cant stop wont stop progress
October 30, 2007 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Fight the Power: A New Movement for Civil Rights by Jeff Chang.

Can hip-hop grow into its potential? Can rap sell activism as well as it has $150 sneakers, bottle service, and grill work? Can the very people who've made vast fortunes off selling stupid help reform the industry? "The thing I love about hip-hop," says Chavis, "is that it is evolutionary. It replenishes itself. I get in trouble all the time for saying this, but hip-hop is doing what the civil rights movement was only dreaming about."
posted by shotgunbooty (16 comments total)
The bottom line for the commercial success of any music is money. What sells is what gets played. And revolution does not sell (nor is it televised).

Times change. Revolution sold really well in the 60's and at the dawn of rap too. Perhaps people will catch on again to the fact that they're being sold down the river by their own government.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:32 PM on October 30, 2007

Lupus_YonderBoy: "they're being sold down the river by their own government"

Have been sold. Past tense.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:00 PM on October 30, 2007

There is plenty of 'activist' hip hop for people who like that sort of thing, but I think it's likely that the most popular stuff will be crap, I mean it's true of most pop music. Britney Spears, Nickleback, Creed, the Backstreet Boys. All huge, all crap. The same will probably be true of Rap.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 PM on October 30, 2007

This is new? I get the sense that this article could have been written five, even ten years ago. Activist hip-hop has always been a strand of the scene and its culture, but to call it the root? Pleasant wishful thinking. Paid in Full was right there with You Must Learn, so to speak.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:06 PM on October 30, 2007

delmoi writes "There is plenty of 'activist' hip hop for people who like that sort of thing, but I think it's likely that the most popular stuff will be crap, I mean it's true of most pop music."

Well, Public Enemy was probably the most popular "conscious" rap group of their time, and they were excellent. But these days Flavor Flav takes any paying gig thrown at him. Can't blame him, I guess, but not exactly fightin the power anymore.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:32 PM on October 30, 2007

There's this problem where people feel forced to equate "rap music" with hip-hop. Rap music is the most visible, most profitable, aspect of hip-hop, but it is also the least participatory, and least indicative of what hip-hop is about. And it's hard to articulate, because in so many ways it is all intertwined. Yes, the thuggery is a part of hip-hop, but it's not what makes hip-hop thrive. It's just what sells best.

"It's one of the wonders of the world that this little neighborhood thing, that when I started vibing on it was maybe 10,000 kids running around the city, has completely changed the face of the planet," Quickley says. "All the corporations and commercial interests try to tell you otherwise, but I've seen it go down like that in my lifetime."

This quote says so much about what I try to tell people about why hip-hop is so much better, and so much more important than what you see in the videos. I've been all over the world, and it never ceases to amaze me the places that I've seen hip-hop. And I'm not talking mainstream music. I'm talking kids freestyling in Tokyo. Breakdancing in Australia, Writing Graffiti in Sao Paolo. Hip Hop's strongest attribute, and it's most dangerous weapon is that it's completely inclusive, completely participatory, and requires nothing more than a desire to be seen and heard to belong.

That's all hip-hop is, a culture of being seen and heard, invented by those who nobody really wanted to look at or listen to. When this current phase of corporate music is done with, hip-hop will still be around. "Hip hop activism" isn't using rap music to raise consciousness, it's using the same attitude that created hip hop to raise consciousness. Whether or not it succeds remains to be seen, but given that it's the only thing going that unites so many different people, it might be our best shot.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:51 PM on October 30, 2007

Consciousness-raising isn't really that useful without action.

I was on a trip in Guatemala and there was a woman in our party who was an old hippie-type -- we got along well but she kept going on about how successful the environmental movement had been in the last 20 years and finally I had to ask, "How could this be? Surely the last 20 years have been a disaster for the environment pretty well all over the world?" and she said, "Yes, but awareness of the issue is so much greater!" and I felt a little sick...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:25 PM on October 30, 2007

Hip-hop, like metal or punk, gets slammed into the same roadblock that most youth culture eventually crashes into: commercial viability. Every one loves rebellion against the status quo. In reality most people prefer to get their counter-culture in their car while driving to the mall. So what's a young rapper to do to maintain their egde? Be more hardcore? Tell it like it is? Problem is, most people listening are just tourists; hard hard as hell while they're cruising to Starbucks with the windows down, fighting the power with their headphones on a 15 min. lunch break. Commercial hip-hop is an escapist fantasy made by the ignorant nouveau-riche for the impressionable rube. Don't get me started on the misoginy, the ladies deserve better.
posted by tighttrousers at 10:53 PM on October 30, 2007

"misogyny", how very odd of me
posted by tighttrousers at 11:00 PM on October 30, 2007

I was surprised that this article didn't mention Saul Williams, who I was quoting and linking to an mp3 of earlier today.
posted by finite at 11:24 PM on October 30, 2007

The bottom line for the commercial success of any music is money.

that may be a triple tautology. it's simplicity itself to argue that success is not necessarily commercial and there are many musicians that would argue so, as well as live out their argument.

Works of music, by themselves, won't change the larger culture, but certain musicians' practices do keep the seeds of a participatory culture alive in clubs, spaces, and warehouses. A Woodstock is not a march on washington, and the national solidarity economy of under 18 yr olds playing in each others' basements is not the underground railroad.

But the skills are transferable, and the realization by the participants that the skills are transferable is electrifying. Politics as usual is not nearly as inspiring or democratic, which is why most musicians are non-partisan. there is little benefit our standard, authoritarian party politics can scrape from this kind of participation.

America seriously lacks social cohesion. If hip-hop can produce generation(s) of social and political activists out of the ghettos of america, that benefit outweighs the damage the industry can do with "hip-hop" to people with our culture.

The larger, fainter hope is that hip-hop culture has more of a claim to authenticity on the music than punk did on rock music. Kurt Cobain went out like a punk, Ian MacKaye has withdrawn the fight and claimed that he's not out to destroy Corporate media; but could hip-hop's culture be strong enough to organize musicians against the excesses of industry, to change the larger culture? The international network of hip-hop artists, broader and deeper than what punk got, whispers yes.
posted by eustatic at 8:02 AM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can hip-hop get past the thug life and back to its radical roots?

It needs to be said that Thug Life was explicitly a radical (albeit really horribly misguided) political movement (slash publicity stunt).
posted by Reggie Digest at 8:25 AM on October 31, 2007

On the wall at the Starry Plough Pub in Berkeley, they have this 1902 quote from James Connolly (who's grandson is the pub's founder): No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetic expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinct marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is a dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude.
posted by finite at 9:59 AM on October 31, 2007

Unfortunately, hip-hop has generally been an expression of a movement or movements that have not been particularly beneficial to society.

TWF, I'm sorry, but I must respectfully say you're talking out of your ass. Saying what hip-hop has generally been is about as useful as saying what music itself has generally been, which is to say, your generalization is bullshit. You've no doubt been exposed to a lot of hip-hop you didn't like, and there is certainly a lot of crap on TV, but I've never paid to see any of this so-called thug hip-hop in RL. Every hip-hop show I've ever been to was, when not overtly political, at least socially conscious and generally positive in its message. These kinds of shows go on all over the place, and if you haven't been in the audience at one, that could explain your misperception of hip-hop's influence. So please, do check it out. Sometimes, stuff like this even makes it on the TV!

Unfortunately, hip-hop corporate-sanctioned art has generally been an expression of a movement or movements that have not been particularly beneficial to society. Fixed that for you.
posted by finite at 1:00 PM on October 31, 2007

Unless of course, you accept a definition of hip-hop which is limited to that which the big four deem acceptable. Saul says in this interview [via] "I had already had experiences with my first album, with Rick Rubin and Sony and everything, where the company basically sat on it for two years and told me it wasn't hip-hop."
posted by finite at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2007

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