As an admittedly old ass hip hop fan, I personally got to experience an amazing era in hip hop history.
Not because of the fact that I was old enough to remember clearly and actually buy, read and memorize the liner notes of albums released in both Golden Eras of Hip Hop (1986-1989 and 1992-1996). Not because I got to be there firsthand when legends like Run DMC, LL Cool J, Too Short, Rakim, KRS One, N.W.A., Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Ice T, Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah FIRST broke onto the scene. Believe it or not, it also wasn..t because I got to experience the culture of hip hop in it’s truest and rawest form, either.
It was amazing because when I was growing up Black people actually bought and listened to intelligent, original, conscious or Afrocentric music en masse....those days are over and now long gone.
The world was different back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Crack had just hit and ravaged the inner cities of America, they were in ruin and brown people nationwide suffered due to the Reagan/Bush administration and their terrible policies. Apartheid was still in effect in South Africa and Nelson Mandela was still serving time in prison. The Black Panther Party, The Young Lords Party, The Weathermen/The Weather Underground as well as AIM and the Incident At Oglala weren’t too far off for that previous generation to relate to.
The turmoil and changes of the 60’s hadn’t yet dissappeared from the conscience of the people in the 70’s. The same generation that witnessed the fallout of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were the ones rhyming about revolution and upliftment in the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s. They were born in the mid to late 60’s or early 70’s themselves so these ideals were still fresh in their minds.
This current hip hop generation was robbed of the same music that challenged us and made us think and question the world around us (at least on the mainstream level) by three different factors. First up, the Ice T “Cop Killer” controversy back in 1992 in which Time Warner and it’s affiliates began dropping any artist that was controversial in any way following the threat of a nationwide boycott and fallout from bad press.
Secondly, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. With artist having to go for radio spins and MTV/BET video rotation, any conscious artists or group left on major labels would begin getting phased out and/or dropped due to “low record sales”. By 1999, none of them were left signed to major labels.
Lastly, the national tragedy of 9/11 pretty much put the kebosh on any radical or conscious music groups on a major label. The last group of that kind signed was when Loud signed Dead Prez in 1999, the only LP they recorded on Loud Records was their debut “Let’s Get Free”. All of the groups and artists like Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Lakim Shabazz, Paris, X Clan, K.M.D., Movement Ex, The Coup and Two Kings In A Cipher were completely irrelevant to this current generation of hip hop listeners.
With no foundation in conscious music on the radio or video stations, conscious/Afrocentric music was deemed as corny. Take for example, Arrested Development. They were media darlings and widely acclaimed by music publications, but never truly accepted by the hip hop community. They made sing song rap and wore weird headdresses, kinte cloth and long flowing clothes. Since they were garnering so much attention during the early years of Gangsta Rap’s takeover of the industry, there was a backlash against them from the Hip Hop community.
The same thing happened to PM Dawn who had the hit “Set Adrift Of Memory Bliss”. They had a weird image, often wearing paisley and huge tie dyed robes with beads and dreads. They also made some kind of weird sing songy rap that the media and music critics loved, but the average hip hop fans dreaded. To get a proper idea as to how much these groups were frowned upon, think of the disdain that the Black Eyed Peas receive nowadays by the average rap fan...now multiply that by 20.
PM Dawn was ultimately thrown off of a stage by KRS One after they made some not too bright comments about him as well as Public Enemy in different magazine interviews. Arrested Development lost some members after their successful first album and by the time they released their second album, no one was checking for them.
The rise of West Coast gangsta rap and East Coast underground grimy hip hop pretty much proved to be the undoing of "positive" hip hop on the mainstream level as well. Given that these acts were considered not ..real hip hop.. and corny (well, they were), no one wanted to hear anything from any group resembling them in hip hop. By 1992, the age of the African medallion, Afrocentric/conscious hip hop crews like the Native Tongues and the Stop The Violence Movement were dead and gone forever.
After the Telecommunications Act, the focus turned to status symbols and material possessions. A group was judged no longer by the quality of it’s music or lyricism/beats, but by how many records they sold, how many diamonds were on their watches or chains, or if they had a certain car, etc. With the wealth and opulence displayed in videos and name dropped in songs by Bad Boy Records, No Limit Records and later Cash Money Records, the Jiggy/Shiny Suit/Bling Bling Era had begun. Ever since then, if you weren’t about making money, then it didn’t make sense (cents).
Unfortunately for us that grew up with our parents Last Poets, Gil Scot-Heron, Umar Bin Hassan, Amiri Baraka, Mutabaruka and other "Black Power" records playing and the Gods and Ansaars on the corner or the train station selling incense while selling books have to exist in a hip hop environment where grown men proudly carry around the title of “The Kufi Smacker” and revel in ignorance (Just so it’s clear, I’m talking about the DipSet...no subliminals, fuck them niggas...Dig a hole, g’head, bury yourselves).
In this hip hop climate, artists like The Roots, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Jean Grae, Common and Little Brother are immediately lumped into the same category...”backpacker music”. Related R & B/Soul artists such as Raphael Saadiq, Dwele, Bilal, Erykah Badu, Amel Larrieux, Jill Scott, and Teedra Moses are all lumped into the Okayplayer category as well.
Both genre designations point to one thing “artists who have more White people than Black people buying their albums”. To anyone with common sense, this is stupid. Why? Because any “popular” music act, regardless of race or genre, has more White people than Black/Latino people buying it out of sheer numbers.
With Blacks making up between 12-13% of the United States 300 million residents (approximately 1 out of every 8 Americans), and White consumers making up between 60%- 70% of the units bought in urban music, to use the “more White people than Black people buy their music” argument is beyond stupid.
If you look through the CD collections and iTunes libraries of most White college students across America, you’ll find plenty of T.I., Ludacris, Young Joc, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross albums...so that says what about them exactly?
The fact does remain, that if you were to go to a show for most hip hop acts from the early to mid 90’s or any underground crew, the audiences are overwhelmingly White...but whose fault is that?
It takes me back to the legendary dialogue from Spike Lee’s film “Mo’ Better Blues” between Denzel Washington’s Bleek and Wesley Snipes’ Shadoe about why Black people abandoned the Blues and Jazz as well as stopped frequenting Blues and Jazz clubs.
The same dialogue was used in The Roots' classic album “Things Fall Apart”. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should definitely see it (this coming from a dude that knows Questlove’s Roots album liner notes by heart).
It is distressing to know that artists that grow up on the blackest of Black music and emulate those same masters of Black music on their projects will fall on deaf ears when they try to release their music to an audience of Black people that, in essence have no taste for “Black” music.
The music that is marketed to ”Black” or urban markets is ACTUALLY really pop music in nature, being that it’s made by major labels that are looking to move units. Just because it’s played on BET means nothing...BET is, after all, a Viacom network.
I understand that people, regardless of color don't like being preached to or having anyone acting like they are holier than thou...if you then take that and add it to an entertainment medium that people use to ESCAPE the problems and ills of the real world, you now have a TURNED OFF captive audience.
Whereas in the 60’s and 70’s Blacks and Latinos were actively fighting for their freedoms and the right to be considered more than subhuman/third class citizens are they actively SEARCHED for music that empowered them and gave them a sense of pride in their identity , the youth of today aren't doing that anymore...even though they clearly should be MORE conscious of what's going on in the world considering it is the Information Age.
We’ve already been through the what, when ,why, and how’s that conscious music disappeared from the mainstream, became remanded to the underground and is now regarded as “corny” or wack to the majority of listeners...The question remains: How is this solely the fault of the music industry? Don’t these kids have parents, aunts, uncles and older siblings that can tell them about Assata Shakur and Elaine Brown so were not relying on Common to do it?
BET has a new show premiering soon called “American Gangster” that will highlight the lives and crimes of figures like Stanley “Tookie” Williams and “Freeway” Rick Ross...wouldn’t it be MORE beneficial to the youth if they made programming that highlighted the lives of former activists like Canada Lee and Paul Robeson or members of the Young Lords or Black Panthers? Or are they afraid that it wouldn’t be “entertaining” enough.
The bottom line is that you as an individual have to choose whether or not you want to buy or listen to Afrocentric or conscious music. If you choose not to it’s your prerogative. It just doesn’t make sense to immediately dismiss it as corny or lame...unless you think that all of those people that fought for freedoms they’d never live to experience and died for you to just have the right to be here and respected as a human being as corny or lame.
Do you think “Freeway” Rick would’ve put his life on the line to SAVE his people as opposed to poisoning them for financial gain? No, but Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton did. Now that’s gangsta.
This blog was originally posted by myself on AllHipHop.com's Ill Community November 25th, 2006. This should give you all an idea of the direction this blog will be taking in February.