"Towards the End of Hip-Hop ... Beyond the Beats?" / The State of Hip-Hop: Two investigations towards an analysis

Earlier this Spring at the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston, a coterie of professors, community organizers and activists looked to expand the concept of “hip-hop radicalism” by examining the political state and direction of hip-hop. Panelists Chris Tinson, Rosa Clemente, Mariama White-Hammond and Jared Ball spoke of their current work in articulating new perspectives on hip-hop culture, organizing and scholarship relative to black and brown communities. The panel attempted to highlight the state of hip-hop politics and economics with regard to political struggle, and field ideas for building a politics that incorporates and embraces radical political histories, marginalized communities, a sustained critique of the prison-industrial complex and the politics of media justice.

Beyond the Beats: Towards a Radical Analysis of the State of Hip-Hop

I thought it would be appropriate to post the audio for this panel with a sidecar of archived Liberator coverage that touched on similar themes, but asked the right question: "Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, hip-hop is speaking volumes to the world, the question is what is it saying?" Here's an excerpt:

Towards the End of Hip-Hop
(SOURCE: The Liberator Magazine 5.2)

"Generations are fiction. The act of determining a group of people by imposing a beginning and ending date around them is a way to impose a narrative. They are interesting and necessary fictions because they allow claims to be staked around ideas. But generations are fictions nonetheless, often created simply to suit the needs of demographers, journalists, futurists and marketers."
-Jeff Chang, "Cant Stop Wont Stop"

[...] And hip-hop becomes the immaculately conceived genre, begetting itself, for itself, by itself. It may appear that all has been said and done that can possibly be said and done in regard to hip-hop. Cultivated out of very real circumstances, the genre has come quite close to being a farce. While hip-hop appears to have reached its zenith -- according to the American Dream formula -- the hollow center of what was once an intense sociopolitical force is heard and felt by pioneers and devotees alike. So the questions become: what is hip-hop and how did it lead us here? Who is to blame for this complicated musical form, which ultimately requires participants to sell their qualms and inhibitions for a false sense of achievement?

[...] Unabashedly, the text exposes the bad and ugly elements of the 1960s and 1970s which would ultimately produce some good: a revolutionary art form. Beginning with "Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment," Chang examines the economy of the South Bronx and the overt racism which caused not only "White Flight" but also created the atmosphere that would give birth to hip-hop. Chang goes on to explore the deep roots of hip-hop in Jamaica, investigating the role of seldom-mentioned but highly influential musicians like Lee "Scratch" Perry.

More than anything else, Chang discusses the aspects of hip-hop which connect the genre to its pioneers: the English and Spanish-speaking descendants of Africa. While this might seem like a moot point, the re-creation of hip-hop has subsequently divorced the art form from any distinct cultural origin. However impossible this task might seem -- especially with hip-hop's African elements -- the attempt to separate hip-hop from its cultural framework has been somewhat successful. Rarely are the origins of hip-hop discussed outside of the signature narrative stamped and approved by the corporate hip-hop industry: beginning with the Sugar Hill Gang and DJ Kool Herc.

However, hip-hop was cultivated in the post-Civil Rights, post-Black Power Movement Era, where the brutality of city-planning and economic initiatives proved to be as oppressive as segregation. Chang's comprehensive text discusses the rise and decline of New York City's youth entourages (often termed gangs), Afrika Bambaataa's movement for solidarity and the financial state of the union which would make Jay-Z a "product of Reganomics." Where hip-hop's savvy lyricists take-off, "Can't Stop Won't Stop" finishes, providing a historical critique of the significant events which continued to define the music throughout its development.

[...] "Hip-hop is not in and of itself a revolution; you're not revolutionary solely because you're hip-hop," says Chang. According to Chang, the task is very evident. And the question becomes: "How do you take what we've gained in terms of cultural power and translate it into political power?" As Chang puts it, "Hip-hop provides an opening for creating mass political movements. It's the currency that allows folks to talk all over the world." And whether we want to acknowledge it or not, hip-hop is speaking volumes to the world, the question is what is it saying? (source / fulltext)