Hip Hop Commentary

The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop
A Call to Action From the Source Youth Foundation
by Edward "Big Things" DeJesus

The Hip-Hop industry, and the music world, has fallen into the worst sales slump in at least a decade. Despite the "bling bling" on your television, The Recording Industry Association of America reports that the shipment of music products fell 10.3% in 2001, costing Hip-Hop record companies, producers, distributors, artists, fashion designers, and other Hip-Hop heads millions of dollars in lost earnings. The industry's suffering is intense, but if you've got millions to lose, than you've got millions. The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop aren't so lucky.

Who are They?

They are the 16-24 year old members of the Hip-Hop Nation who desperately need options beyond the streets. They are the subject of almost every Hip-Hop track from gangster rap to the party remix. They are the one's who invented keeping it real, who live keeping it real on the streets of cities like the Bronx, South Central, Detroit, B-More, the District, and Miami. The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop love Hip-Hop not because Hip-Hop loves them, but because Hip-Hop is them- it is their struggle to survive in a world of violence, drugs, gangs, broken families, and poverty and still find a way to keep their head up. Currently, there are approximately 5.2 million Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop who are out-of-school, unemployed, underemployed, and/or incarcerated. These young people's sad stories have built a two billion dollar global, Hip-Hop culture; yet, each year, both society and the Hip-Hop industry lose a potential supply of revenue of over 88 billion dollars in the wages that these youth fail to earn. The sharp rise in youth unemployment, the persistent joblessness among young African American men, the broad impact of the current recession, and the overwhelming lack of youth programs and services have contributed to making both the challenges and the needs of the Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop greater than ever before. Indeed:

Although more than 2083 youth ages 14-19 drop out of school each day, government training programs can serve less that 2% of this population (US Department of Labor, 2001).

Current government and private programs supporting this population are on the chopping block., The Youth Opportunity Program, which serves young people in the highest poverty areas in America, will receive an 80% reduction in funding, cutting services for approximately 24,000 youth.

Since the economy has turned sour, the unemployment rate for 14-21 year old youth of color has accounted for over 70% of the total job loss among all adults in the United States over the past twelve months (Northeastern University, 2002).

The number of youth of color in poverty is expected to grow by at least 30% in the next ten years (Johns Hopkins University, 1998).

While Napster, CD burners, and MP3 players have all been cited for the decline in record sales, it seems clear that the lack of opportunities for the Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop also plays a role. Without the purchasing power of the Hip-Hop Generation, and perhaps more importantly, without the emotional support and energy of the streets, Hip-Hop may quickly become the fad everyone once thought it to be.

Recycling that Matters

Now, more than ever, it's time for the Hip-Hop community to reclaim the Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop and help them to transform themselves into the true players, dreamers, and lovers that they long to be. As Hip-Hop has long been the voice of the suffering of young people in the inner city, it must now rise to the challenge and make the case for government, community, and corporate investment in unemployed, undereducated and disconnected youth. The Source Youth Foundation presents the following three recommendations to the Hip-Hop Community:

1. Support local community-based programs designed to provide the Hip-Hop Generation with the educational, vocational, and life skills they need to succeed. Youth programs across the country are underfunded and can only serve a small fraction of youth. The Source Youth Foundation has identified more than 200 youth programs that utilize Hip-Hop music and culture to promote academic achievement, non-violence and work. Contact SYF or other local charities about how you can support these programs.

2. Become a political advocate for the Hip-Hop Generation. The federal government has declared war on the Hip-Hop Generation and no one is championing their struggle. Join the Source Youth Foundation's Hip-Hop Cares Coalition to become part of a group of youth programs, youth advocates and Hip-Hop heads united in a political effort to raise awareness and support for youth programs and the young people they serve.

3. Help youth to "keep it real" and "make it right". Members of the Hip-Hop Community- from artists to producers to advertisers- must be more active at reaching out to youth through personal appearances, positive lyrics, and PSAs that provide good information to young people about how to place themselves on a pathway to long-term success. Visit local programs, drop a few more positive hits, mentor a young person in need of a strong adult role model, or call The Source Youth Foundation to give youth a positive shout out in The Source.

The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hop are not disposable. For many of us, they are our past. For all of us, they are our future. It's time for the Hip-Hop Nation to stand up in unity against disposing our Hip-Hop Heroes and take the necessary steps to ensure that these young people have options beyond the streets.

Edward "Big Things" DeJesus is the President of The Youth Development and Research Fund, operator of The Source Youth Foundation.


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