Archive for July, 2003

Hip Hop: The unforgivable sin?

Friday, July 18th, 2003

“Blessed are those in the struggle, oppression is worse than the grave. It is better to live and die for a noble cause than to live and die as a slave.”

It was these lyrics to a track by Black Samurai that first inspired me to write an article.

It is the subject and objects in the quote that interests me the most. What is the noble cause, who are those in the struggle and from what are they avoiding slavery?

It is important to me to note that the struggle is not just against anything but against something which is, or perceived to be, oppressive. It is not struggle for struggle’s sake, more a reaction to an unwelcome intrusion into their life or way of life. Many questions arise from this. Are they struggling against a majority and fighting for their right to exist as they have done or how they want to? Perhaps they are the majority and feel threatened by the new trends and ideas arising around them similar to countless situations through history? The other possibility is the struggle with the unseen or unknown. Rumour, disinformation and uneducated assumptions creating an imaginary enemy…

I then realised I wanted to expand what I was writing from more than just this quote to Hip Hop as a whole. There are also many positive reinforcements of Christianity to be found in the lyrics, “…When every thing is going down, when everything starts to frown… You should do what’s right for you but remember that God’s got you too…”

While it is true that some Hip Hop, especially that quoted in the media and commonly known by the public, lyrically pictures violence, drugs and death (as well as copious amounts of money being spent in frivolous ways) it should be pointed out that the fundamental driving force behind Hip Hop is that of reflecting the life, times and culture surrounding it: surrounding the artists. The fact that music from the US has a strong foothold in the market in this country and that violence, gun crime and drugs are a way of life for far more people than is true of the UK means that it is the dominant message which comes through. I am perfectly prepared to admit that there are a lot of ‘studio gangsters’ rhyming about a life style that they have little or no experience of and, while this goes against the principles of pure Hip Hop, I have come to accept it is no different to an author writing about industrial espionage when they are, in fact, a school teacher.

Listening to a full spectrum of Hip Hop, noting its influences and especially its geography can highlight the wealth of different expression out there. I personally prefer UK Hip Hop. Not just because I feel I can relate to it more easily but also because it usually conveys a far less violent and gun-related culture. There are many positive messages to be found in Hip Hop.

Creps by Scor-Zay-Zee talks about how we are a slave to fashion, warring with each other over such trivial things as a brand. More powerful messages are delivered in this track and I have recently been moved by it on a very deep level.

Hold Strong by The 57th Dynasty has the line, “Dedicated to all those who relate to the struggle”. In this case the struggle is defined as poverty in areas of the UK. I will not quote the whole song here but I’m sure the lyrics are available on the web. I would also encourage you to listen to the track.

Infectious Organisms – 23rd Psalm follows on from my previous comment regarding positive Christian reinforcements while still talking about a struggle with multinationals.

An often-quoted example of Hip Hop’s negative messages is Eminem. A national hit with a wide spectrum of ages almost over night, I’m sure he is a name you have heard of. I imagine that you are now thinking about a pretty sounding song you once heard on the radio or horrendous lyrics involving rape, drugs and murder. Well, some of his lyrics are exactly that, but in the words of his track ‘When The Music Stops’, “…this is crazy, the way we act, when we confuse Hip Hop with real life when the music stops…”. What really riles me is that the same parents that denounce him as purely providing negative influence to their children are the same ones who BOUGHT his albums for them, having never listened to it or the messages he really passes on: probably after listening to a radio edit of ‘Stan’… An album, like anything else, needs to be listened to in its entirety so as not to be taken out of context. While it should be commended that artists such as Eminem and Dr. Dre release ‘clean’ versions of their albums because they recognise the mainstream appeal of their songs, the tracks often loose their meaning through doing this.

A track by Black Samurai called ‘Don’t Kill Jah Baby’ sees oppression as “…Negative educated roots reinforcing systems, oppressive systems, can we be the victims tricked in a state of mind ‘cause the system keeps insisting, inflicting pain upon the brain. Everyday I hear the same lame excuse, who’s to blame? It’s a shame we a turning POW! white like cocaine, getting fucked up, sucked up and slain…”. It talks about continued oppression through history and rising up to crush this oppression. Another track by Black Samurai called Blackapela tackles abortion and the historically perceived supremacy by whites.

So what am I trying to say and what have I concluded from this? I guess I’m trying to offer an alternate view of Hip Hop and I have come to believe everyone is in a struggle of their own and the important thing is that you fight your corner and not sit idly by. I think I have also reinforced my belief in Hip Hop as an education: teaching the views and feelings of people all over the world.

Darkly