Sunday, April 7, 2013

Talking Points 9: Tricia Rose--Hip Hop/Black Suffering--Hyperlinks(?)

Texts: Tricia Rose TIME Magazine Interview and Tricia Rose's Hip Hop Wars Youtube Video

The above is a video taken during a National Action Network panel discussion on the entertainment industry. The man speaking is Radio One (one of the few major companies that own MANY radio stations, Radio
Emmett Till before (left) and his corpse after the brutal fatal beating he received (right)
One alone owns almost 70 stations) CEO Alfred Liggins . I included this video because it relates to what Tricia Rose was addressing, particularly in the TIME magazine interview. I cannot speak for these girls who spoke out during this panel discussion (quite impressively, I must say) but I must say that I agree, to an extent, with their argument. I have no issue with the proliferation of hip-hop on the airwaves. However, I wish that the hip-hop that got radio play was not the same ole' track saying the same ole' thing (get money, get bitches, get drugs [yayo, weed, and now molly]). We need more "conscious" rap on the radio. We need a diversification of what we have access to. As it stands, the popular rappers with the popular tracks are simply saying exactly what the Machine wants us to hear. The message being shared and what we are taking in falls in line with the dominant ideologies of society. 1)Capitalism--the music often praises money as being one of the greatest things on earth. Be it money made by selling drugs or money earned my slangin' beats. 2)Misogyny/Patriarchy--Let's just look at Rick Ross' lyrics about  date rape or Jay-Z's "Bitches and Sisters"
3)Anti-Blackness/White Supremacy--Lil Wayne's lyrics about beating up "that pussy like Emmett Till", Lil Wayne again, this time on a track with Drake, saying "Beautiful Black woman I bet that bitch look better red", Kanye West stated in Essence "if it wasn't for race mixing there'd be no video girls"
4) Homophobia/Straightness-Snoop Dogg Lion said "Frank Ocean ain't no rapper. He's a singer. [Being gay] is acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don't know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine"

A "meme"type image I created durng a workshop in which we discussed the ways in which hip-hop has been hijacked by capitalists and other hegemonic figures who now use mainstream hip-hop as a way to spread their message. 
These are all examples from commercial hip-hop, and, as Tricia Rose said, "commercial hip-hop--that is dead". By saying that commercial hip hop is dead, what Rose means is that it has lost its way. It has gotten so far from the roots of hip-hop and what hip-hop is supposed to be, that it might as well be dead for it's lost almost all of its connection to its genealogy.
Rose does not state this outright in neither the TIME magazine article nor the video clip from the alumni talk at Brown but I would argue, and others would as well, that the origins of hip-hop are comparable to that of Black studies. In "Black Op" Fred Moten states:
This open secret...the aim of black studies...the critique of the structures and tendencies whose delimitation and denial of that aim appear integral to their own foundation has rightly been understood to be indispensable to black studies: "the critique of Western Civilization" is black studies. (1743, emphasis mine)
 Essentially, Black Studies' goal is the critique of Western civilization. It is possible that the same argument could be made for the origin of hip-hop. Particularly given a quote from the same article of Moten's in which he states:
Black studies' concern with what it is to own one's dispossession, to mine what is held in having been possessed, makes it more possible to embrace the underprivilege of being sentenced to the gift of constant escape (1745)
If we were to replace Black studies with hip-hop the first sentence would still work because an argument could easily be made that owning/recognizing one's own disposession is a large part of hip-hop, old and new. And to recognize the state of being dispossesed, of being considered separate from the rest of humanity, of being considered inferior/less than/inhuman in the variety of ways that the dominant society has created (see: Black folk and hypersexual representation, Black folk and inherent criminality/ Black folk and natural lower intelligence, the list could go on)

It is precisely for that reason that my idea of "conscious" rap is a bit more encompassing than most people's. Many only see rappers like Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and up-and-comer Kendrick Lamar as "conscious rappers" because they think they're rapping about something 'more important' than drugs, people think their raps are smarter or have more to offer. I would argue that there are plenty of rappers who are disregarded as having nothing to offer who actually do have quite a lot to say, and that those folk are plenty "conscious". The hip-hop that often plays on the radio right now, that kind of music that talks about slipping molly into a girl's drink, has lost its connection to hip-hop of "the past". But, I would hesitate to group some hip-hop that gets dismissed as garbage with that same group. A lot of "hard" rap, also known as "gangsta" rap very much deals with acknowledging one's dispossession. There is a lot of pain and hurt in the lyrics, these so-called "tough" guys are opening up about their own depression, about feeling trapped with nowhere to go, about feeling like they are outside-of-humanity. In Troublesome '96 Tupac announces that he is "hopeless", he goes on to say that there "ain't nothin worse than this cursed-ass hopeless life". DMX spent a lot of time talking about his depression, likening himself to demonic figures because that is how he saw himself (because he was looking through the lens given him by the dominant society); in "Get at Me Dog" X states that "the days are longer and seems like I'm wastin' time/I've got a lot of dreams but I'm not really chasing mine...I live to die, That's where I'm headed".
These are rappers, young men, who have been reaching out with the means that they were given. But, it is easier to simply dismiss them as criminals or "gangstas". To use their pain as proof of the criminality rampant in the Black community and/or as entertainment. Black suffering turned into entertainment for the masses.

Questions/Comments for the class:
I suppose I don't really have any direct questions, just general things that I wonder. I wonder how many people simply dismiss hip-hop or never look deeper into lyrics that they think are "garbage". I wonder how many of those people actually reflect on why they so quickly decide to dismiss this music, whether they've ever truly given it a chance or if they've allowed what they've learned through various 'secret' and not-so-secret educations about rap and the Black community to cloud their judgment. I've also got to be honest and say that I'm disappointed with the readings for this week. I was so excited for this week from the very beginning of the semester. I wish we could've read an essay of hers or two. Perhaps there'd be less breadth, but I think the depth that we'd get would be beneficial for the class.

ETA: Rachelle's blog post reminded me of one of my favorite Talib Kweli songs. I linked a bunch of rappers that I'd argue should join the ranks of conscious rappers, I might as well include a song by a a rapper unquestionably considered "conscious" by most hip-hop heads and fair-weather fans alike. He's amazing, and unlike Mos Def who I have problems with after watching Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, he's also quite consistent and never seems to front.
anyway, enjoy two Talib videos. First is "Beautiful Struggle" and the other is 'Black Girl Pain' featuring a fantastic woman rapper who does not get nearly enough love. Both are from his album "Beautiful Struggle"


  1. Well, I'll be honest and say that I've never given hip hop a chance. But, I do that with other styles of music too. I tend to just stick with what I know and don't really try new types of music. I don't know if the reason I never listened to hip hop is because of other people's judgment or just because I didn't think I would like the genre.

  2. So I tried my best to do an extended comment of this blog :)
    Great post!!!

  3. I hear your disappointment, Andrea ... we made a decision to go lighter on the reading and use some other texts in class. If you are looking for other resources, beyond my scope of expertise for sure, check out this link. I can't get the live links to load but I am sure you can find these in the library as well. A reading list, if nothing else!

    1. Thanks for responding, and thank you very much for this list. I'm already excited for the summer so I can start reading these!!

  4. i like the way you outlined what we read and made such good connections. I do not know much about hip hop and your insight was educational.