Native Hip-Hop and the Wisdom of Chuck D
I love music to the point that I taught myself to play some guitar so I could understand how it's created. I guess being the child of a former singer and a former musician has created this hunger for music of any form. My two favorite genres are hip hop and East Coast hardcore, a very specific derivative of hunk. I have always thought that they were very similar in many respects. The main reason that I gravitated towards the two styles was that they were the voice of the disenfranchised, the oppressed and the people that society generally ignored.
Over the years, I stopped listening to newer style rap. Notice, I didn't say hip hop, that will be explained later. I just couldn't get with the message that I was getting from the new acts. They all seemed to be living this unattainable life and rubbing it the audience's face. I thought I was the only one until I read ?uestlove's insightful essays "How Hip Hop Failed Black America" and listened to Chuck D and Keith Shocklee's July 15 interview on the Combat Jack Show. I suggest both for anyone who wants to understand what is going wrong and what is going right in hip hop right now.
Most of the problems in rap today represents a straying from hip hop as a culture. I was in Roosevelt when the culture was born just west of us and was a bystander, consumer and occasional casual participant over the decades since. The original culture was based on three pillars rap, graphic art and dance. It was made for and by people who did not have easy access to the "American Dream" but could create their own path to a self defined prosperity. There was no barrier to entry except for skill. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from as long as you could spit rhymes, DJ, paint graffiti or break. The only rule was "move the crowd." As the culture grew and matured some people were saying "move the crowd, but to where?". To me that is when I understood that this culture can change the world.
Now that hip hop has grown to be a global culture, it seems that everyone, but the mainstream American music industry, is using hip hop as an instrument for change. To me, that has always been the purpose of Hip Hop. That's why I was hoping that Chuck D would really go in on Hot 97 over the "sloppy fiasco" statement. Chuck basically said that when you see a crowd made of mostly white people smiling and singing and chanting "ni**er", we have to ask ourselves, "who is paying to make this possible"? The interview is amazing and he goes onto say that what is really missing from American rap is that inclusive tradition in Hip Hop but there are some out there who are doing it right.
All of this made me take a look at the state of Native hip hop to see if the culture has seeped in. I have to say truthfully that the majority of what I see and hear is a lot like the mainstream market. That is, it's a single MC talking about himself and how much better his life is than yours and you should pay for the privilege to hear this. I don't blame any artist for going this way because, that is what sells. My question is why absorb the negatives of the culture rather than the positives?
Today's rap or "urban" music is often found praising the social problems that Black communities have been trying to wipe out for years. I see that same behavior copied in many people's interpretation of hip hop across the globe. The problem is that this behavior is not hip hop culture. The culture has always been about lifting people up, not putting them down. It was never about the disrespect of life, it was respecting the life in you and others. I did find one artist that gets it. Supaman. His "Prayer Loop Song" is as pure as hip hop gets. See the video if you haven't. When I see an artist like this who is able to contribute from his heart and his culture, it gives me some hope for Native hip hoppers. Like any other culture, hip hop has its traditions and history that must be understood to really participate. Supaman has really done that. I hope that others will follow his lead and understand that hip hop was a culture founded as an alternative to the violence and exclusion found in the American experience for the common man and woman. What it's become today is an insatiable beast that loves a handful of artists and hates it's fans. I understand the punk ascetic of goading the crowd to breakdown preconceived notions but, what today's "artists" seem to do is hate the crowd for not being them when most of them are playing a role in the first place. Nas may have declared hip hop dead but, people like Supaman tell me that there's a spark of life left.
Mark Rogers is a citizen of the Montaukett and Matinecock Nations located in Long Island, NY where he is known as Toyupahs Cuyahnu (Crazy Turtle). He has served as a grassroots activist in the African American and Native communities and is a proud veteran NCO of the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Corps. He is presently working on a writing career and seeks to aid fellow veterans through his writing. See his Facebook page Toyupahs Cuyahnu/Mark Rogers for more of his writing.
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