"Culture is synonymous with answers" / A conversation with Brady Goodwin: The Death of Hip-Hop, Marriage and Morals

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The Death of Hip-Hop, Marriage & Morals?
by Rohiatou Siby (Contributing Writer, The Liberator Magazine)

Hip Hop will simply amaze you
Craze you, pay you
Do whatever you say do
But black, it can't save you

-Mos Def ("Hip Hop", Black on Both Sides)

I think black Dante is correct; hip-hop does not have the power to save anyone. Hip-hop is dead; shot execution style. All that remains is the sickening stench of her corpse. Regrettably, the inviolable sanctity of marriage and morals are on the execution line as well. Consequently, I’m left asking the question: How did we arrive here?

Many of us have heard the various personifications of hip-hop and her dramatic life but, apart from being comic-book-esque, they are also true tales. My grandparents’ generation marvels at the devolution of the social mores of the hip-hop generation. The collective self-dignity that guided my forefathers, even through the psychosis that characterized slavery in the United States, is clearly lacking in my day. This observation leads me to reflect on the sacrifices my ancestors made and what gave them the strength to anticipate better and persevere. The hope of a future legacy, a strong and enhanced generation was the driving force. As Dr. Maya Angelou says, I am “the hope and the dream of the slave.”

A brief comparison of our historic and present culture leads to the supposition that my forefathers in no way envisioned misguided youth, broken families and “single ladies” anthems when they were brutally beaten, killed and imprisoned for their thirst for knowledge, desire for equality and hunger for life.

The Death of Hip Hop, Marriage & Morals, a book written by emcee and educator Brady “Phanatik” Goodwin, thoroughly addresses my question, by examining one of the most influential expressions of black culture-turned global culture. Goodwin, the co-founder of the Grammy nominated christian hip-hop powerhouse collective The Cross Movement, chronicles hip-hop's transition from a lifestyle that united urban youth through self-expression, to an instrument of self-repression. Eye-opening and intriguing, it is a scholarly piece laced with tough wordplay.

Liberatormag: You’re not the first to declare hip-hop dead. In your book you cite Mos Def and Nas among others as emcees who’ve discussed the death of the culture. In order to fully understand this statement we have to establish that hip-hop is not just a music genre, but also a culture. Next, we must define culture.

Brady: Culture, is synonymous with “answers.” It is not a noun as much as it is adjectival. It is comprised of the ways that a group of people come together to answer life’s whats. For instance, fashion is a culture’s answer to the question, “how do we cover the body and protect it from adverse elements and unauthorized eyes?” In the book, I go down the list to outline the cultural questions of food, heroes, values, art, etc.

Liberatormag: I’m glad you referenced heroes. A brief examination of the people most admired in a particular society can be indicative of its overall moral standing. Present day mainstream, youth culture highly esteems celebrities such as Lil’ Wayne and Nicki Minaj, who are artistically talented but lack moral substance. What does that reveal about the culture’s success in answering the hows of life?

Brady: It confirms that there is a disconnect between hip-hop's answers to many of the cultural questions previously mentioned and the parallel necessity of preserving a system of values. Commercialism does this to many cultures.

Liberatormag: True, but why does it seem as though hip-hop has been left more destitute than other cultures?

Brady: The fact that hip-hop was born into a capitalistic society handicapped it. Hence, thriving, in a capitalistic sense, required the adoption of commercial characteristics in its pursuits and efforts. In order for the culture to have survived without commercialism, the American civil rights generation would have had to impart the value of community over economic gain. By and large, they were too sanctimonious for that, viewing hip-hop as street-culture, or otherwise preoccupied to help mentor the hip-hop generation. As a result, hip-hop continues to thrive much like a pyramid scheme in which people continue to buy in hoping that they will profit, in some essential way, from the culture’s perpetuation.

Are We There Yet? Hip Hop and Self Realization

Liberatormag: You refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and suggest that, in the quest for success, this hierarchy be flipped upside down. You propose, as W.E.B DuBois, that it’s more important to focus on “Who I am,” instead of “What I have.” How do you think this mindset would change hip-hop's landscape?

Brady: Since hip-hop was born on the turf where gang wars were once fought; lets approach this question through battle rap which is in the DNA of almost every hip-hop form. When emcees grasp the concept of DuBois’ self-realization or the idea that we are made in the image of God, rather than battling for the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, emcees would rest in the awareness that they have already reached the top. They are then free to turn their attention to battling destructive ideologies and to help secure, for the self and community, the lower levels of human need as defined by Maslow.

Liberatormag: Hip-hop's edutainment stage was marked by emcees who held this belief. Is it possible for current mainstream urban youth culture to embrace this new or rather old approach to hip-hop? On a grander scale, can American culture turn from embracing capitalism as a core value to community building, and self-worth independent of financial status?

Brady: The very fabric of our country is threaded with capitalistic ideology. Capitalism touts the prospects of becoming personally wealthy as a means to motivate people to be as productive as possible; although this works in many cases, it can be a confusing source of motivation. What is the end goal? Is it productivity or personal wealth? If both, which is more important? If it is being productive, then a good definition of true productivity must be established to ensure one does not engage in unproductive pursuits along the way. I look at productivity through the lens of the opening chapters of the Bible’s book of Genesis. It is interesting that Adam was placed in a garden where his job was to cause (generate) as much life as possible without letting anything die. That is the goal for my relationships, pursuits and life in general.

Liberatormag: I like that. In addition to culture, you address family and ethics in the book. Why these three?

Brady: The goal was to start broad and narrow the problem down to the heart of the matter. Culture is the broader scheme that affects the way we live. If we zoom in closer we end up with family as the socializing mechanism. Finally we are left with the inner workings of our own hearts which deals with what I personally believe to be right and wrong and how I sustain my answers to those questions -- ethics. Ideally, we would start with ethics and work our way out but, in order to draw attention to why this self-introspection is necessary, I felt it would be better to address the issue in reverse.

Da Youth Dem

Liberatormag: You have the privilege of working with youth in a unique setting teaching character education; how did that opportunity arise? What are your students saying and what might that reveal about the future?

Brady: In 2008, I began teaching character education in Philly high schools. Initially and humorously, I was enlisted to teach abstinence with a “hip-hop approach,” utilizing a curriculum developed by someone on a cornfield in Nebraska. They made the curriculum “urban” by coloring the children in the booklet brown. I tried teaching this curriculum at my former high school and a kid literally fell out of his chair laughing at me -- I decided that would never happen again. After designing my own curriculum I soon realized the issue was much bigger than sex. Even though recent studies report that Philadelphia has the nation’s highest rate of sexually active preteens, there were also many character issues that needed to be addressed such as: anger, violence, leadership, character, manhood, womanhood and a host of others.

Liberatormag: How do you see the curriculum impacting students? How can we read it?

Brady: Yes, it is. I am currently plotting ways to get my programs funded and to have more individuals like myself to facilitate them in the schools, because it’s going to take more than just a small percentage of the city’s youth seeing me once a week, especially when the culture and the media bombard them with the opposite of everything I’m saying. It takes a counter-culture to counter a culture and until they come into contact with such a community, I’m just going to look like a fascinating anomaly.

Grown Boys

Liberatormag: The chapter “Grown Boy Syndrome” contains one of the most masterful pieces of alliteration in the book; it reads: “Even if young males don’t look to their own fathers, they make up composite sketches of foster father figures ... Young males will find a father figure for their family portrait, even if the foster father has to be formed from fragmented photos of fact and fiction and forced in the frame.” How exactly do young males form these composite sketches? How do men who’ve navigated their lives in this way break the cycle?

Brady: In the book I give several examples. Not the least of which is 50 Cent, who lifted his name from a Brooklyn hoodlum of the 1980s and made it his own, and Lil’ Wayne who was determined not to be like his own absent father but yet chose a grown man named Baby as his father figure. I think it’s only natural for males to find fill-ins for their failing fathers. That’s not the cycle that needs to break. The problem is that as a society, we don’t shine enough light on good men and many of these good men are so busy being good to their own that they do not look to find ways to become available as surrogates to those in need.

Liberatormag: The repositioning of the nuclear family, in which a man and woman are committed to living under the same roof as their children plays a huge role in this turnaround. This can be achieved in many ways, couples have remained committed to common law relationships longer than some legally married couples; why is marriage so important?

Brady: Marriage is the strongest form of a monogamous relationship we know of. It is strong because it invites accountability and community into the keeping of vows. It also has the state’s assistance in lifting or lessening socio-economic burdens, thereby giving the union even more fuel to successfully fly. Children deserve to know that the members of their family are committed to that union through the ups and downs of life. Spouses, who engage in the physiologically life-altering phenomenon of sex, also deserve to know that their partner is committed to their union throughout the ups and downs of life. And, contrary to growing popular opinion, society deserves to know that an individual’s sexuality is not going to be a threat to society’s well-being, i.e., the sexual threat of spreading STDs, leaving a family for another lover, or potentially breaking up someone else’s home.

Liberatormag: Although I do not know if contractual marriage as practiced today can actually guard against those assailants just mentioned, I do agree with you. None of our decisions can be made in a vacuum and when irresponsible choices are made there are always consequences incurred by the community -- the bond of marriage, holds the individual to a higher level of accountability, in the eyes of the community, than a dating or common law relationship. Before concluding the interview, are there any words you would like to share with the readers concerning who this book was written for and what can be expected in the forthcoming books?

Brady: In teaching, I noticed there was something that my generation missed and I wanted to find a way to get this missing ingredient into the community’s “drinking water.” So I say this book is for anyone working with, raising or simply concerned about urban youth and young adults. As far as subsequent books, this may sound a bit prophetic, but I wrote this book as a single man. There are issues that I left out of the book because, even though I believe very strongly in my views, I also feel that those issues are better addressed as a married man and perhaps as a married father. Nonetheless, if it takes too long for wifey to come along, I may have to go ahead and pull the trigger and produce the next gem ... time will tell.

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