My earliest memories of
Hip-Hop are around 1985. The first artist I was a fan of was my older brother, Cool B “The Wild Child”, who was on the cutting edge of this new music genre. I remember being amazed at how he could make up rhymes about anything on the spot. All my other brother and I had to do was keep the beat steady on the kitchen table. Back then there was no Hip-Hop Industry and we certainly didn’t view it as a line of work we could get into when we got older. It was simply for the love of this exciting new music that was driving our parents crazy. It wasn’t until 1988-89 that I truly developed a love for Hip-Hop and its super stars of the day. The East Coast was all the Hip-Hop we had back then and I was completely indulged in it. We would listen and dance for hours to the sounds of KRS-1, Melle Mel, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Eric B. & Rakim, Special Ed, Daddy Kane, and Kool Me Dee just to name a few. It was an age of innocence that centered on break dancing, creative rhymes, fashions, and having a good time. From its beginning, Hip-Hop was an outlet to voice the frustration of urban life for many black youth. Though it was narrating the hardships of ghetto life, it didn’t glory in or praise ghetto life as a place we wanted stay in. It was the poor kid’s music by which you could listen and dream about all the riches, clothes, popularity and women we would have once we made it out of the ghetto. This wasn’t our parent’s music, it was ours and only we could identify with it. This was the golden age of Hip-Hop music before it spread throughout the world and before the major labels started flooding marketing money into it. Between 1984-89 Hip-Hop was at its most creative point. All that changed as the decade came to a close. The birth of the Crack epidemic and new genres outside of New York would take Hip-Hop in a destructive new direction.
I remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard N.W.A. I remember noticing how different they were from my east coast favorites. Wearing black and carrying guns just seemed a bit extreme to me, something to be feared and avoided. I remember how the Dope-Boys would dance and get wild when the music came on, taunting me and my friends called “preps” for our east coast inspired dancing and fashion. I remember all the fuss and drama they caused by using “Bitch” and “Nigga” in the music in a way that had never been done before. I remember the President, Maxine Waters, and other leaders being appalled by this music genre that was bringing the hardcore reality of gang and drug culture to the young people of this country. As with all things bad, the national and international press was catapulting this west coast style of Hip-Hop to the mainstream where it stayed until the mid 90s. Music television was still finding its way and music videos became the ultimate power in relaying these images of Gangster Rap to the homes across America. It was during this time that you begin to see young black men looking to Hip-Hop music as a viable way to get rich and make it out of the ghetto. As technology made the recording process easier, more and more youths across the country started recording music that mirrored the successes they saw on TV and heard on radio. In my opinion, this was the beginning of the end as it pertains to the poisoning and miss-information of black youths today. As commercial record sales grew, record labels that had for years spent very little on the promotion and marketing, were now passing out record deals to everything that looked and sounded like West-Coast gangster rap. Subsequently, all the young black ghetto kids that were break dancing and wearing African medallions a few years earlier were now wearing gang colors and carrying AK-47s because the music and imagery convinced them this was urban life. It’s also during this time that we begin to see more and more young woman listening to this style of Hip-Hop that was calling them “bitches” and “hoes” in every song. Degrading and belittling them to sluts and sex objects. As the “War on Drugs” continued to take fathers and male figures out of the home, Rap Stars became the role models for these young men and woman who gravitated to everything they said and made their words reality. Hip-Hop had lost its innocence.
As the 90s moved on, so did the ignorant images and music. The south begin to make its emergence on the Hip-Hop scene, and though there were creative forces like Goodie Mob and Outkast, the majority of southern Hip-Hop artist made music that was the back drop to the Crack epidemic crushing the urban neighborhoods of this country. The record Companies who by now had several platinum selling Hip-Hop projects was fueling this ignorance by excluding “Conscience” or “Positive” rap and making super stars of all things ignorant. Rappers begin to glorify Drugs and Drug dealing as the absolute way of life in the “Hood”, the violence being played out in the music was spilling over into the streets as Black on Black crime rose to astronomical numbers during the decade. We witnessed and entire nation be divided by coast as warring rappers feuded publicly via their music. We tragically watched both men be cut down by violence as a result of the words in their music. The financial success rappers of the period enjoyed inspired the next generation, who by now had forsaken all things educational, political, and decent. The repetitive imagery of Bentley Coupes, Fast Cash, Woman and Mansions from rap music proved too much to pass up. Young black people across the country begin to forsake school and learning, fooling themselves with dreams of rap stardom. By the end of the decade Hip-Hop was one of the biggest selling music genres in the world, crossing color lines and international waters. The new standard for success in this billion dollar business was clear, to make money you had to be vile, ignorant, promiscuous, and certainly on drugs and alcohol or no one would buy your records. This is a sentiment widely promoted, shared and believed today.
Through our history music has inspired and driven the times we live in. That considered, who can deny the destructive effect Hip-Hop has had on the Black and Urban communities in this country. Not the art form of rhyming and beats per se, but certainly the way its marketed to the kids who listen to it. Urban radio and TV outlets were key in this moral deterioration, consistently excluding positive more intelligent artist for the same ole’ dope dealing, potty mouthed, womanizing rapper. A few years ago I was sitting in the studio working and there was a TV in the wall above the mixer. BET was on the screen but the sound was off. As time went on, it dawned on me that over the course of the 8 hr long session, I had seen the SAME images in every video. The worship of cars, throwing money at the camera, tacky jewelry, and of course Slutty dressed Black Woman. My mind began to ponder all the cultures around the world who were also watching this channel. What might they think of us based solely off what they see on TV? I became sad thinking about all the young people who were being brain washed into believing this was Black Culture. Then I became angry at a media that was ONLY portraying us in this horrible light. Every time I see a young Black male with his pants saggin’, I attribute that to the ignorant marketing of Hip-Hop. Every time I see a young sister dressed like a whore as her only means of seeking attention, I attribute that to the ignorant marketing of Hip-Hop. Every time I hear of shooting violence at Clubs, Expos, Black Beach, Bike Week, or anything Hip-Hop themed, I attribute that to its marketing. The highest Aids/HIV rate, the highest teen pregnancy rate, the lowest graduation and literacy rates are all side effects of 25 years of ignorant Hip-Hop Marketing. Now some will be quick to point out the millionaires the art form has created but at what cost. Going in the studio and making a record that poisons the minds of young people for profit makes you the worst kind of parasite. An opportunist getting rich off the demise of your own people, tragically contributing to the horrible stereotypes that all black people are loud, ignorant, promiscuous, and un-educated.
The only antidote to ignorance is wisdom. It’s time that we recognize our illness and then start the process of healing in our communities. We are losing our younger generations to an ignorant marketing practice that bombards them daily with everything destined to ruin their lives. It’s time that our political and religious leaders take up the fight against these Media Giants and Record Companies who intentionally pass over positive, creative , and conscience Hip-Hop. We must demand that these companies, who filter its media for Anti-Semitic and Gay Slurs, apply the same safeguards when it comes to calling Black folks “niggas”, “hoes”, and “Bitches”. As parents we must first set an example to our kids by NOT listening to music that openly degrades and encourages them to commit crime. Teach them to love themselves and have respect for everything they feed their mind and spirit. We must lift up a standard of dignity in our music and not allow a few rappers to paint a lasting image of ignorance by which the world will know us. Though Hip-Hop is still a relatively young genre, it has shown enormous power in its ability to shape culture all over the world. Let us, the members of the creative community learn to be responsible with that power and use it to build and encourage. Use its power to teach, educate, and uplift the people who listen, recapturing the minds of our younger generations. Let us find, purchase, and promote the millions of artist who offer alternatives to the mainstream. Search YouTube, Google, Reverb nation, and music blogs for those artist who need to be heard by our young people. Show them your support and share them with your children, in hopes that one day soon Hip-Hop will return to its origins of Beats, Rhymes, Dancing, and Having Fun.