when the first record contracts were signed, effectively separating the D.J. from the Emcee. With the exception of Grandmaster Flash, many Dj’s weren’t allowed to tour with their groups, once rap records and recording contracts became a reality. Jam Master Jay was never pictured on the cover of Run DMC’s records, because he wasn’t signed to their label. Who amongst us is able to ascertain when beats started becoming more important than rhymes? This is all incredibly relative. I understand the need that some folks have to define things. Hip Hop is a subculture born of the streets and created by people whom society had disposed of. No one thought that it would become world culture and a multi-billion dollar industry. As the genre grew and became more watered down many of us felt the need to define and in some cases re define. But there is one thing that is missing and that is context! People make statements like those in the above memes based on when THEY fell in love with Hip Hop and based on THEIR knowledge of the history. As with everything we must study the entirety of the genre to gain proper context. Many within the sub culture of Hip Hop still don’t have a proper definition of what Hip Hop is.
To introduce all of this dogma and absolutist theory to the culture only serves to dilute it and add to the great amount of confusion already present. Everyone wants to seem as if they belong to this enlightened circle of people that are the sole bearers of the truth. I understand when Gang Starr, Wu Tang and other 90s groups proclaimed that “this is the real Hip Hop”. They made this proclamation when the bling era of iced out cd covers promoted excess and luxury lifestyles, and lyrical content had reached what we thought was an all-time low. We were at war. But mainstream rap has been stuck on stupid for more than 20 years. A new generation is amongst us, and Hip Hop hasn’t really been properly defined for them on many levels. So we have new enemies, and we should implement new strategies to combat those enemies. We are still using a 20 year old tactic (screaming that this is real Hip Hop with no follow up).
I don’t consider most of the Black face that I hear in mainstream media Hip Hop at all. Some cats are rapping, but none of it appears to be in the spirit of what we know as Hip Hop. So I propose that instead of creating memes that are subjective and relative, let’s spend time just making good music. We don’t have to categorize ourselves as Mc’s or rappers or even real Hip Hop. If it’s real then people will recognize it as such. Why did we ever need to wear out the phrase “keep it real”. If it’s real then its real. We have become caricatures of Hip Hop and of our former selves with titles, rules and proclamations. Just be…….

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