Hip-Hop Needs to Be an Inclusive Artform—Not an Exclusive Culture

"The hip-hop I know has saved the lives of all creeds and brought joy to every color."
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Andre 3000, Yung Bans

A picture worth a thousand words.

“Here we are 40 years later and the overwhelming majority of rap listeners fully don't understand that the corporate-driven, mainstream rap music they hear on the radio has very little in common with the culture that originally spawned it.” —Dart Adams ("Hip-Hop Turns 40")

Freddie Foxxx, also known as Bumpy Knuckles, remembers the hip-hop of old. The Long Island rhymer born in 1969 has been rapping since the '80s. His debut album, Freddie Foxxx Is Here, was released in 1989 (and co-produced entirely by Eric B. of Eric B. & Rakim), and while his last full-length was 2012's Statik Selektah-produced Ambition, he has continued an active career in hip-hop into the late 2010s. With other full-project collaborations alongside KRS-One and DJ Premier, the OG emcee is well established. 

Sunday morning, Freddie tweeted the following with no elaboration.

It’s easy to conclude Bumpy’s tweet is a request to remove hip-hop from the main stage of popular culture and return it to a subculture that exists in the margins; to return the culture to the space of its original form.

Exclusivity is an interesting thought. I’m assuming, based on his request, that he would like to see the culture return to its black and brown creators. Back in the hands of the people and not record labels and corporations. This enables the opportunity to restore missing elements, revive old ethos, and rebuild the foundation lost in the crossover. 

Hip-hop goes home.

Reverse time instead of moving forward; build a wall around creative thinking instead of allowing art to ascend through all ceilings; gift innovation to the few, while remaining invisible to the masses. For anyone embarrassed by the current representation of mainstream rap and who would like to cleanse the planet of all its sins, exclusivity is like Noah’s Ark with two of every great MC and producer safely secured within.

To fathom a world where the modern image of hip-hop vanishes is like imagining the sudden deletion of a prominent language. I understand the want to protect an identity linked to an authentic cultural portrayal. Hip-hop is a culmination of the ambitious, innovative spirit that has given the flowers of black culture and black people the ability to blossom in sun-deprived concrete.

“Resistance here doesn't mean revolution. It doesn't mean storming the barricades. Resistance means using art for the things that it does best, which is to create human portraits and communicate ideas and forge a climate where people of different races or classes are known to you because they make themselves known. In the simplest terms, art humanizes.” —?uestlove ("Does Black Culture Need to Care About What Happens to Hip-Hop?")

Hip-hop growing and moving deeper into mainstream waters has only caused its veteran craftsmen to yell louder about the great white robbery of rock 'n' roll―a constant reminder of how whitewashing happens gradually and not overnight. From rock to rap and beyond, the cultures inspired by black people have enriched society in ways often overlooked and diminished, and end up misappropriated and misrepresented. Creating cultures that only know how to give but continue to be taken is an issue.

Unlike Dart Adams and Bumpy Knuckles, the hip-hop introduced to me as a baby of the ‘90s came after Puffy ushered in the age of shiny suits. MTV was already airing the videos of rap jams and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was in full effect. This wasn’t a budding culture hidden in the quiet corners of New York City boroughs, but a burgeoning movement underneath ultraviolet lights. More than just the mainstream rapping and flossy fashion, there was a pulse of some larger concept in the crevices of what was seen and heard.

Instead of witnessing a culture in decline, I was watching an alluring artform speak a language I wanted to learn. Before recognizing the difference between commercial mainstream and conscious underground, rap music appeared to be part of a bigger ecosystem―a world to be explored. The musical landscape was the driving force, and not the other essential pillars (DJing, breakdancing, graffiti art). This is true for not only much of my generation but for those generations after mine. The relationship between rap music and hip-hop culture is based on time and awareness.

I only know hip-hop as a massive entity. An inclusive, embracive culture of many doors for easy entry. Before my time there were rules to participation that have vanished—now almost anyone with a functioning microphone can place their art underneath her umbrella. It doesn’t take a king to recognize the problem with having a kingdom open to the public, but the lifestyle becomes second nature when normality is commoners in the throne room and jesters trying on crowns. 

The hip-hop I know has saved the lives of all creeds and brought joy to every color. Exclusive art doesn’t change, help, or save lives. JAY-Z’s 4:44 is still absent from Spotify servers. One of the most traditional, thought-provoking, mainstream rap albums of last year isn’t on the largest subscriber-based platform where music is consumed. That’s a problem.

In my day I’ve encountered college students who found encouragement to drop out and follow their dreams because of Kanye West, entrepreneurs who look to JAY-Z as an inspiration despite their occupation existing outside of the music industry, writers who aspire to be Nas, young students in search of RZA’s wisdom, and deacons finding spiritual comfort in Kendrick’s fight for a place in heaven.

Hip-hop today is everyday people getting through their lives with lyrics scoring their every step. Whether it’s Migos in the club, N.W.A during a protest, or BROCKHAMPTON in route to a beloved or disgusting day job, there’s a sense of community linked to the thoughts, feelings, and ideas the artists convey. To take away hip-hop, in any form, would be to remove the very rhythm of life from many people who adore what the music, artists, and culture continue to bring into their lives.

I understand the frustration. There are new white and racially ambiguous faces shooting to stardom and devouring cultural real estate on a seemingly daily basis. Many are artists who are able to do so while avoiding black spaces, existing in rap without the same trials of their black contemporaries. There is a lack of substance promoted on radio and big platforms. Even with the progress of online marketing and viral possibilities, underground talent is overlooked and artists with strong political messages go unheard. We hope for balance, we even tweet about it, but instability is the rule.

We have reached a point in hip-hop’s evolution where some '90s millennials are even questioning what is unfolding. There is an entire generation being raised on streaming services and social media, not ringtones, mixtapes, and LimeWire. The artists we knew are getting older, and new kids are taking their place. Soon, new kids will take ours.

This is what happens when a genre and culture is driven by innovation and evolution. Change doesn’t stop happening. 

Since the ‘70s, hip-hop has been a reflection of certain societal nuances. Hip-hop can show the beauty of black resilience and the potency of white privilege; the power of entrepreneurial independence and the ugliness of capitalism and corporate inclusion; is able to represent the excellence of geniuses and the toxic misogyny plaguing society. Music isn’t the only way we interact with rap, but it’s in the all-encompassing ways we use hip-hop as a launching pad for larger, more important dialogue. 

If nothing else, hip-hop in this moment of immense popularity is creating conversations that we need to have both on and offline.

Until her dying day, the state of hip-hop will be a topic of discussion. Some will say she’s already dead, a decaying corpse attracting starved vultures who all want a taste of its rotting magic. Others will claim she is simply different, a woman who changes her appearance with age, but still carries the glow of a goddess. 

No matter who you ask, the answers rarely form a consensus. The image she takes is dependent on the set of eyes and how they view almost 50 years of revolutionary culture.

By Yoh, aka 5-Y0h, aka @Yoh31

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