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The hip-hop thing.

Saw this article by Juan Williams awhile back, referring to an interesting Pew Research Center poll of the African-American community on AA issues. What caught my attention in this piece was what Williams chose to focus on — most notably, his comments on hip hop culture.

Williams is no fan of this culture, as he’s made obvious in multiple articles on the subject over the years. Mostly I’ve always chalked his opinion up to old age/out-of-touchness, and the usual grumbling that older folks will do about whatever bizarre subcultural fads younger folks latch onto. Juan’s parents probably complained about jazz and zoot suits; for him it’s rap and baggy jeans. Some of this is career posturing; there’s no better way for a black columnist to get read than by saying what conservative white people want to hear, as people like Michelle Malkin can attest. So I’ll be honest — I usually ignore commentators like Williams when they start getting their rant on. I’m not really their target audience.

What I am, though, is a member of the generation that grew up on hip hop. I’m not an across-the-board fan, but I nod my head. I lean back. Sometimes I buy. What I don’t do, unlike Mr. Williams and apparently the majority of black Americans who’ve decided to blame hip hop for “high drop-out rates, record black-on-black murder statistics and a record number of out-of-wedlock births”, is tar and feather a musical form as the root of all evil. Because, quite frankly, that’s silly. Of all the scapegoats they could come up with for the myriad of problems faced by the black community, this is the best they could come up with? Come on, now.

On top of that, they’re not even talking about all hip hop. If all you’re listening to is what’s in constant rotation on the Clear Channel and other “big corporate” radio networks, then you’re hearing only the tip of a massive and diverse iceberg. Most of the hip hop artists on my iPod have never gotten airtime on mainstream radio. Some of them are regional acts, popular only in certain cities or chunks of the country. Some of them are from other countries, because hip hop went global ages ago and sometimes I like my hip hop in Japanese, or Portuguese, or Arabic. It’s easy to find translations online. Some of the older artists in my iPod started out mainstream, then got pushed underground by the surge of gangsta rap in the 90s; most are still going strong. Some are newbies who distribute their work strictly online, or through CDs passed around hand to hand at parties, or through obscure labels not generally known for hip hop.

And none of them talk about bling. The guys might complain about problems they’ve had with individual women, but none of them denigrate the gender en masse. None of the women denigrate themselves. None of it glorifies prison culture, ignorance, or violence. There’s a few thugs and ex-thugs in the bunch — though more are college graduates — but even these are a cut above the 50 Cent breed of thug; they have better things to brag about besides getting shot and producing a really shitty video game. My current favorite tracks, like the Coffee Nods’ “Grown”, speak to elements of my life as a young black professional approaching middle age. These people are rapping about 401Ks of all things — and parenthood, and long term relationships, and office politics spiced with racism. I’m a writer, and in Hydroponic Sound System’s “Delirium”, they perfectly capture that feverish moment that strikes in the middle of the night where you get an idea and you just have to get up and write it down. And they rap about the fact that sometimes you can’t write it down, because you’ve got a 9 to 5 and rent to pay. This is subject matter that I suspect is a far more accurate depiction of life in black America than guns and hoes — but you’ll never hear it in the top 40.

What I’m talking about is underground hip hop, if you haven’t guessed. The underground is where hip hop started, after all, and naturally that’s where its soul has remained all these years. While the record companies and the mainstream media hype gangsta rap, bling, and booty, the true creative heart of the genre has kept on beating, evolving into political hip hop, impressionistic hip hop, religious hip hop, feminist hip hop, and a whole slew of other sub-subcultures. These are just as much hip hop as Fiddy and Diddy — moreso IMO, because they haven’t sold their souls for a buck.

Unfortunately folks like Mr. Williams don’t seem to be aware of hip hop’s true face. They don’t seem to realize that the rap they’re talking about — usually gangsta rap — is produced by companies that have made their money selling a fantasy of black urban culture to mostly middle-class suburban white kids. They don’t seem to care that sales in this category of hip hop are plummeting precisely for that reason — because the culture that created hip hop moved on to smarter things long ago, and even the suburban white kids are getting bored after nearly 20 years of the same old shit. As a fad, crap rap’s time is passing.

And the Mr. Williams of the world seem completely oblivious to the origins of the hip hop they hate so much. I’m referring in this case to the incestuous corporate media machines that power the supposed blockbusters of hip hop. For example, Black Entertainment Television is owned by Viacom. Contains no actual black people in positions of authority. (Robert Johnson doesn’t own it anymore, and even if he did, I’m not sure at what point a person switches from “black” to “sellout”.) Viacom also owns VH1 and MTV. Think these networks are competitors? I suppose they are, superficially — but since their profits all feed into a single pot, are they really? They mutually benefit from every top-40 hit, because those hits then go into constant rotation on multiple channels, driving up viewership across the board. It’s obviously in their best interest to work together on choosing which hits to promote. But let’s dig deeper. Viacom also owns CBS and Paramount, and has close ties to Tribune Entertainment, which owns big-name newspaper properties like the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. In 2007 Viacom signed a deal with Microsoft to collaborate on promoting MTV and BET properties. Remember, Microsoft owns MSN, a top online news source. Backing up, CBS Corporation owns Showtime, one of the big cable players, and several book publishing conglomerates, like Simon and Schuster. One of Viacom’s properties, CBS Radio, is currently in a distribution deal with Sony BMG — a record company, which owns dozens of big name hip hop acts.

What does this all mean? Well, remember the old saying that there’s no such thing as negative publicity. So for example last year when the Imus scandal erupted, we saw newspapers (owned by Tribune), online and cable news outlets (owned by Microsoft), and broadcast TV news outlets (such as CBS) raise a big stink over the use of the n-word in hip hop (played on radio stations owned by CBS), and playing samples of records (owned by BMG) and videos (found MTV and BET) to illustrate their point. Viewership went up. Readership went up. Page clicks went up. Sales of ads and albums almost surely went up. Meanwhile Imus’ most recent book (published by Simon and Schuster) gets a sales-rank boost on Amazon.

So Imus makes money, Viacom and all its children make money, maybe even a few artists make money… and all for the low low price of the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team’s self-respect. And as a feel-good sop to everyone involved, hip hop gets to be the scapegoat of the hour.

Here’s the thing. That stuff you hear on mainstream radio? The stuff that’s so “controversial” and “popular”? So outrageously misogynist and violent and cutting-edge “hard”? Is a focus-grouped artificial construct cynically produced by one hand of a giant corporation whose other hands (because there are way more than two) are simultaneously promoting said product across a vast multimedia landscape. Said promotional methods include not just ads, not just hype, but “horrified outcry” and other such blatant manipulation of the media. What really slays me is that in the end, the gangsta rappers are the last and lowest-paid of the whole pile. The only people they’re fooling with all that bling BS are white children too ignorant to realize they’re getting chumped, a few (only 29% of sales, remember) kids of color who’ll probably grow out of it, racists who just need an excuse to believe every possible black stereotype… and Mr. Williams, who really ought to know better.

So. The next time any of you out there decide, like Mr. Williams, to make some denigrating blanket statement about hip hop and its terrible, epidemic effect on the black community, please make sure it’s actually hip hop you’re talking about — the real stuff, I mean, and not the musical Frankenstein manufactured by rich old white guys in suits. You’ll sound much smarter if you do.

Many thanks to JAM Renaissance, who awhile back administered my own much-needed smack to the head about what is and isn’t hip hop, and who currently runs one of the smartest podcasts I’ve ever heard from the hip hop underground, 360D Radio.

41 thoughts on “The hip-hop thing.”

  1. Uppitty Negress says:

    Exactly! I’m glad someone gets it.

  2. Sara F. says:

    I’m white and enjoy the sound of hip hop, but being one of those middle-class suburban kids you mention, I’ve rarely been exposed to any songs worth hearing.

    What would you recommend for a beginner to listen to?

  3. Josh Jasper says:

    I found this article interesting. There’s been good research coming out of African American Studies departments on gender and hip-hop.

    I don’t know enough to know what’s correct or not (I may never without serious academic work, which is why I keep quiet about this issue), but I’m finding it all interesting and informative.

    thanks for putting your take on it out there. I tend to be unaware of hip-hop culture because it’s just not of interest to me as an art form.

  4. Sierra Leone says:

    Karnythia, this post was pure genius.

    Speaking as someone closer to Juan Williams age, I know
    I’m not well versed in what hip hop is and what it is not. I do enjoy listening to the occasional artist who uses hip hop as a tool to right social wrongs or who sheds light on and gives possible solutions to cultural issues plaguing the African American community.

    The distinctions you made between mainstream hip hop manufactured by the big corporations, gangster rap, and underground hip hop was delicious. I realize now the hip hop I like most is the underground stuff.

    And I do agree that Mr. Williams panders to conservative people who don’t have a clue.

    I find myself ignoring Williams when he makes blatant generalizations about a subject he knows nothing about. That’s an easy problem to solve, though. It’s called education and research. Something Williams should do more of since he considers himself a professional reporter.

    Three indications that Williams is showing complete ignorance of hip hop are issues highlighted in your post:

    1. Gangster rappers are on the bottom of the food chain compared to the corporations and media outlets that spit out their music, even though they bear most of the blame for our societal ills.

    2. The Rutgers University women’s basketball team (and especially their head coach) are still blasted, mostly by conservative talking heads, for speaking up for themselves against Imus’ racist comments.

    3. The hip hop genre as a whole is blamed for everything from unwed pregnancies to gang violence.

    Using hip hop as a scapegoat is easy for people like Williams. His comments are akin to blaming low level drug dealers for the doping of America, for example.

    Instead of the DEA placing their focus on and stopping the high level suppliers who have the money and the power to get the drugs to dealers in the ‘hood, they focus on the street dealers who take their orders from those higher up on the food chain.

    Although drug dealing should be a punishable offense, nothing is solved by placing mandatory 30 year sentences on these dealers. As soon as they are off the block someone else has already taken their place.

    What would put a dent into the drug trade is to hit the source of the problem: the high level suppliers. If you cut the head off, the body has to follow.

    The same is true for music corporations and media outlets who exploit their artists for that almighty dollar and then step out of the way to let those same artists take the hit for what’s wrong with America.

    Excellent post.

  5. The Angry Black Negrodican says:

    i have never been a “huge” fan of rap or really a fan at all. will smith is still the “crank” in my eyes. (stop laughing) i choose not to listen to some of the rappers out there because of the sh*t they glorify and i really can’t relate to any of what is being said in the lyrics. if a song “happens” to catch my attention, its because of the “track”(the instrumental music).

    i remember when i first met you……..back in 1995. you reminded me of “Queen Latifah”. you were sporting the african get-up quoting “U.N.I.T.Y.” and i think i slapped for fronting and we became friends ever since.

    love ya work and love you!

  6. bridget says:

    thank you so much for this post

  7. Truth says:

    It doesn’t really matter that there are other types of hip-hop out there. The truth is that works by ‘Fiddy and Diddy’ are the only hip-hop the average America comes into contact with, and the example by which all hip-hop is judged.

    I love hip-hop – I’m the 30-something, white, suburban mom you see in her suv singing along and tapping her foot to the local radio station. Admittedly, I like the ‘big corporate’ stuff. I’m a sheep. But I don’t buy Mr. Williams’s claims that hip-hop is what’s wrong with Black America. Remember back in the late 80s/early 90s when the hair bands and heavy metal were big with white teens? The mainstream rock and heavier metal of that time was blamed with influencing kids to attempt suicide and unleash violence on others, and subsequently, listening to it was frowned upon and touted as being the downfall of America’s (white) youth. Funny how I listened to it then and nothing bad happened to me. Then, as now, the popular artists of the day are responsible for influencing the way our teens dress (big hair, Madonna corsets, saggy britches), but music cannot change the inherent character or nature of the listener. Good kids don’t suddenly go bad.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your position that Mr. Williams’s article amounts to the “grumbling that older folks will do about whatever bizarre subcultural fads younger folks latch onto.”

  8. vi says:

    I think it’s interesting that the same groups that talk about the evils of hip-hop vilify a certain type of hip-hop, therefore increasing its exposure. What’s really horrifying to me is that these people, who are in a position of power, are heard, and they get to decide what the merits (or lack thereof) of an entire music genre is by pulling out the most extreme examples, particularly a genre where most of the artists are minorities.

    No one mentions the horrific portrayals of gender and ethnicity in country and rock music. No one mentions how rock music has glorified violence against women or how while the word “ho” is rarely used, the implication of that word is constantly in music from nearly all genres. People don’t mention how drug use and aggressiveness is pushed in nearly every genre, and what this is saying about the record companies.

    I think what really brought this home to me was Dreamworlds 3, which I think everyone should watch before making broad comments about any particular genre of music.

  9. artistatheart says:

    And that’s why it’s important that people of conscience stop funding these conglomerates that are out to denigrate Black women and girls!

  10. Monroe Anderson says:

    Tensions between the generations are natural. I interviewed Thomas Dorsey, the father of gospel music, years ago and he told me he was opposed by ministers from the previous generation who called what he was doing “the devil’s music.”

    So, you’re absolutely correct on your observations about one generation not necessarily caring for the next generation’s music or style of dressing. But on one of your points, you skipped a generation. Juan Williams is from my generation, a baby boomer. He more than likely was listening to The Temptations and The Supremes, not jazz. And, he definitely was wearing a zoo suit. That would have been his daddy. Juan was probably sporting an Afro and a dashiki in his youth.

  11. Foxessa says:

    [ If all you’re listening to is what’s in constant rotation on the Clear Channel and other “big corporate” radio networks, then you’re hearing only the tip of a massive and diverse iceberg. ]

    And it’s propaganda pushed into the communities about what to expect and how to behave.

    You get this so strongly listening to radio in your car driving (pre-Flood) around New Orleans. This is what you must do, what you must expect, and that includes murder — committing it, becoming an victim of murder, either by another solja or the cops, going to prison.

    I was in shock at the blatancy of the social engineering by the Big Corporation ‘urban’ station blasting this out 24/7.

    What is even more heartbreaking were the plays of the local stuff that got on the station at particular times of the day. Let’s face it: this is New Orleans. The musicality of this was the very best. No matter how horrible the words and vision of the no-future they were providing. the beats, well they swung / swing. This is New Orleans. The talent there, is so deep, so many generations deep.

    Love, C.

  12. Diane J Standiford says:

    I KNEW this, in my gut, but didn’t know the who and where…it is so exhausting to figure out who owns what anymore, sometimes I think one person owns this whole USA.

  13. littlem says:

    The truth is that works by ‘Fiddy and Diddy’ are the only hip-hop the average America comes into contact with, and the example by which all hip-hop is judged.

    In our ever-more simplistic, non-critical-thinking culture, I’d say this is part of the problem.

    As a girl — and one who has worked in the industry — I think it’s overstating the matter to say that it’s the example by which ALL hip-hop is judged, but I think it’s fair to say that a lot of current hip-hop consumers — certainly most of the under-30, suburban, white male ones — have never heard of K.R.S One, or Talib Kweli, or Dead Prez, or La Gattita, or have any clue that there was once an era when Flav was less of a misogynist clown and Chuck was the larger public voice of PE.

    What focusing on that issue doesn’t do, however, is deal with the larger economic forces — the labels and focus groups pushing this stuff — and the consumer forces — the young girls whose self-esteem is so in the toiet and so focused on trying to secure male approval in their communities they don’t have the mental wherewithal to turn off this crap — that

    1) keep the crap hip hop ON the air and selling
    2) keep the progressive and polticallly conscious hip hop OFF the air and floundering economically, thus reducing the culture’s awareness that it’s even there.

    So I don’t think just saying that the gangsta rappers are the lowest paid in the pile and under pressure from the labels to produce the crap relieves them of pressure NOT to produce it.

    (And I’m not ignoring their larger economic incentives; either, just saying that it’s a more complex question than whether Juan Williams is all the way right or all the way wrong.)

    Thanks for the link, nojojojo. I couldn’t really tell from his article whether Mr. Williams was
    – an academic attempting to “simplify for his audience”,
    – a conservative attempting to curry favor with a specific demographic, or just
    – a blowhard who liked to write about “controversial” subjects and listen to himself talk.

  14. siri says:

    I am so in love with this post you have no idea. A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the world of underground, twin cities hip-hop and I fell in love–it was everything I was told hip-hop *wasn’t*: smart, musical, poetic, socially conscious, in the midwest. (Because, let’s face it: nothing is supposed to happen in the midwest.) Twin cities hip-hop is academic, too; or, at least aware of its importance as living history…U of M has a hip-hop history class that (from what I understand) grew out of the scene. There is still quite a bit that I don’t know about hip-hop, especially outside of the twin cities, but, from what I have listened to, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve said.

    Anyway, yeah…this is basically a drive by reccomendation for the twin cities hip-hop artists–I have a tendency to approach everyone who might remotely be interested, wether I know them or not, to point them towards the twin cities. I got my start listening to Dessa ( and the rest of Doomtree…which wasn’t at all subtle of me, but, yeah. They’re underground; they’re the ‘good guys’; they deserve all the press they can get–they deserve all the ears they get. Their music is brilliant.

  15. Kim says:

    It always seemed to me that the criticism of hip hop was concerning the pop culture version, not underground or indie artists, but I definitely see where you’re coming from. I like this article a lot, and I agree with vi’s point that racism, sexism, and other problems are inherent in a lot of music. I’d never thought about controversy being incestuously used to fuel sales, but you’re absolutely right.

    I never much liked the sound of mainstream rap, but I’ve been attending some slam poetry that uses beat and rhythm in similar ways. It draws a lot of talented black poets and listeners, and I’m really enjoying what I hear there.

  16. Truth says:

    Good point, littlem. That could be rephrased to read:

    “The truth is that works by ‘Fiddy and Diddy’ are the only hip-hop the average American comes into contact with, and the example by which they will judge other hip-hop.”

  17. Folklore Fanatic says:

    This has a ton of good information that I knew existed but hadn’t found before. Thanks!

  18. Pingback: Thoughts on Hip-Hop « The Scary Door
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  20. Adam Ziegler says:

    Yup. This type of overgeneralization has happened with other music genres, but here and now hip hop seems to be the primary target. I haven’t heard anyone complaining recently about the bad messages in heavy metal, but I did when I was growing up. (Born in 68.)

    There is plenty of awesome hip hop out there, plus it is hard to escape the influence that hip hop has had on broader musical tastes. It’s brought a wave of fresh invention. For example, I enjoy Beck’s music which draws heavily on hip hop.

    One of my recent favorites: “Kill Your Employer” by Busdriver. Title sound scary? Listen to it or at least read the lyrics before jumping to any conclusions.

  21. Saladin says:

    Nice post!

    Hip Hop music has been one of the biggest cultural influences on my life. There’s no music that makes me feel the same way, and it’s amazing how often old rap lyrics pop into my head as commentary on whatever situation I am facing at a given moment. It was big in my immigrant community growing up, too. I knew kids from Yemen that learned how to do a headspin before they learned English. My father, hippest old Arab man on the planet, brought home a copy of ‘The Message’ when I was 9 years old. I LOVED the stuff.

    But I haven’t bought a new hip hop record in almost ten years. Once in a while I download a song or two from itunes (that first Nappy Roots album a few years back was pretty decent, for instance). Why? Because somewhere along the line hip hop went from being complicated and virtuoso-driven and sexist and messy and avant-garde and political and materialistic and funny and mind-blowing and uplifting and hypnotic to ONLY being boring, misogynistic,
    money-grubbing and poorly made. When I was 16, a lot of adults (and many many white kids) said that rap was just a bunch of guys talking about stupid shit over bad/stolen music. They were wrong then, but it’s amazing how often I now sound like them.

    I realize there are some underground artists still doing things decently. But that is such a different, ‘scrambling for crumbs’ feeling than the early 90s, when brilliant stuff was all over the place. Or the mid-90s when great rappers were actually ON THE RADIO!

    As several posters point out, this more due to corporatization than anything else. Puffy is not and has never been a ip hop artist (though once upon a time he was a half-decent producer). Nelly is not a hip hop artist. ChamiLudiFabu-whoever are not hip hop artists. They’re entertainers. Vile media clowns, not artists. And the A&R behind them (and the honchos behind that A&R) are ten times more vile .

    Points of light? I will say that more and more people I trust have been telling me to give Lil’ Wayne a listen. Ten years ago he was a baby-faced horrible rapper with a worse crew, but it seems he’s grown some in skills and complexity… Still, such bubbles are probably the last bits of oxygen from the mouth of a drowned corpse…

    I’d have to check my star charts, but I’m pretty sure some unprecedented astrologicall horror must have aligned in 1998 — to me that was the year hip hop died. Or at least went brain dead. At this point, someone needs to pull the plug.

  22. passthatdutch says:

    I really wish people would stop saying that baggy pants/hiphop style are causing problems, rather than the stereotypes around the style. It’s just such ignorance, and I think a failure to see outside of their own little bubble. The problem is articles like the one you linked to, not the kids themselves..

    This seems to be a somewhat hot topic lately, I bumped into this recommendation which sounds really interesting.

    And thanks for the links to some great music!

  23. jsb16 says:

    As Foxessa and littlem mentioned, some of the most vulnerable kids hear only the mass-produced stuff. Or, at least, that’s what they talk about in class. I’d like to roast the people responsible for promoting the self-hating, woman-hting, violence-infested crap. Until I have the chance, though, I suppose I’ll add 360D Radio to my iPod and just ask the kids who claim to be so “hip” if they listen to it.

  24. tj.matthews says:

    I am now a nojojojo groupie! Perfectly written piece.

  25. Tania says:

    “Remember back in the late 80s/early 90s when the hair bands and heavy metal were big with white teens? The mainstream rock and heavier metal of that time was blamed with influencing kids to attempt suicide and unleash violence on others, and subsequently, listening to it was frowned upon and touted as being the downfall of America’s (white) youth. Funny how I listened to it then and nothing bad happened to me. ”

    Same here, which is why I’ve always been pretty cynical about “Hip-Hop is destroying the black community” accusations. I wish for once someone would try to prove this instead of expecting everyone to nod their heads to their “just so” story. For instance, before hip-hop, how well was the black community really doing? Additionally, what would these people have black youth listen to instead… amusement should then ensue as they proffer suggestions of inherently “edifying genres”.

  26. JAMRenaissance says:

    I obviously agree quite a bit with what you are saying; I decided to create not only a podcast, but what is now a network of podcasts dedicated to the music and issues that I think are missing from the radio.

    However, in this sort of analysis, I think we are focusing far too quickly on blaming The Man, and not quickly enough on blaming ourselves.

    There are two quick thoughts that I make reference to:

    (1) There are a LOT of Black people that are fans of the mainstream product. It is far too easy to dismiss them, but a lot of the youth are actually fans of the Webbie’s, Souljah Boy’s, and Rick Ross’s of the world. Just because we, as older fans, are not as into it that does not mean that it can be ignored; quite the opposite, actually, as hip-hop is traditionally fueled by the youth.

    (2) It is a shame that the sort of “adult” or “mature” hip-hop that is available goes unsupported. “Mature” R&B (Mary J Blige, Alicia Keys, and the like) can still easily go platinum, but anything mature hip-hop untouched by Kanye West (Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Mos Def) goes untouched. We, as older “fans” of hip-hop, are really to blame for the disparity in sales, because WE are not buying it…

  27. Joc says:

    Thanks for the article. I wound up devoting my academic career in undergrad to studying hip-hop. I’ve been so submerged in the subcultures of the subculture that I rarely get to encounter the kind of blatant generalizations–and do be honest, I ignore it when I do.

    As someone who grew up during the rize of bling-era rap from the South, I have a different take on the 50 and Puff (old school). I grew up listening to gangsta rap and raunch rap (Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, etc) and I credit them (and my mom and books) with my current political consciousness. If as a form of resistance to certain things in the music that I didn’t like or didn’t feel represented me. Or because of explicit messages in the work–I consider myself to be a sex positive feminist because of a lot of the messages that I heard from other Black women in hip-hop about owning your sexuality.

    I’m not silly enough to suggest that popular hip-hop is the best thing. I think its riddled with sexism, misogyny, and homophobia that detracts from its substance. However, I don’t see it as being so different from turn of the century Blues or Funk with their exaltation of the personal and the pleasurable. “Jelly in my Bowl” and the “Atomic Dog” are not songs about racial uplift. And I don’t think they have to be. But I think blues women and funk artists mainstream and underground are allowed to be more complex than mainstream rap artists are.

    And that’s sad because people doing a lot of really amazing work is being looked over because they also happen to have a single on a top-40 radio station. David Banner being to me a prime example.

    Okay I could talk about this forever (and probably will in my journal) but I won’t take up more comment space. Thanks for the article still. It had some great points. (i.e. the fact that much of mainstream Black music is channeled through white corporate structures).

  28. Incertus says:

    Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Mos Def

    Those were some of the names I had in mind as well, reading this piece. I’m a nearly 40 year old white guy from the south, but I was an early adopter in my area when it came to rap, and I have to say that I really loved this post, because it rings so true to me.

    And a couple to add to that list–The Coup (Boots Riley) and Lifesavas are in the same mold as the people listed above. And for a Latin group, I’m a big fan of Ozomatli (even though I don’t understand half the lyrics).

  29. Jenn says:

    I cant believe what you are saying is not common sense! (I mean that in the most respectful way)

    Thank you very much for eloquently explaining something that needed to be said. As a lover of hip hop and a scholar of African American Studies. (B.A.) I frequently have had to defend and explain my love for true Hip Hop. Now, I can just send people to this post.

    -my added commentary-

    There is a thin line between Art and propaganda. Art is a reflection of life while commercial hip hop is propaganda for what certain people want to portray our lives to be.

    Dont buy into the propaganda.

    and, when I re-read your post I have to agree with what Mr. Williams is actually saying !

    The corporate media machines {also known as mainstream hip hop} are the cause for “high drop-out rates, record black-on-black murder statistics and a record number of out-of-wedlock births”

    They create, normalize and glamourize a society that doesnt really exist. They perpetuate racism, and encourage ignorance.

    Perhaps that is exactly what the propaganda intended?

    Such a big issue to be addressed in one post….
    I guess I am saying…

    Dont blame the propaganda, blame the authors.

  30. abw says:

    My issue with the overcriticism of gangster rap now and heavy metal then was that many of these critics will criticize the messages in the music that unapologetically glorify
    misogyny,greed,promiscuity,lust and violence in music but sanction these very values in other arenas of society and other media. In other words its bad when minorities, young folks, and poor people support these things but not whites,adults, and upper class folks, You’ll usually send the local area crack dealer to jail for years but penalty wise slap the corporate CEO responsible for Enron-style theft on the wrist. Y’all get the picture. I am not one to say any of this stuff is above criticism but if you claim to be objective, you should criticize this stuff whereever you see it! It also galls me to no end that people will accept institutional inequality and bad policies as the status quo-or the ‘way it is’ but get mad the negative results of these bad decisions come into view.

  31. abw says:

    Joc, honestly, there should be a variety of messages we hear in black music, and a variety of image we should see in black music videos and black movies. It could be much worse, I suppose-but it could be much better.

  32. abw says:

    JamRenaissance, we share some blame in this, but I came across a study that said that even black youth get tired of the constant overemphasis of misogyny, violence, etc. that is consistently promoted in mainstream rap all the time. It is no secret that black youth like some of the mainstream crap/rap out-but that ain’t all they are listening to either!

    As for the second observation, I do not completely dispute this, but even ‘mature’ hip hop does not always seem get promoted as well compared to mainstream hip hop!

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  35. JAMRenaissance says:

    There should not intrinsically be a mixture of anything in radio.

    A radio station’s job is not to advance an art form, nor is it the record company’s job to do so.

    Their job is to make money. The lowest “common denominator” (i.e. most base and easily digestible thing) tends to make the most money.

    This is why I have such a difficulty buying into “Corporate America wants to numb the Black youth’s mind” theories, at least as a sole cause for this phenomenon. Economics explains what we see as well as any conspiracy. Hence the solution I posit – put your money where your mouth is if you want “good” music. Everywhere I turned around, I saw advertisment’s for The Roots’ “Game Theory”, and Lupe Fiasco was unescapable leading up to “The Cool”. What happened?

    Similarly, the same kids that are saying they are tired of misogyny and violence are the ones banging “Superman Dat Hoe” and “Coffee Shop”… songs that are not overt with what they are saying and hide behind danceable music.

  36. R-SON the Voice of Reason says:

    I think I’m in love! Thank you for the insight. I feel like I’ve been titling at windmills, saying the same things for years!

    Hey Sara F., check out Akrobatik, J-Live, The Last Emperor, KRS-One, MURS, Little Brother, The Flight Brothers, JazzAddixx, Hieroglyphics. I could go on for days because there is so much good HipHop out there worth exploring.

  37. littlem says:

    And that’s why it’s important that people of conscience stop funding these conglomerates that are out to denigrate Black women and girls!

    artistatheart, you betta preach.

  38. A. J. Luxton says:

    I haven’t had a lot of exposure to hip-hop other than the radio stuff (which I dislike, just as I dislike the pop and other styles of music on the radio, leading me to mostly avoid the radio these days. Honestly, the big music industry has a gun to its foot and just keeps shooting.)

    But as soon as you mentioned Hydroponic Sound System singing about writing, that got my attention, and although that track’s not on their myspace page, the stuff that is appeals. I’m bookmarking this post and the comments so that I can seek out more of this quality music when I get back to the States.

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  41. Juan says:

    Love this post and its knowledge dropping. Love how it digs into why we’re given what we’re given on the radio.

    I not only just shake my head at Williams but also at [mostly white people] who condenm and talk about how much they despise hip-hop and rap (to which they never seem able to differentiate, heck they even confuse it with R&B). Something about their tone or attitude, online and offline, just sounds so ugly and subtextual. Never hear that same sort when it comes to “mainly white” occupied genres of music.

    I especially hate it when they tend to derail any interesting conversation on a subject like this. Glad it hasn’t happened here. =)

    But I think that some of these conversation usually get bogged down between the gansta vs. conscious dichotomy. It often sidelines other forms in hip-hop music. Among them: it was music you can dance to.

    Actually dance to.

    Not the “booty shaking” and “clothed sex” people proclaim to be part and parcel to all-black clubs (ignoring that such dancing exists in the the mainly white–usually referred to as “mixed” clubs) but actual dancing.

  42. nojojojo says:

    Belated addition: more evidence of how the media profits from its own negative publicity re hip hop, gacked from And We Shall March: Playboy plans to publish an article with the title: “The Black KKK”, with the subheader that “Hip hop is killing the black community”. The article has nothing to do with hip hop, or any KKK.

  43. anonymous bw, mystery writer says:

    Jam Renaissance, I am not saying the consumer never plays a role in some of the stuff heard, but speaking for myself, I did buy insightful music CD’s when I spent my money. This was well before Kanye or Lupe Fiasco even came on the scene. I have not been spending my money as of late because I have not been buying CD’s. I also know that profit drives alot of things but alot of mainstream artist are not that profitable, yet they still get airplay that other rappers don’t. There have been times that some albums of say Jay Z have not sold as good as others but they still got played. But heaven’s forbid a conscious rapper or any other rapper talking about themes like money, women, etc.. fall slightly short of the remark-they get canned! WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD.Part of the reason I blame corporate control is because hip hop is not the only genre this is done in! This has been done over and over in black music in particular and American music in general!Also, many of the same kids that tire of the misogyny and violence in hip hop ARE NOT buying this stuff because they are not buying music. I do not buy this line of reasoning because when hip hop first came out there was all kinds of songs. I am aware that was about twenty years ago and times have changed along with the target audience, but not as much as folks want to claim in reference to this music since folks from all age groups in the black community talk about how they wished rap talked about all kinds of stuff- and often precisely go to buy rap when they have access to it.. Also, considering that most of the people buying hip hop is white, how can it be a guarantee that the reason non-gangsta rappers ain’t successful solely because black kids don’t support it-and I am not saying kids never buy gangsta rap I am just saying that AIN’T ALL they buy. To the extent your Lupe Fiasco’s get overlooked,part of the reason the artist you mentioned get overlook is because folks don’t always see them over the other rap played! I am not saying that the consumer is NEVER to blame but all of what you see ain’t the consumers fault either. AGAIN, I AIN”T PUT THIS SOLELY ON CORPORATE CONTROL, BUT ALL THIS AIN”T THE CONSUMER’S PROBLEM EITHER! Also, as for advice for supporting good music, you are preaching to the choir. When I am able to get the hip hop I like, I do buy it. Don’t assume this ain’t the case!

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