“Roll with the rock stars they’ll never get accepted as..” – Wow, I was just reflecting on those lyrics from Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” a rebellious anthem from 1987’s “Less Than Zero. Soundtrack” 26 years later and… Guess what Chuck D? – You have been accepted. Public Enemy will be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in April of this year and while I’m happy that their legacy is being recognized…. I’m also reminded that Hip Hop IS not only Rock N Roll, it’s Pop music. There is no question that Public Enemy (and a number of rap groups that found success during the late 80s and mid 90s) have had a lasting impact on Hip Hop music and the world of music in general. The elements that constitute what qualifies as “music” changed when our new “folk music” manifested in the songs of Grand Master Flash, Boogie Down Productions and N.W.A. The issues facing urban America (police brutality, systematic racism, poverty) were brought to the forefront in a way that that was insightful and entertaining or infuriating and offensive… depending on one’s perspective.
Now HOLD THE HELL UP…… This is NOT one of those “Damn the Golden Age of Hip Hop was waaaaaay better than the bullshit we have now” pieces. Really it’s not. This is actually meant to encourage all of the young artists and listeners out there. I don’t need to tell hip hoppers to make quality music, Lupe Fiasco, Homeboy Sandman, Kendrick Lamar and many, many others are making thought provoking, topical, great sounding music. You have to dig for it sometimes, but it’s out there. The thing that actually disappoints me the most these days is that HIP HOP DOESN’T PISS OFF THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT WAY ANYMORE. From the late eighties through the mid nineties hip hop was viewed a threat to the establishment. The FBI sent a letter to N.W.A. After they released “Fuck the Police.” Almost thirty years later and the police are still out of control. Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin are just two of the countless black males have been gunned down like animals in the past five years and yes, the hip hop community did respond…. but the climate is much more complacent. I had no idea who Yusef Hawkins was until I saw him mentioned in the liner notes of every Hip Hop cassette that came out in ’89 and 90. Rappers took this brothers tragic death at the hands of an angry Bensonhurst mob and made sure that people all over America and all over the world knew about it. Hip Hop had been called “Black America’s CNN” by Chuck D… but I would take it further to say that it was BETTER than CNN because the news being delivered was from the perspective of messengers who actually lived in the community being reported on. Ice Cube attacked race head on his 1991 Death Certificate Album and made EVERYBODY mad… Korean shop owners, the Anti Defamation League, law enforcement, and even some segments of the black community. Headlines of the day painted rappers as influential rabble rousers to be feared. -That’s Powerful. Like I said…. I like a lot of the music of today… but it really seems like it has lost most of it’s rebellious edge.
Hip Hop music used to shake up the powers that be… now it is just another tool of the corporate world. The fact that we can’t go one day without hearing or seeing some aspect of Hip Hop reflected in mainstream culture isn’t necessarily all bad…but it does highlight that the music, in particular, the “noise” and lyrics that were once deemed “incendiary” are now considered safe enough to sell fast food, cars, alcoholic drinks and damned near everything else under the sun. Besides the products being sold…there are also age-old stereotypes being peddled for mass consumption –(That’s another article though). So to all my Hip Hoppers out there I invoke you to please continue creating good music supporting the artists that you love but whenever possible FIND A WAY TO PISS OFF THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO ABUSE AND OPPRESS YOU. Rap can still be effective protest music. I know it’s easier said than done, but we have to remind ’em that it ain’t all good.
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