By: Amanda Anderson
Hip-Hop is one of the most controversial, raw, and sometimes misunderstood music genres ever created. From its early days of heavy political messages, urges of black power, and its objective to provide a glimpse into the troubles of the African American community; it’s evident that it has changed since its beginnings over 20 years ago. The more mainstream side of Hip-Hop overwhelmingly glorifies violence, sex, and drug dealing to such an extent that rappers who have no real past or experiences in any of these things feel the need to provide fake gangster images to be accepted and sell millions of records. One black author in particular is fed up and is speaking out in a way that either has people nodding their heads in agreement or shaking their heads as if he has gotten it totally wrong.
Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book entitled “Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture,” is a book that questions rather Hip-Hop has taken our youth into the wrong direction.
One of Williams’ biggest concerns is how rappers have taken the place of legit role models for the younger generation. No longer do most kids have dreams of being doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or President; they want to be gangster rappers and video vixens. And according to Williams, it’s just wasted potential since he believes they have a bigger shot at becoming President than successful Hip-Hop artists:
“The irony is that young men have a better chance of being like President Barack Obama than a rap star, Williams said. From Oakland to New Jersey, they will sabotage their future just for the sake of trying to be like their millionaire entertainment idols. The dynamic has quietly taken the place of white racism as the most formidable obstacle to success and equality in the black middle classes.”
When speaking on Jay Z’s influence on African American culture, he says:
“But why does he set the tone for black culture today? It’s tragic.”
The author, like many others, also views mainstream Hip-Hop as a modern day minstrel show that is making white music executives filthy rich while portraying African Americans in a mostly negative light.
“Instead of a nuanced and complex view, (some rappers and producers) are selling a cynical view of street culture,” he said. “Non-blacks don’t understand that, but they buy into ‘keeping it real.”
And when you think about it, Williams makes some pretty valid points. When it comes down to the numbers, only Hip-Hop artists who glorify sex, violence, drugs, and the gangster life seem to perform well on the charts. We as a culture require street cred from most rappers entering the business in the current state of Hip-Hop, and even some of the most successful rappers are cooning to some extent in exchange for platinum records. Even Lil’ Wayne, one of the most popular rappers of the moment, is more known for having five baby mommas while very few people know that he made straight A’s in college.
Then there’s the fact that solid rappers with messages like Common never manage to go platinum, even though they have been in the Hip-Hop game for years. He continuously makes solid records with substance, but he can’t seem to make it on a mainstream level.
So what does this really say and what can we learn from Williams?
For one thing, we are in the position to support any artists we want. Lil’ Wayne and company are platinum artists because we made them that way. If we want better representation in Hip-Hop, maybe we should step outside the box musically and support artists that don’t feel the need to poison our souls for a buck or two.
And although everyone won’t agree with Williamson, shouldn’t we be encouraging our children to dream of becoming more than gangster rappers? There’s no coincidence that since the rise of the new mainstream Hip-Hop that teen violence among African American teenagers has gotten so out of hand that most teenagers feel the need to portray an image that has little to do with their upbringing. We have set a gangster standard for our rappers and unconsciously we have also set the same standard for our youth.
One thing’s for sure, Hip-Hop has become more than just music, for most it’s a lifestyle as well.
“There are no two ways about it — hip-hop culture is not black culture, it’s black street culture. Despite 40 years of progress since the civil rights movement, in the hip-hop era — from the late 1970s onward — black America, uniquely, began receiving its values, aesthetic sensibility and self-image almost entirely from the street up.”
Maybe it’s time we re-think Hip-Hop and what kind of image we really want to portray through our music. It just may be the first step in changing how the world really sees us.