The State of Hip Hop: The Complexity of Progress

Posted: July 25, 2014 in General, The State of Hip Hop
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The Story

In recent news it was announced that Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey, the mother of legendary Hip Hop producer J. Dilla has donated some of the late Dilla’s equipment to the Smithsonian to be included in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Dilla’s equipment will be part of the “Musical Crossroads” exhibition that will be opening in 2016. The exhibition will include collections form Chuck D, George Clinton, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Chuck Berry.

Mainstream Dangers

While Dilla’s recognition and inclusion in the exhibit is a momentous one, it is also a sign that Hip Hop is, yet again, fortifying itself in American Music mainstream. For the 80’s babies who can remember when Rap music was public enemy #1 this is a sign of progress. But with progress comes new challenges.

“Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. Not to mention the obvious backlash conspiracy paranoia: Once all of black music is associated with hip-hop, then Those Who Wish to Squelch need only squelch one genre to effectively silence an entire cultural movement.”
– Questlove (The Roots)

Questlove makes a hugely intellectual and profound insight into the nature of mainstream assimilation. It is a truthful assessment that follows the vein of thought most thoroughly discussed by Frantz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth. It deals with what happens when a subculture is appropriated into the dominant culture. If this culture, like Hip Hop, is one of blatant and open resistance to the dominant culture then it runs the risk of being neutralized and rendered invisible as a space of revolution. There are some who believe this to be intentional and, as Questlove mentions, a method to herd the rebellion into a single space that can he more easily squelched.

Whether or not this assimilation is intentional and/or malicious it is definitely problematic. On regards to Hip Hop it brings into question agency, intention, and effectiveness. Some have come to see Hip Hop as simply a culture of art and as such possess only the primary intent to create art. Such a thought bastardizes the culture because it dismisses the importance of the social oppression and neglect that inspired Hip Hop’s founding fathers to reach for artistic mediums to convey their reality and challenge the forces that created the bleak prison in which they found themselves. Therefore, Hip Hop, at it’s roots, is as much about social justice, challenging the dominant culture, and revolution as it is about artistic creativity.


The Point

In this case the challenge is to not allow Hip Hop to be neutralized and lose its edge as a medium for giving voice to the voiceless. The mainstream offers greater exposure and social acceptance but it also carries the danger of being consumed and discarded. Acceptance into the mainstream has allowed Hip Hop to become a global force that reaches far beyond the boundaries of the South Bronx. That’s fucking awesome! But what we in the culture must never forget is that:

When we revolt is not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.
– Frantz Fanom

Nonetheless Dilla’s inclusion in the Smithsonian is a worthwhile achievement and I am proud. RIP Dilla whatever comes of it, you deserve the honor. RESPECT.


I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man


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