A Hip Hop Commentary


I just got back from a well attended Rainbow Push Conference which was held in Chicago this past week. The theme was 'Building Bridges' which is an important concept to embrace as we head into the New Millennium. I applaud Reverend Jesse Jackson for getting everyone under the sun, from Vice President Al Gore to Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman to Kwanza founder Dr Maulana Karenga to discuss a variety of pertinent issues like School Violence, Gun Policy, Police Brutality and our connection to Africa to name a few. This year there were a number of CEOs and business types on hand including the founders of the FUBU clothing line who were presented with the 'Entrepreneurs Of The Year Award'. I also applaud Rainbow/Push Staff member Simone Green who organized the Hip Hop panel, for realizing the important role and impact Hip Hop has within our community and for trying to bridge a glaring generation gap. It was indeed quite impressive. However, where the convention may have built bridges in numerous arenas, it failed miserably in the world of Hip Hop.

A crucial opportunity to dialogue and exchange information was lost this weekend because many of those who attended the convention did not bother to attend the panel. Many did not bother to take time out and find out why Hip Hop had such a strong impact on the world around us, especially the youth in the community. Don't get me wrong it was great to see the people who did roll through, but the audience was made up mostly of the young people who attended the convention. My question was where were the parents? Where were all the 'suit and tie' types I saw in droves throughout the weekend? Where were all the people who attended the lavish galas and fancy luncheons? Where were all the people who continuously feel that Hip Hop is some sort of evil that is destroying our community and corrupting our youth? At a time when the average youngster knows more about Ice Cube, Master P or Cash Money Clique than they do Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or The NAACP, one would've expected the room to be overflowing with our older brethren. One would've expected some of those parents who can't understand why their son wants to sport gold fronts like Juvenile or talk dirty like Lil Kim, would've been there to participate in the dialogue.

I recall a few years back I put together a panel for the Gavin Hip Hop Convention that focused on Hip Hop and Politics. I brought on Reverend Jackson and the then newly elected Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown to dialogue with the Hip Hop generation. The auditorium was packed as kids who never even thought of politics checked it out and came away learning some things from Jesse and Willie. Perhaps I was naive to think that Rainbow Push attendees would've been just as curious as those Hip Hoppers were a few years back.

The Hip Hop panel was well publicized and clearly highlighted in the convention's program manual. The outline was intriguing: Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture: Political Movement or Just Entertainment? The topics we were supposed to build around included 'Hip Hop music and it's influence in social and political movements', 'Artist responsibility in the community', Artist participation in the business side of the industry' and 'Communication back to the community' to name a few. There were no other panels scheduled during the time of the Rainbow/Push Hip Hop Panel. In fact moderator Fab 5 Freddy of Yo! MTV Raps delayed things so he could listen to the speech being delivered by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar of Nigeria who was running overtime. It was obviously important to Fab 5 to be a part of the 'Bridge Building' effort with our mother continent of Africa. But afterwards it was important to Bridge Build with the younger generation that had created the number one business within the music industry. It was important to break bread and build bridges with the Hip Hop generation that now finds itself being mimicked both good and bad all around the world.

The panelist, who came at their own time and expense, came prepared to share insights, experiences, dispel myths, clear the air and lay down the foundation for some much needed dialogue. What a disappointment it was to see such a sparse room. It's no wonder so many within our community walk around claiming not to understand their kids, their music and their lifestyle. If these traditional leaders and long time Civil Rights activist can't show up to Build Bridges with the Hip Hop community at a Jesse Jackson Rainbow/Push convention, when and how do they expect to make such dialogue happen? The sad part is, is that these sort of discussions do take place. They go on at other conventions and in other settings. But why didn't it take place at a convention that played host to some of the most prominent movers and shakers within the African American community?

I will give props to the few elders who did show up. The dialogue that took place with them was revealing, insightful and most of all helpful. For example, one gentleman took issue with panelist Markel Hutchins for dissing the American Flag. The gentlemen was a former Vietnam veteran who felt strongly about the sacrifices he made for the country. He spoke passionately about the tremendous efforts he and others put forth to be accepted in this country. Hutchins, a 22 year old Baptist preacher from Atlanta was equally passionate as he spoke about the high number of police brutality incidents effecting the Hip Hop generation which are done by officers driving patrol cars bearing the American flag. He felt the American flag symbolized oppression. It was good to see and hear the perspectives each held. The gentleman in question wasn't the only elder in the room who felt that way. Another long time activist echoed his sentiments. To me it boiled down to the classic argument of assimilate and fight from within vs separate and change the system from outside.

The same gentlemen honed in his arguments when he suggested our perceived style and mannerisms may keep people away and make them afraid. He suggested that we as Hip Hoppers 'tone things down' and become a part of some of the traditional Civil Rights organizations and fight for change within. I countered and pointed out that I had been raised to be resourceful and that in many ways it's easier for us as Hip Hoppers to tap into our talents take the necessary steps to own our on things and create our own organizations. I explained that the resources of Hip Hoppers are on par with the resources of many from Civil Rights generation. The trick is for us to come together and combine things so all of us can rise to higher level. In other words Hip Hoppers and Civil Rights folks can learn from each other and greatly benefit if we come together. Unfortunately it appears to be a one sided conversation with many from the older Civil Rights generation still seeing Hip Hoppers as rebellious youth and not as young adults who have laid down their own destiny.

What's ironic about this whole thing is the fact that when you go back and study some of the activities and things our parents did, in many ways they weren't too different from what we do today. The played games like the Dozens and listened to some Blues records that were every bit as raunchy and controversial as any 'gangsta rap' track. They also laid down the ground work for the sexual revolution. Perhaps a rapper like Lil Kim or a Foxy Brown got their cues from that older generation. And as societal problems began to bear down and have a direct impact on today's Hip Hop generation, you're seeing youth activism like you never seen it before. The methodology may be different. But make no mistake, a lot of headz are starting to rise up and make noise. Hip Hop in itself was a youth activist response to perceived 'oppressive' conditions. What the Civil Rights generation had and what today's Hip Hop generation is just starting to embrace was 'ORGANIZATION.

If there's any place where some serious Bridge Building is needed it's between the traditional Civil Rights community and the Hip Hop Generation. Hip Hop over its 20+ years has matured and moved to a point where people within the industry should be breaking bread and sharing resources with those within the Civil Rights Movement who had 'paved the way'. Many of the ideals I've heard expressed by Civil Rights activist are being executed by many within the Hip Hop generation. First, I'm seeing more and more young brothers and sisters embracing the concept of entrepreneurship. Many youth are out and about attempting to own their own business. Their role model may be a Suge Knight, Puff Daddy or Master P as opposed to the owner of Black Enterprise or Ebony Magazine.

Hip Hop has succeed in bringing about a multi-cultural active community. In the '60s people talked a lot about the concept of integration. No where in America do I see anything more integrated then Hip Hop. I've seen Hip Hop being used successfully as a tool to motivate and politicized youth especially here in California. You would think these Civil Rights folks would want to sit down and compare notes with Hip Hoppers who are out there participating in mass demonstartions to protest Police Brutality, The impending execution of Mumia Abul Jamal, The Prison Industrial Complex and the saving of Free Speech community radio station KPFA to name a few. I'm watching Hip Hop heads breaking bread and forming coalitions with former Black Panthers, old time leftist Hippie types, progressive activist, The Nation of Islam and numerous other camps. I haven't really seen this happening too much within the ranks of our traditional Civil Rights organizations. Whereas everyone else seems to be embracing the enthusiasm, creativity, man/woman power and vibrancy of the Hip Hop generation, our traditional Civil Rights community still seems to be afraid. Either that or too caught up to even care about the culture that inspires our youth.

Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to say that we within Hip Hop have many short comings. Many of these criticisms are raised in the pages of the FNV Newsletter. But there is no doubt over the years we have made tremendous strides in all arenas. The accomplishments are too vast to list, but unfortunately they go unnoticed, uncherished and uncelebrated within the traditional Civil Rights Community. When I listened to panelist like Rappin' Tate talk about the work he does in Chicago to help bring about 'structure' in the lives of the kids he talks to on a daily basis in 'the hood', I see progress. I see someone continuing the mission that was started by the Civil Rights community. He's in the neighborhoods trying to bring about change to make a difference. His work is in line with the work that is continuously being done from everyone from Chuck D to Ice T to Naughty By Nature to Jay-Z to Queen Latifah. There are far too many artist that I know who habitually go back to their communities and try to make a difference. Some may do it in an organized manner like Rappin' Tate or a Puff Daddy via Daddy's House. Others may do it informally like Jay-Z, Fat Joe and Naughty By Nature to name a few, who all frequent their old hoods in an attempt to 'put folks on' and show them a way out of their impoverished conditions.

When I hear other panelist like Chicago based Stew of Black Mouth Productions talk emphatically about the importance of owning his own video show and record label, I see progress. I see him laying down crucial ground work that hopefully his community can build around-a business that he owns. It follows the footsteps of Master Ps, Rza, E-40s and others who have shown kids from around the way the importance of owning your own and cutting out the middle man. When I hear the elegance of 22 year Baptist Preacher Markel Hutchins as he talks about his National Youth Movement, I see the major progress. I see the consciousness of the Hip Hop generation that is about the business of organizing and inspiring young people. Hutchins organization falls in synch with other groups like STORM, 3rd Eye Movement, Hip Hop University, Temple Of Hip Hop, Zulu Nation and hordes of other Hip Hop based organizations that effectively reach the youth.

The bottom line to all this is that a great attempt to build bridges was made, but unfortunately a continued pattern of avoidance and dismissal prevailed. To not see a whole lot of people from a Civil Rights community present was disappointing. In the end, the Hip Hop community will become stronger as they come to realize that they may not be able to depend upon the understanding of an older generation. But then again it was this perceived disdain for the youth that brought about Hip Hop in the first place. It was white owned publications like People, Spin and Rolling Stone that highlighted Hip Hop long before Black owned mediums like Ebony or Jet. It was tv shows like Yo! MTV playing rap videos before BET. And it was Top 40 stations adopting the slogan 'This Is Where Hip Hop Lives' before their Black owned or Black music counterparts. In fact many of these Black owned outlets were adapting slogans like 'We Play No Rap'. And while we may be able to find examples that counter such assertions [ i.e Black owned KDAY was jamming Hip Hop before Top 40 stations], they are far and few between. It's a shame to see a culture that was birthed by the youth of our African American community has had to unfortunately had to find a home and become embraced elsewhere. By turning its back on the Hip Hop generation, the Civil Rights generation missed an opportunity to pass along the wisdom and experience they garnered over the years. In short they let folks outside the community raise their kids.

I'll relate things this way. I recall going to a Black lawyer's convention in Houston about 8-10 years ago. In the room was a large number of African American lawyers and sports agents who were complaining about how hard it was for them to secure Black athletes and celebrities as clients. I suggested that some of those lawyers take a look at the Hip Hop community which was just starting to really blow up. I explained that many of the new artist coming into the game were running into road blocks and getting ripped off by major record companies. Many of the artist were real young between 17- 23 years of age and many haven't had proper education. They saw Hip Hop as a way out the ghetto and so they brought a lot of talent and creativity to the table. Unfortunately, they haven't been hip to the game and hence they were being taken advantage of by older more experienced music industry sharks. To add salt to the wound, some of the people leading the charge to rip these young brothers and sistas off were other African Americans record executives. You had radio station program directors and deejays telling a lot of these young cats they have to pay to get their record played on air. You have some label executives demanding kick backs in order to make certain promotional things happen. Many of the older guys in the industry were ignoring and not trying to pass along the knowledge to the music industry new comers.

I continued by noting that many of these emerging artist could use some legal guidance from people within the community who would both look out for the artist as well as our collective community interests. Perhaps there was a way these lawyers could come together, form some sort of organization or committee and break bread with these rappers in such a way that it would become a win/win situation.. They could show them how to set up record companies, cut proper deals etc. I told them that there was a whole industry behind hip hop and that it was more then just people rapping on the mic. At that time people were trying to start magazines, set up record companies, get publishing deals, write movies etc. I told them how I was having a hard time finding the right mentors as I was just stating to get in the business professionally. My remarks were meant with blank stares, confused looks and some one remarking that rappers cursed too much and they didn't see the music lasting much longer. I can only imagine as I look at the economic windfall Hip Hop has brought about 10 years later, how things would've been different if some of those griping lawyers had embraced Hip Hop.

Now overall, I'm not trying to say all the guys who are blowing up in Hip Hop did not get 'laced with game' from their elders. In fact many of those who are successful were taught directly by older folks. For example, an E-40 will tell you it was his Uncle Charles who ran Solar Music that taught him about the business. Activist, Sonny Carson passed along wisdom to Professor X of X-Clan. I recall seeing old Black Panthers lacing people like Paris, Digital Underground and 2Pac with some game. The list goes on and on. In spite of those examples, I still say that in the overall scheme of things those from the Civil Rights era have been relatively absent within the Hip Hop arena. Last weekend's panel was not an usual occurrence. It was the norm. It was a direct reflection of a pervasive 'I don't care and I don't have time to care attitude' that many have when it comes to dealing with the Hip Hop generation. Again, how could you not attend a panel that has so much to do with your kids who are supposedly 'going buckwyld'? What a shame that the African American Hip Hopper will get more love and respect outside his community than from within. Ten years ago when I was featured in the documentary Rap City Rhapsody, I was asked where I saw Hip Hop headed. My response was if we as a community aren't careful it will go the way of Rock-N-Roll and Blues. It'll be an art form we create but ultimately don't control. By the Civil Rights generation not building bridges with it's Hip Hop offspring, the opportunity to build viable institutions around this culture that are on par with The Sources, Vibe Magazines, the KMELs, the Hot 97s, the Power 106s, and the KKBT 92.3 The Beats of the world were lost. And this is just dealing with the issue of economics. While I applaud the activism I see within Hip Hop, It's a shame to see many of the same struggles from the Civil Rights era being revisited again. It's a shame to see Little Johnny from the hood having to reinvent the wheel as he tackles issues like affirmative action, police brutality etc. . Let's hope that one day there will indeed be a Bridge connecting the Hip Hop Generation to it's Civil Rights predecessors or we within the Hip Hop generation don't make the same mistakes. Props to Jesse and Simone for trying..

written by
Davey D
c 1999

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