Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hip Hop: "You The Love of My Life"

Lonnae O'Neal Parker's piece from Sunday's Washington Post is all the buzz in the hip hop world. Although it's a well written piece and absorbing to read, the argument is completely misguided and lacking in substance. Hence, it enters that already crowded hall of anti-hip hop apologists who preach that same tired sermon to the same applauding choir:

That my decision to end our love affair had come only after years of disappointment and punishing abuse. After I could no longer nod my head to the misogyny or keep time to the vapid materialism of another rap song. After I could no longer sacrifice my self-esteem or that of my two daughters on an altar of dope beats and tight rhymes.

No, darling, I'm not anti-hip-hop, I told her. And it's true, I still love hip-hop. It's just that our relationship has gotten very complicated.

The first problem here is simple: you can't stop kids from listening to hip hop - or any pop music for that matter. Especially budding teens who are bound to get their fix of Billboard hits and MTV pics from equally driven peers at a variety of settings: from school to the local mall to when adult supervision has to run an errand and leaves the latch-key kid home (or, in the case of many single-parent African American homes, has no choice but to work several hours beyond when the kids reach home thereby offering ample time to play video games, watch BET and engage in activities that parents hope kids are not engaged in).

The parents of today must realize that they were the kids of yesterday - and, yes, we found numerous creative ways to catch our daily doses of hip hop, including the hip hop our parents found objectionable.

An often overlooked technique is actually talking with the kids about it or investigating their perspective through educated discourse. There's a bit a intellectual laziness in assuming that you can simply resolve the problem by cutting the child off from a rather complex, creative and important global phenomenon as hip hop. Get their perspective on why this or that song is "hot." Then: introduce some flavor-filled alternatives to the dumb stuff. Give the kids some context.

The second problem here is assuming that all hip hop is defined by commercial radio. Again, the intellectual laziness returns because diatribes on the pop-culture maladies within hip hop are absent any serious examination of the totality of hip hop. Instead, it's a knee jerk reaction to objectionable content in songs rotated endlessly on a pop radio turntable. There is no look into the complete artistic realm of hip hop - what is on FM radio is actually a small, but well-marketed and heavily financed fraction of the world of hip hop. To suddenly paint all of hip hop as mindless, disrespectful and unseemly dribble is a slap in the face to the thousands of emcees (the corps of true poets, thinkers and lyricists) who break many a pencil on a pad to entertain droves of endearing connoiseurs of the art that is hip hop. Parker's column ignores that because she's immersed in what pop-culture is feeding her. They never get signed, never get promoted, nor will their tracks make it to a big city FM station dial. Instead, you find them on late night college radio segments, downloaded on mp3s from the underground depths of websites or battling each other verse-for-verse in smoke-filled clubs like their jazz forefathers from another time. There are a few who do "make it", but manage to keep it as real as the limitations of the record industry that puts food on their table will allow. But, they all get mad respect and love for what they create.