Hip Hop’s Resurgence

by Young Che on October 22, 2008

Did you catch “And You Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop” on VH1 last night? I tuned in just in time to catch part 2 of the 5 part series. Over the years VH1 has done an excellent job of helping to preserve Hip Hop culture and offer regular history lessons on the movement in general. Their yearly VH1 Honors series does a wonderful job of connecting the new generation of Hip Hop creatives with those who laid the foundation for them to be in the position that they are in today.

With never before seen footage, “And You Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip Hop” traces the history of this art form from “back in the day” to the meteoric rise and success of Russell Simmons’ Def Jam label, to the gangsta rap wars and how hip hop and Eminem conquered America. The five-part documentary concludes with the new moguls who have come to define “bling bling.”

“You can’t overstate hip-hop’s effect on American youth,” comments executive producer Russell Simmons. “There are a lot of young people who’ve grown up on hip hop coming out of Beverly Hills, or out of the projects, or the trailer parks, who either have lived in poverty and have understood the struggle directly, or listened to hip-hop their whole lives and become sensitized to the plight of those poor people. So that’s why everybody relates to it and the movement that was supposed to be a fad has endured.

It reminds me of my own glory years because it represents the soundtrack which I came of age to. I remember RUN DMC being the first group that I was a real fan of post MJ’s classic Thriller. I memorized every word to their first 3 albums. Hip Hop truly defined our existence because it gave us a collective voice and form of expression. We were immediately identifiable through our dress which was decidedly anti-establishment. Hip Hop served the community it came from in a major way and in some ways still represents the most powerful force for change in a country where the ruling class is obsessed with maintaining the status quo. The status quo means their dominance over the poor people of the earth who most times happen to be people of color.

Hip Hop provided us with life lessons – Hard Times (RUN DMC); history and philosophy – My Philosophy (KRS-ONE); Knowledge of Self – Eric B. & Rakim; Business School – You Gotz To Chill (EPMD); Critical Resistance/The Black Struggle – It Takes A Nation Of Millions (Public Enemy); Street Knowledge – (NWA) and so many other classic artists and themes which connected us as a community to one another all over the world.

Questlove said that when he copped the instant classic It Takes A Nation of Millions by Public Enemy he had to quit his job because he couldn’t stop listening to it. I dropped out of college twice because I was a soldier in the movement. I knew Hip Hop was a movement and that we were all participating in a clash of cultures that would yield a winner and a loser. This clash pitted the entrenched establishment (big corporations, the government, old slave money) against a restless youth who recognized that what our people had battled for in this country had become a dream deferred. Over the years the movement was quelled and the resistance thwarted by the music industry and other hustlers of culture who successfully backed the most non-threatening artists imaginable and killed creativity in a genre which at one time defined its own reality.

The decision makers recognized the danger in allowing certain messages to thrive and deemed it more appropriate to feed us our own filth in heavy doses which started with the over saturation of gangsta rap. Gangsta rap devolved into a distorted representation of capitalism otherwise known as “bling-bling.” Gross materialism had taken over an art form which had once served as a multi dimensional representation of our natural ability to create something beautiful out of nothing. At one point I was certain that the existing powers had strategically defeated us in our quest to gain access to riches which were constantly dangled in front of our noses for a small price. The price was the devaluation of our manhood, our women, our children, our communities and our quiet acknowledgement that the majority of us were indeed the new stereotypical nigger that they packaged and presented to the world.

However, as we watch the financial system of America reel in turmoil on the brink of complete implosion I am reminded of the demise of the record industry whose record profits have been interrupted by the digital revolution. In an article earlier this year Melissa Chang of 16thletter notes:

So this puts the music industry in this strange position. The indie artists, who are making some money on their small but loyal audiences and the Long Tail, but often not enough money to live off of, would be psyched to get a record contract because the record companies have the marketing and distribution capabilities that they don’t have access to. The big (and already famous) bands, are trying to get out of their contracts in favor of the freedom that the indie artists enjoy. And the record companies are panicking. This is creating a weird, wild situation where everything is about to totally implode if change doesn’t happen quickly.

Experts wonder if the record industry has sealed its fate which would serve as a telling sign for the US government which built a model very similar to that of the record industry. Artists for major labels have long asserted that being signed to these record companies is like being locked on a plantation as a modern day slave. We know for a fact that the US government, numerous corporations and so-called entrepreneurs rose to global dominance and power through the direct benefit of free labor through an institution known to you and me as slavery. Of course the record industry still has an opportunity to rebound from this death blow but they would have to embrace dramatic changes to the status quo by completely revolutionizing the way that they do business. For some it may be too late because there are already smaller players occupying these spaces doing a good job as we all are eager to see how this industry emerges on the other side of this uncertain transitory stage.

Artists who have already recognized and embraced this emerging digital business model in lieu of shopping their wares to majors have enjoyed leverage against a dying industry like no other artists in recent history. In the current edition of XXL magazine they featured a special on the Freshman Class of ’09. They are some of the up and coming Hip Hop artists who have created their buzz and a following through using the internet and social media to reach an audience eager to hear something different from the same old, same old. It is very encouraging to witness this new emergence taking place right before our eyes and it makes listening to music fun again. Of course with the hurdle being lowered for new artists to present themselves to the world it makes for a crowded field of every teenager who thinks in their own mind that they can spit a hot eight or sixteen. Obviously every artist shouldn’t run out and quit their day job until they have honed their skills or reached that magical point in their life where turning back isn’t an option.

With the elimination of the gatekeepers and the good old boy network, skills and creativity are actually some of the necessary components for artists to make it in the music business. It also makes room for multiple voices and niches to be explored which have been drowned out over the last 14 years. Conscious rappers have a place to express themselves again. West coast groups who aren’t gangsters can breathe again. Artists can experiment with Jazz, Folk music, rock and other sounds which don’t fit into the Top 40 formula any longer. Political rap can speak its mind again. Revolutionary rap is plotting the takeover.

How has the digital music explosion changed the way you experience music? What artists are making moves in your world? Leave your remarks in the comment section and we will produce a danomi top 10 for 2009 based on your response.

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Related Articles:

The Record Industry’s Decline

What’s Going To Happen To The Record Industry?

Music Lessons

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