Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jews Hold Panel, Key To Hip Hop's Future

So I went to this panel a few weeks ago at the 92nd Street Y. Three authors of hip hop books lecturing on how to define the term, the culture, the music.

I tried to get some company to join me, but I couldn't really argue with my friends when they protested. The little blurb to lure you in read something like this:
Hip Hop: We Can Make It Boring

In the past boring years, hip hop has gotten boring boring boring boring boring. Here's some boring boring boring authors to speak about boring boring at this boring place. Hip Hip is Important, and also boring words about boring culture, boring lifestyle, modern and boring, boring boring boring. Books, talking, no sex etc. Plus, it costs $.
(holla at ya boy 92Y, I'll give your copy that McDonald's "I'm Loving It" Urban McFlavor you need!)

Notwithstanding the lack of Jerry Bruckheimer and CGI FX in the marketing of this lecture, I was still intrigued by the prospect of getting a sense of the conversation on hip hop here in early '07. Plus, free press comps! Yay blogging!

One of the charming aspects of hip hop is its ability to surprise. And this panel was no exception as despite the promise of a boring lecture, all three panelists/authors had a lot of interesting thoughts on hip hop's past, present, and future.

Attention-whore that I am, I managed to cobble together a query for the post-lecture Q&A that would at least get people to look at me, if only in annoyance. Following a series of questions that ultimately raised the issue of a generational gap, where older folks wonder where to find that "real rebel music like they used to make," and young people say it's out there but old folks don't know where to look. I followed that up with this inquiry:

If we posit that hip hop is a youth industry, built around the spirit of independence and counter culture, then what exactly distinguishes it from rock-and roll?

Seems to me that hip hop springs from the same human condition that inspired the revolutionary music before it. The music is a subjective translation of the same impulses and feelings. That is to say Living La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin and C.R.E.A.M. by Wu Tang are the same song with different translators. Rock-and-roll is what happened when you mix the ingredients with white people and the 60s. Hip hop is a product of black people and our current media market.

As a hip hop advocate, if we discover that there are no other significant differences between hip hop and rock-and-roll, then this premise alone gives us the tools to rebrand hip hop. To commodify and commercialize in a broader more significant way. Hip Hop's new formula: Independent(Spirit) x Black + New Media = Hip Hop.

If you're one of those who are "seriously concerned" about hip hop, then this may be a significant first step to solving your problem.

Some other interesting thought bubbles that came from this cypher:

Race = Hip Hop: The interesting dynamics that stem from the racializing of hip hop manifested directly in the lecture itself. Jason Tanz was the Caucasian host seated between two ethnic guys, and he was hyper-self conscious about being a white guy speaking about a black culture. On the flip side, the two "ethnics" were almost aggressive in contrast. Jeff Chang in particular broke protocol and challenged Jason to elaborate on certain issues. It made me acutely aware of the reverse affirmative action that goes on in hip hop. In hip hop we might support white people just on the love sometimes because we know they got a later start, and that a lot of people won't even give them a chance. This also carries a certain concession that there are some aspects of the culture white people will never understand. Of course if you flip this around to apply to broader racial dynamics and affirmative action in America, it could lead to interesting conclusions. Mainly that black people in America are in the same position as white rappers in hip hop. That is to say The White Rapper Show = The Black Person Show.

Hip Hop Is New Media's Baby Daddy: Jeff made a good point about the timing of media consolidation and the need for multicultural demands. Hip hop was able to blow because of synergistic timing, it was a conduit of "culture" at a time when media was going global, multicultural. As a hip hop advocate, we could say Hip Hop is an underrated building block in this New Media movement. Certainly many people have been saying myspace exists as the force it is because of hip hop. Myspace is sort of the "new media" baby. So who's your daddy?

• Someone mentioned the Black Youth Report. I need to research that.

• Of course The White Rapper Show came up. This is the reason I'm not writing on this until now, as I was trying to do a story on TWRS. Jason loves it. But no one was able to attribute a valuation that went deeper than pure entertainment. I think TWRS is a wonderful testament to hip hop's evolving maturity. If you can't poke fun at yourself, then you haven't made it.

• Jason had an interesting note about hip hop being more "forward looking" than other genres of music. He cited that no one has more than two great albums as evidence. Of course a bit subjective, but an interesting theory. Demands more research.

So, the panel was great in what it set out to do. And in leaving I realized I would not be quibbling over what hip hop is anymore, here's your final answer:

Hip Hop is the essence of youth and youth culture contorted by the hands of race/racialization and then disseminated in our new media environment. We may disagree over the subjective affectations of race and the modern media, but the common denominator is energy, independence, survival, these are the the things we all share when we partake in hip hop. We celebrate the individual's ability to overcome himself and his environment. In other words, Nietzsche and his "will to power" is hip hop. And it's no coincidence that Nietzsche famously writing "God Is Dead" is invoked today when we discuss "Hip Hop is dead."

(at this point my brain is forcing me to note that TAN's opinions are his alone, and not necessarily a reflection of the other parts of his body. Namely his brain.)

Therefore hip hop is not dead, far from it. But it might be feeling a little insecure. That's what the contortion of youth culture is about. Yet insecurities properly diagnosed can serve as the means to furthering our empowerment. So while we may be going through a bit of an identity crisis, and feeling our mortality a little (as we all must eventually), hip hop is still in pretty good shape. As long as we have people who care and focus their energies on pushing forward; even if we die, we'll always come back.

Hip Hop: America's Beat [92nd Street Y]


  1. Nice, TAN. Sometimes, I don't think insecure is the right word. Maybe, uninspired.

  2. you may be right, but insecurity points to why everyone wants to talk about it self-consciously. "What's wrong with hip hop?" is all the rage. It's almost as popular as hip hop!

    also, can anyone tell or email me on why block quotes or bullet-points change the text in the whole post. i've checked the html and everythign seems to be fine. I think it's a blogger glitch, and it's VERY annoying.

  3. A pretty limp analysis with a pat, glib wrap-up at the end. But this really got me: "Rock-and-roll is what happened when you mix the ingredients with white people and the 60s." You really are assimilated.

    Jazz, rock and hip-hop are all outgrows of Black youth culture. Youth culture as it's thought of today was nascent in the jazz era but it was there. All three were eagerly consumed by white youth while demonized by their white elders. In all the audiences became largely white. In jazz there remains a decent amount of Black artists while in rock the hostile takeover was near complete. What distinguishes rock from hip-hop is that we don't know which way hip-hop will fall.

    Which brings me to your bit about affirmative action, white rappers and the position of Black people in America. The analogy is flawed because affirmative action (code for doing right by Black folk) was under heavy assault by the Reagan era while white rappers aren't facing anything of the sort. Just the opposite in fact hence TWRS.

  4. yeah, of course I'm generalizing regarding the roots of rock-and-roll. Black people started everything fun, stylish and generally interesting in this country. Especially music and dancing. This is true. But the point is mass perception wise, rock-and-roll is now a "white" thing, and hip hop is a "black" thing.

    I don't see how black people being under assault during Reagan (???) undermines my point about affirmative action in hip hop. TWRS doesn't mean White Rappers aren't under attack. I beat up a white rapper on principle just the other day. I regretted it later, but still ...

  5. TAN, a very insightful post.

    Working with the national association of broadcasters, I wanted to chime in quickly about media consolidation. As the media landscape has drastically changed with the rise of the net, cable and satellite, local broadcasters have been hard pressed because of old media ownership rules.

    local broadcasters want the opportunity to compete with all the other outlets and better serve communities but arcane FCC rules threaten the economic viability of these local stations.

  6. Anonymous3/08/2007

    Maybe affirmative action is too easily associated with negative history. At the least, I could use a sensitivity training course re: white rappers. I can't deal with any of them-- it's the sound of blackface for me. Even MC Serch gets the gas face!

    Other than that, I enjoyed this post. I agreed with only a bit of it, but I found it a good read. Thanks.

  7. This post was good. But why did you have to wreck the flow with that insert about your brain? I thought the whole point of your blog is that it's okay to be wicked smart and down with yo peeps at the same time.

  8. Jason had an interesting note about hip hop being more "forward looking" than other genres of music. He cited that no one has more than two great albums as evidence. Of course a bit subjective, but an interesting theory. Demands more research.
    ...dunno TAN, I think Public Enemy kills this theory.

  9. Tracer Bullet3/10/2007

    So if hip-hop is just rock-and-roll with black people, does this mean we'll see classic hip-hop stations sometime soon? Because with notable exceptions (The Roots, Outkast, "Beautiful") I haven't enjoyed anything in hip-hop since I bought "Bizarre Ride to the Far Side." and that was in '93.

  10. Tracer Bullet3/11/2007

    I meant "Pharcyde." Jesus, where did my blackness go?

  11. ExclusivelyExclusive3/11/2007

    "Because with notable exceptions (The Roots, Outkast, "Beautiful") I haven't enjoyed anything in hip-hop since I bought "Bizarre Ride to the Far Side." and that was in '93."

    Comments like this always make me chuckle.

  12. I think viewing the issue of "what's wrong with hip hop" through the generational lens is appropriate.

    Hip-hop essentially has 2-3 generations of followers. In the early-mid nineties (now called the Golden Era by 20 somethings of now) you had a changing of the guard. The 80's babies (who called their Golden Era the mid-late 80's) of the press (specifically the Source) were continually throwing out the notion that hip-hop isn't the same, that it's missing something. This chatter of course died down as soon as New York Rappers were accepted for doing what the West & South were already doing (namely Gangsterish shit to keyboard beats).

    What the fuck is my point?

    It's happening again as the new gatekeepers feel something is missing, essentially rehashing the same old argument.

    The fans who keep comparing the 90's (or earlier) to now and continually voice their displeasure are just disconnected. They're not in their dorms or on the Ave being exposed to the music.

    With the context of listening changing (and that's big) their feelings toward the current music would also's inevitable.

    The new boogie man is the South but it was the West Coast before that. Before that it was anything outside of the Bronx...

    People always have to have a problem, if they didn't what would they do?

    Good meeting you last night boss, albeit, briefly.


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