The Hip Hop Debate continues

Did you see the recent internet and audience based hip hop ‘on trial’ debate from this summer. What did you think?

The motion debated – Hip Hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it.

When it was first shown I didn’t watch it, but I know of some peeps who went, or watched online and commented.

The reason I didn’t watch it live, was because so much really depends on what your basic definition of Hip Hop is. Anyone who saw Hip Hop grow from the start, is going to have a very different view, and some might say ownership, of Hip Hop. I can only give a perception of what it has meant to me as I grew up with it.

What hip hop means to me

I first heard hip hop in 1981. I was at that time, extending parts of tunes I liked from old disco tunes, by recording instrumental breaks on cassette, and then keeping on the beat and re-recording them, so the instrumental break was longer. I loved the percussion or rhythm guitar and just wanted to hear more of them. I did it for myself. I didn’t know this was being done anywhere else.
Then I heard the Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on The Wheels of Steel, and parts of different tunes were being ‘extracted’, repeated, scratched, and rapped over. I didn’t know it was sampling then. I didn’t know it was break beats then. I knew it was like nothing I’d ever heard. I knew I fell in love with it straight away.

(c) Sloetry

More hip hop came, and samples and break beats used from tunes that I had loved, gave honour to the original tune, but also the creation of an art form using essentially a live remix and yet more overlaid. The artistry, skill and ingenuity frankly just blew me away. So part one, Hip Hop to me was and is about the DJ.

Part 2 came from lyrics like in The Message, and later Public Enemy. Hip Hop actually stood for something to me. Revolution, change. Even if not for me, it was opening my eyes to something wrong in the world. So Hip Hop fundamentally by definition to me was a ‘constructive’ art. It was positively about change. To me, my perception it was a fight for equality.

So I’ll reiterate, this is my perception of Hip Hop from time. So when Biggie and 2Pac hit the scene. Me, personally, I didn’t feel them. I still don’t. I respect their legacy for the scene and what they mean for others, so I will never diss them. I can only say the first 2Pac track I bought was California Love when I listened to the other tracks on the EP, I was shocked at 2Pac going off with some violent chat. It’s a shame, because it stopped me listening to much of his work music and words that I know many people revere. Maybe if I’d heard more of his work first, then I would have a more rounded view of him. With Biggie, the talk of B’s as women, again, I couldn’t really get inspired to check much else out. Do I like some tunes by both 2Pac and Biggie. Of course. Am I a hater? Of course not. I simply never have got into Hip Hop that went down this route.

Hip Hop, if it is Hip Hop, and that’s my point, left me for many years.

Only really Guru (Rest In Peace) and DJ Premier as Gang Starr kept my interest trusted lyrics, DJ based. It was my kind of Hip Hop. But I’d really left ‘the scene’. And it’s for this reason I wonder if I’m the Hip Hop lover that I’ve always claimed to be. I have a huge gap in Hip Hop knowledge because I left a scene I didn’t personally buy into. Either way, I look back at it now, and I think I love the ethos of what I thought Hip Hop was this fight for truth, justice, equality, change and revolution. True Hip Hop was not sexist nor homophobic (and it should still be neither now). Maybe I love that ethos more than I love Hip Hop, and my claim that Hip Hop has to have that ethos could be flawed. But that’s what it means to me.

What brought me back to Hip Hop, and discovering a lot of tunes that I had kept away from, was female MC’s. I got into Missy telling it from a woman’s angle. I just found it refreshing. I don’t really like male dominance in the world.

Spoken Word – A Constructive Art

When I first got into the spoken word scene, about 2006, I saw this as an extension of hip hop. Not because it was like rapping . Def not!!, but because the messages I heard from the likes of Mosaique, David J, Kat Francois, Zena Edwards etc., were talking to me in the same way Hip Hop did. But it’s now I’m starting to realise that maybe I love the ‘Constructive Arts’ more than I love Hip Hop. I thought I loved Hip Hop, but I loved an ethos, which extends to constructive art from many forms, some Hip Hop, poetry, reggae, even calypso. And more recently for me Afrobeat.

Afrobeat has totally immersed me the last year, and I simply can’t get enough of it. It’s drawing me to explore much more music from other nations in Africa. You see like Hip Hop, I love a constructive message firing over a contagious beat. And as with a good DJ, I love a beat to be relentless (P.S…and I love funk rhythm guitar).

One issue with Hip Hop I have a radio show with a clean language policy on the station. How much hip hop do you think I can play (no I’m not re-buying my whole collection in ‘clean version’). The answer, too little. Does that say something? Does it say something about how we define Hip Hop? Does it confirm the premise, that we have to define what Hip Hop truly is and stands for, before we start debating its value to society? Because the version I thought I loved, (and still do), is life changing and would kick every corrupt politician and banker off their asses all over a beat to die for.

I’m just not sure if that’s the version of Hip Hop (real Hip Hop) that we’re debating.

5 Responses to “The Hip Hop Debate continues”

  1. Ah, that age-old debate about ‘real’ hip hop and the societal impact of this music. It will always be contentious because hip hop is a ‘genre’ but is too often spoken about in an essentialist way as a specific musical canon. The same debate isn’t had with rock music or country, or any other genre that has artists who are controversial or negative (except maybe dancehall reggae).
    It’s like media coverage of Africa, as a country rather than a continent, which doesn’t happen in the same way when discussing Europe or Asia. Or, I’ll take it a step further and say it’s like the media discussing black people (or any perceived minority group for that matter). Like Africa, black people or minority groups in the media, hip hop is bestowed this representative element – what one (or a few) artists do seems to represent the whole genre… like corruption in one (or a few) African countries represents the whole continent, and why black people on TV are watched closely to make sure they’re not embarrassing the entire race (cue Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight).
    When really, hip hop is as diverse a genre as Africa is a continent and people are people. There is lots of good, constructive, positive hip hop and if that’s what you listen to music for, you’ll find it and if you just want dirty beats, you’ll find that too. Media has a funny way of shaping debates so that the sides are pre-determined: You can get with this, or you can get that. Society responds to media – whatever gets the coverage gets debated.

    I didn’t watch the ‘trial’ on hip hop… folks need to change the record already, throw on some Afrobeat and stop this wahala 😉

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