Tuesday, January 4th, 2005

Hip-Hop Is Dead

I mean, are you gonna argue with Greg Tate?

I love this essay, not least because it captures in less than 3000 words what I spent damn near 600 pages trying to say. Such is the greatness of Godfather Tate.

His essay on hip-hop in 1988 is still prescient: “Hip-hop might be bought and sold like gold, but the miners of its rich ore still represent a sleeping-giant constituency. Hip-hop locates their market potential and potential militancy“. Dig!

In 2005 it’s about this: “If enough folk from the ‘hood get rich, does that suffice for all the rest who will die tryin’? And where does hiphop wealth leave the question of race politics? And racial identity?”

I also love it because in the same way the Godfather catches up 16 years of back-story, he flips the script on a decade and a half of hip-hop journalism and about a decade of decent hip-hop scholarship. Folks, the story now is: what happened?

I don’t agree with everything he says. But I’ma withhold that for now to let you check it out first.

Bonus: pictures by Jamel Shabazz of Lucky Strike and Fabel and other UZN and Rock Steady Crew. Go read this now. Then come back and holla in the comments…

posted by @ 10:01 pm | 18 Comments

18 Responses to “Hip-Hop Is Dead”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It would seem Tate’s disappointments with hip hop are based on unrealistic expectations of how much music can influence the world. When faced with cooptation in the past, Black music morphed and subverted to find another sanctuary from which to assert its power and sovereignty.

    As with the “hip hop v. rap” debate, I still think the jury is out on the semantic argument. Even if 99% of the people associate “hip hop” with moral decay and racial caricatures, that is simply how hip hop is perceived by 99% of the people. There was also a time when 99% of the people believed racism was legit.

    Either we can focus on the truth, or we can lament the lack of it.

    A few questions…

    Where could Black music go from here to subvert the cooptation? Are we asking the impossible? Is there an unexplored realm that offers greater freedoms and power? Even Tate suggests hip hop still offers lots of creative freedom.

    Should we not blame the audience as much as the industry? Corporations didn’t invent hip hop. Local communities did. And then consumers demanded it and the industry supplied it.

    I refuse to buy the argument that people are helpless victims. I think a lot of people simply want crude stereotypes over slammin beats. I also think a lot of young Black people buy into these flimsy notions of Blackness (read: sex, violence, wealth). Obviously, this is an argument for change, but it also points out that it isn’t just a white conspiracy.

    The other thing Tate seems to be avoiding is the fact that hip hop is still thriving creatively, albeit slightly under the radar. Tate seems preoccupied with a notion that Black pop culture is anything more than just pop culture.

    The real story here is that hip hop still has a thriving underground. And if consumers demand something other than pimps, gangsters, and hos… the industry will be more than happy to relent. It’s not a fucking conspiracy… it’s a bunch of sleazy entertainment companies.

    What’s next? Peaceful video games? Prisons that rehabilitate? Healthy fast food chains? Let’s be realistic.

    That said, it’s a damn fine article.


  2. Anonymous says:

    When I said “flimsy notions of Blackness”, I actually meant cars, hos, and designer clothes. Sorry about the mixup.


  3. David says:

    I’m not going to respect this piece of writing. I probably sound arrogant but I think tate sounds old, bitter, and is missing the point.

    I dont think this piece says anything new about hip-hop that I haven’t heard a hundred times before.

    I’m going to type a much bigger response and have it up in my blog in the next couple days.

  4. Jeff says:

    david, eric, and everyone else,

    just a request: when and if you do post your reactions on your blogs, come back here with the links, OK?

    more soon… i, uh, gotta handle some marketing right now…


  5. Jeff says:

    Here’s Hashim’s take:


    Quoting the brilliant Bill Stephney, touche!

    Lots more links coming and my promised comments too. I gotta go hit the studio right now…seriously.

    Question–cause I noticed this at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, and me and Lyrics Born were talking about this the other day–is there a hip-hop generation gap between older heads like Tate, Davey D, and Bakari Kitwana (gulp, yup, me) and younger heads?

    Maybe I’ll even throw out a 75 or 78 birthyear as the breaking point…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Let’s make it 74. 😉

  7. ronnie brown says:

    Brother Tate is just expressing the angst of a lot older heads who hoped hip-hop would usher in a Pan-African renaissance and the overthrow of white supremacy. Hip-Hop is not dead, but its relevance has surely been compromised. It should be obvious to Black folk by now that arts and culture (however creative) do not make the man…the MAN (the mature man, the principled man) make art and culture. He uses it as a tool, an instrument, creatively, in the service of uplift and education instead of an expression of debauchery and excessive self-interest…Am i the only one who feels like the more popular
    Hip-Hop has becomes, the less respect Black folk seem to receive?…The freedom that Hip-Hop gave to black youth to speak and dress and express themselves with no regard to whitey’s opinion, de-evolved into license without restraint. So we buy gold chains that cost more than the HOMES we should have been buying, STOCKS we should have been investing, COMMUNITY CENTERS we should have been funding, CHILD SUPPORT, we should have been paying, and educational SCHOLARSHIPS we should have been providing.

    Jacob the Jeweler takes your money and laughs at you while you walk out the door because it’s Hip-Hop that makes HIS family rich…while you struggle to pay Federal Income Tax and record company recoupables…

  8. ronnie brown says:

    Jeff, can you delete my 9:37pm post?…my edited 9:47pm post was my complete thought…thanx

  9. Jeff says:

    i removed the comment at ronnie’s request…

  10. Anonymous says:

    good thoughts Ronnie.

    i think the most important component of a “mature, principled man” is spirituality. I think Black artists might get somewhat less respect — compared with the 1960s/1970s — because Black artists have largely abandoned spiritual themes.

    It would be nice if we had more soul music. I think the Living Legends crew (esp. MURS, Grouch, Luckyjam, Eligh) are bringing a lot of soul to the game. And I think there are a few other hip hop artists — Gift of Gab, 2Mex, Visionaries — who definitely have a soul component to their music. But it’s rare.

  11. Anonymous says:


  12. David says:


    You have to wade thru me talking about Cam’ron and Kylie Minogue, then trying to take apart a Coates piece as well. Sorry bout that (its not a particularly timely piece either). But then you get to the good stuff, where I rant (possibly incoherently) about the article and wish I was as concise and to-the-point as hashim and jay smooooove.

  13. crossfader72 says:

    clearly the man protests too much. hip hop is tight. sure it’s not the fight the power, public enemy groove anymore but so what. you can’t really expect that aspect to last. hip hop has been the hottest music for like ten years now. tate needs to get a grip, dry his eyes and open his ears . . .

  14. Hashim says:

    Mighty Sam Chennault has awoken to make a comment. Click here

  15. Anonymous says:

    What seems to be dead is Tate’s ability to draw an audience. He hasn’t grown as a writer or thinker (or even “aspiring rock musician,” when he’s supposed to be a detached observer) so he resorts to shenanigans like this article. The Tate/Nelson George types lack credibility. Same with the Kris Ex/ Selwyn School. These people posed as “race spokesmen” in print, earned a few bucks, but find themselves facing a new generation too smart to fall for the line that shaking their asses to rap music at a party will somehow improve the plight of people living in the real world. Tate, George, Ex, Hinds, Ego Trip–they’re played out. Good riddance.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Royalty Free Beats For One Dollar



  17. Anonymous says:

    Any thoughts on hip hop grillz and who is your favorite grillz-wearing artist?

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