I admit that this is probably going to be one of those sanctimonious posts where I do my best to persuade you that hip hop has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended). I just want to get it out there that hip hop is still the voice of millions of disaffected people, regardless of whatever ridiculous pair of shoes Kanye is promoting these days.
Ignore the fact that the most commercial successful hip hop artists are not always the best role models. Forget the fact that the so-called gangsta rappers of today are pathetic doppelgangers of the socially concious rebels of years gone by (think of G-Unit v.s. NWA). Hip hop is not just auto-tune and cookie-cutter sampling.
In much of the developing world, hip hop still maintains the powerful momentum that it once had in the US. Artists are still using the music to communicate their message and try to advocate for something worthwhile. I’m going to try and highlight a few of these examples for you.
ABC News highlights a Senegalese group that does just this. Moussa Lo, a.k.a. Waterflow claims that he uses hip hop to be a sort of journalist in a country with a less-than-independent media. He maintains that he’s doing this to exploit the corruption that plagues his country.
Waterflow wants people to know about the myriad of problems facing Senegalese youth. The lack of jobs and opportunity has hundreds fleeing to Europe on tiny and unsafe boats. Many of these people never make it. Quite astutely, he draws a comparison to Cubans fleeing to Florida. It’s not a problem many would ever think about, but his enormous popularity guarantees that this message reaches a shocking number of the population. People who may not have access or may not have the inclination to learn about social issues aborb it in a subtle way.
BBC News, on the other hand, is promoting hip hop artists from Guinea who are using hip hop to confront much more visible problems and containing a youth focus. In Guinea, the government violently suppressed protests in 2007. This was the tipping point for many rappers of that generation, who began to buck the Guinean tradition of positive music. Instead, they began lashing out at the government, accusing the leaders of corruption and poor governance
I understand that this may not be a new message. In the US, Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network has been doing its part to advocate for better governance. But in Guinea, this takes on a whole new meaning. Hip hop is increasingly used to politicize the youth and inform them of major issues. It’s not a simple matter of name-calling or suggesting the leader is an idiot (as many American rappers did during George W.’s term). Instead it becomes a much more poignant message, reminding youth of their responsibilities as citizens.
“When injustice becomes law, to revolt becomes one’s duty,” says Guinean rapper Phaduba Keita. When was the last time you heard that from a commercially successful rapper in the US? You’re more likely to get Kanye pimping a Silk Collar Bomber Jacket that costs $2500. I get there are underground rappers trying their best, but even Sage Francis has nothing on this guy.
Last, NPR is hyping indigenous Bolivian hip hop artists. If you’re getting tired of me ranting about political stuff, here’s your chance. I imagine at least some of you have been wanting to grab me by my non-silk collar and tell me that rap wasn’t always about protest. It wasn’t always political. Hip hop and rap grew out of dance music, grew out of parties in the bronx. It was the music of Grandmaster Flash and was designed to make people dance. I hear you, I truly do. And I’m not saying that music like that doesn’t have it’s place. Hip hop needs its club music, it needs the lighter stuff to complete the yin yang duality. I respect what Jay Z does, and I’m not hating on him without reason. There’s just more out there.
Some countries, like Bolivia and South Africa have a long and proud tradition of protest music. The NPR piece here focuses on the rap coming from Abraham Bojorquez, an Aymara Indian. His music is as historical as it is political. It speaks about the racism indigenous Bolivians face, and tries to honor their cultures and traditions.
Here’s the NPR interview here.[audio:http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/day/2008/10/20081001_day_08.mp3]
And there you have it. I’ve said my piece. 4080 has long been trying to promote hip hop in unconvential spaces, and we have no intention of stopping. I don’t mean to say that every album on your ipod needs to have that deeper meaning, or that you should be tossing away that copy of Big Willie Style you dance around to when no one is home. Just remember, the next time someone comes at you with an argument about how hip hop is responsible for the degredation of society, that it is the reason why kids are failing school and shooting each other in the streets. You can look them in the eye and admit that hip hop is changing the world. Only you can use these examples and show them that maybe it’s changing it for the better.