Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Me and Mother Jones :: Hip-Hop Politics In A New Era

Here’s a preview of the second of my pieces out this month, an overview of the emergence of hip-hop activism in the U.S. and its prospects for 2008 and beyond from Mother Jones. There’s also a timeline…which reminds me to let you know that the book Born In The Bronx by the great Joe Conzo is finally out! More on that soon…for now check this:

Jerry Quickley, hip-hop poet, performance artist, and war correspondent, can describe hell. It is a post-“liberated” Baghdad street, jammed with beat-up Brazilian and Czech sedans spewing trails of carbon monoxide, clouds of dust thickening in the 125-degree heat. He is riding shotgun in his Iraqi friend’s car. “You have no traffic lights because there’s no electricity. You have no police because they’d just be shot or blown up,” he says. “You can barely breathe, traffic’s going nowhere.”

U.S. transport patrols fire into the air in an effort to clear traffic and ward off would-be bombers. Iraqi drivers desperately ram their clunkers into each other to get out of the way. “And while this is all going on,” Quickley says, “this friend of mine is playing songs by 50 Cent.”

The top-selling doo-ragged-and-body-oiled rapper—whose smash debut album was entitled “Get Rich Or Die Trying”, and whose 2005 album “The Massacre” occasioned a multi-platform onslaught that included a book, a feature movie, a bloody videogame, a bling-encrusted line of watches, shoe and “enhanced water” (“hydrate or die trying”) endorsements, not to mention tabloid headlines about a beef with a former protégé culminating in real-life shootings—warbles through the busted car stereo in a nasally drawl, “Many men wish death upon me.”

“Sarte was right,” thought Quickley at that moment. “This is ‘No Exit.'”

For many, this is what hip-hop has become: an omnipresent grisly übermacho soundtrack from which there appears no exit. Tensions exploded this past spring after the April firing of shock jock Don Imus, who had called the largely African American Rutgers women’s college basketball team “nappy-headed ho’s”. While Nike took out ads in the New York Times and on the web that read “Thank you, ignorance…Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak”, Fox News commentators like Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson lectured hip-hop advocates. For two days, Oprah Winfrey and an angry studio audience cornered Russell Simmons, the rapper Common, and music industry executives.

For many, this is what hip-hop has become: an omnipresent grisly, übermacho soundtrack. Don Imus unleashed the latest hip-hop backlash when he noted that in calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” he was using an argot popularized by rappers. The frenzy of finger-pointing that followed culminated with the spectacle of Bill O’Reilly lecturing hiphop advocates on sexism and the “n word,” while Oprah berated Russell Simmons and other industry executives. The talk show circus aside, there’s plenty of evidence that people are weary of corporate rap. Only 59 million rap albums were sold in the United States last year, down from 90 million in 2001. According to the University of Chicago’s Black Youth Project report, youths—particularly minorities—overwhelmingly believe that rap videos portray women of color in a negative light.

Once a cacophony of diverse voices, the genre now looks like a monoculture whose product, not unlike high-fructose corn
syrup, is designed not to nourish, but simply to get us hooked on other products, from McDonald’s to Courvoisier.

Quickley, though, remains a true believer in hip-hop’s transformational potential. For him, it goes back to the summer of
1976, three years before the Sugarhill Gang’s breakthrough “Rapper’s Delight”…

Read the whole thing here.

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