I'm a bit verbose, but this is a pretty important issue for me — a topic I've spent thousands of hours learning about and honing my thoughts.
I think there are two layers to any question about Hip Hop. One is the individual level, where an artist creates narratives that can perpetuate and glorify these symptoms of power. Of course, Lil Wayne is responsible for his stories, just as Blackthought or Mos Def is, and on an individual level, we can have a conversation about that. The problem is society doesn't base stereotypes on any one individual, and sexism, homophobia, materialism, and violence isn't a character trait of black and brown people, or the culture of Hip Hop, as is portrayed in the media. Every community has assholes. Sexism, homophobia, materialism, and violence are tropes that are ubiquitous in American culture, yet brown and black people face a particular burden of being portrayed as the progenitors of these problems way too often.
When it comes to the authentic culture of Hip Hop, rooted in the tenants of peace, love, unity, and having fun, most artists are merely expressing their experiences and think through, not only rapping, but dancing, painting, and music production. To say that Hip Hop is inherently sexist, homophobic, materialistic and violent, is a paternalistic attempt to describe what my culture is and who my people are, and that would be ignorant at the very best. The community I know is full of activist, educators, and leaders of all types, using Hip Hop to be themselves and buck the hype. So that contrast in what I experience and what I see in media brings me to the second layer. The layer of mass media and the impact it has on the representation of my culture.
Three companies own over 90% of the entire media platform for Hip Hop: Warner Music Group, Sony Music, and Universal Music group. They make around 75% of their money from suburban white kids between eighteen and twenty-four years of age. My nuanced culture and community's presentation has been taken down to the lowest common denominator of American media tropes; sex, drugs, and material, for the easy consumption of a mass-market that doesn't have the lived experiences to know the reality of the trash they tend to consume. So in the end, corporate media and capitalism are to blame. Capitalism is to blame because it creates the need for companies to grow large, eating competition and consolidating power, while killing the culture of art that it sells by homogenizing and industrializing it into readily marketable units, while moving the market from the originators of the form, who know and care about cultural nuances, to a new market of folks, who have no flipping ties to the roots of the tradition. In that paradigm, minorities lose and lose big.
My people are feeling this in two main areas again. First off, our country is more segregated than ever. In a recent study, three out of four white people were found to have no friends of color at all. The significance of this is that for three-quarters of white people in America, their knowledge of POC comes from, at best, hearsay and, at worse, our corporate media. When I look at TV, I see characters that reflect positive, diverse examples of POC shown at an infinitesimal amount in comparison to favorable, different variations of what white people can be. We can be "The Butler," "The Help," "12 Years a Slave," and "Precious," and win Oscars, but we can't be Moses or Ramses, because Christian Bale and Jonathan Edgar make better, positive POC characters than us it would seem. We can win Grammys for speaking almost unintelligibly, degrading and defiling women and being heartless, but we can't win Grammys talking like Macklemore, about LGBTQAI rights and privilege. I think that is due to the Grammy Association being mostly made up of white males who don't understand the opportunity they own.
All this is meant to say; we are teaching our society's majority that POC are to be feared and distrusted. We aren't shown in our actual, beautiful diversity. We are type-casted into playing a role that is killing us. American media is perpetuating age-old narratives that have their foundations in the movie, "A Birth of a Nation," this is the reason I scare the shit out of random people on the street just for doing what they are; walking. This depiction is why POC's children get in trouble at school more and arrested more. This imagery is why we get longer sentences and studies show minorities are viewed as less innocent, and more responsible for negative actions. We are being made out to be villains and imbeciles for the entertainment purposes of another community, which is by definition, a minstrel show, and it needs to stop.
Secondly, and most importantly, we have lost access to the very platform for our expression, which is more critical for our efficacy, and how the world views us. Self-determination is what I believe we are fighting for; not love from media. We are fighting to own our cultural voices so we can pass along ideas, values, and morals to our younger generations. We need to have our own spaces to foster the next generations of Hip Hop artists and role models, with similar lived experiences, that will help navigate our future generations to maturity. The absence of this platform is the worst of what we face as POC, so we must reclaim that space whether the majority loves us or hates us.
To change this, we must invest! We must work to build our own spaces. We cannot overtake the industry with money because we do not have enough of it. Quite frankly, they can keep that shit! I want people to check and see what local shows are playing, and instead of paying a hundred and fifty bucks once a year to see Jay Z, they spend ten or fifteen and go see a Do DAT show in Oakland. Go look to see what local mixtapes are available and support a local dope artist by buying their album. Stop being satiated by easily consumed garbage and dig in the proverbial crates of local music and find what resonates with who you are. After that, share it with the world. You can find a bunch of amazing local artist from the Bay Area listen to for starters.
Right now, I'm excited for all the activist movements that are coming together in Oakland shining much-needed light on intersectionality within power structures. I know it sounds wonky, but there are so many different types of oppression that POC face, and the more light we have shown on these issues in Oakland, the more energy our community has gained, and it shows in every event and show I've been. We need to keep riding this wave.
Lastly, I'm excited about HipHopForChange Inc. Since we started, we have grown into a grassroots powerhouse for Hip Hop culture, throwing shows to support and pay progressive artists, teaching over 20,000 youth Hip Hop values and skills in schools and orgs around the bay, and promoting the true nature of Hip Hop with tens of thousands of conversations on the streets in order to counter the misconceptions believed about Hip Hop. I'd hope that anyone reading this, who wants to help get this monkey off our culture's back, would check us out and see what they can do in their typical day to day lives, to help out our culture. Hip Hop is vital to us all, so check out the work we do at www.hiphopforchange.org