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October 09, 2003

Two Societies Separate & Unequal

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. - 1 Cor 13:11

Novaslim asks 21 questions. There's only about 3 of them that I have enough context to answer. That's because they are the kinds of questions one can only answer if one follows hiphop, mtv and whatever other mindless stuff that passes itself off as black culture these days.

He's on the edge I think, of leaving childish things behind, but still calling it 'our culture' in the monolithic sense. But it's not 'our culture' meaning African American culture, it's pop culture for the hiphop demographic. It's consumer product masquerading as real people with real lives. But the script has already been written all the way up to and including the breakup of Eric Benet & Halle Berry. If you look at contemporary black culture, that small part of African American culture, there are two actually cultures, separate and unequal. One is the culture of McCoy Tyner, the other is the culture of Murder Inc.

I've got a little product called Acid Music. It has several hundred hiphop rhythm tracks. I've mixed up enough songs for 3 cds. On a good number of them, I let my kids do the singing and picking the beats. So when we go driving in the car, they can ask for their songs and I can play them instead of listening to whatever is on the radio. There is a such thing as good, even great hiphop music, but most of it works at the level of my elementary school kids' musical sophistication. When they hear their own voices over the speakers, they don't miss anything. Nothing At All.

It doesn't seem fair that I name this other thing hiphop culture. Once upon a time hiphop was fresh. In fact, that was the best word you could say in the argot. It wasn't nearly as sophisticated as it is today, but it was a bit more honest and a whole lot less jaded. Somewhere along the way, what was fresh became dope. Now it's just [the] shit headed towards some shiznit that is off the chain. Something like that is just begging to be locked up. But what else can we call it but hiphop? I wouldn't want to call it black youth culture not only because I know non-blacks dig it but because I have a problem insulting black youth. I certainly wouldn't want to call it black culture. It happens in the context of the porno that is American pop, hiphop is the cutting edge of that porno. Nothing quite says it like the new Napster bits. Click on hiphop. That's all it is. OK call it hiphop culture.

Even Napster serves to remind us that Reggae and Blues are still real in American lives. Hiphop can have all its madness and still be black. But it's not black enough to be much in the full context of black culture, even when it appropriates the term 'Old School'. Some people actually believe Snoop Dogg is Old School. If you hear somebody say that, remind them to say Old School of Hiphop (which he really isn't, that would be Bambataa, or even the Jonzon Crew).

As some of you may know, I used to have some kind of epiphany on a regular basis and I would write an essay entitled 'The End of My Blackness' every five years or so. But I'm pleased to be stuck in the current mode which hasn't changed much in 10 years, past caring about hiphop, those who sacrifice themselves for it and those bitter hopes that it might have become something more than the soundtrack of the violent porno / action film of American pop. If you live in Los Angeles, you know that 94.7 the Wave has swallowed up the 16 beat and bass lines and incorporated it into smooth jazz. When I was mixing records back in college, my boy thought I was wack when I tried to get the bassline from Steely Dan's 'Hey 19' into an extended groove. I wasn't a musician then and I'm not now, but I knew what I was talking about. That's not hiphop, that's music for people with peaceful souls. Hiphop is all about drama. But it's the equating drama with blackness that fails. There once was a time in the early post-soul when blackness was all one branch, or so it seemed. Now there is no chance. The lines are drawn.

Louis XIV famously said "I am the state." He said it in French, and he meant it. Nobody could deny it because he was, after all, king. But I'm here to tell you that hiphop is a pretender to the throne of black culture. It will certainly last at least as long as rock & roll, but hiphop doesn't own the music. Hiphop owns the illiterate lifestyle and the commercial grasping. It may very well last for three more generations, but not three of my generations. Three generations of babies having babies will replicate Sorry Miss Jackson. Damn. Even Miss Jackson wasn't married. Hiphop tried, valiantly, to become more than just beats and raps, grooves and fashion. But it could not transcend. I'm weary of beating it down because it's only a genre.

A little man in my head says don't forget Savion Glover's Noize. Don't forget that there is true artistry in hiphop. By the same token I can't forget that there's true artistry in cartoons, football and cooking too, and those are just three double 'o' words off the top of my head.

In the end, culture lives or dies with the people it inspires. And I'm one to tell you, from the Old School and from the Old School of Hiphop, that it cannot and will not inspire anyone of a certain maturity and class. The questions Nova asks are a clear indication of that, and I suspect it is something any number of hiphopers already know, but they hold out hope. The only way to hiphop until you die is to die young and ignorant.

I'll close with this from Fishbone.


Fight the Youth--
The Youth with poisoned minds
Ignite the truth--
Restore sight to these blind
Fight the youth--
The youth with poisoned minds
And if they suffer it's no fault but their own

Posted by mbowen at October 9, 2003 11:18 PM

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Comments

R.I.P. 103.9 KACE (formerly an all oldies R&B station; "No Rap, No Drama")

Posted by: Juliette at October 10, 2003 02:42 PM

"Hiphop is all about drama. But it's the equating drama with blackness that fails."

How true. I wish this were emblazoned on a big wall everywhere young black people congregate, especially when I see individuals with everything to live for consigning themselves to lives of failure by trying to "keep it real."

There is something wrong with a world in which being "black" is equated with being from the ghetto, and having "ghetto" mannerisms, as if the middle class black people like you and I were merelu poor imitations of the platonic ideal. The whole "gangsta" posturing associated with most modern hip-hop is simply absurd!

Posted by: Abiola Lapite at October 10, 2003 02:53 PM