Much of the criticism
of commercial rap music that it's homophobic and sexist
and celebrates violence is well-founded. But most of the
carping we've heard against hip-hop in the wake of the Don Imus
affair is more scapegoating than serious.
Who is being
challenged here? It's not the media oligarchs, which twist an
art form into an orgy of materialism, violence and misogyny by
spending millions to sign a few artists willing to spout cartoon
violence on command. Rather, it's a small number of black
artists Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and 50 Cent, to name some
who are paid large amounts to perpetuate some of America's
oldest racial and sexual stereotypes.
of the critics who accuse hip-hop of single-handedly coarsening
the culture think to speak with members of the hip-hop generation,
who are supposedly both targets and victims of the rap culture.
They might be surprised at what this generation is saying.
In his recent
PBS documentary "Beyond Beats and Rhymes," filmmaker Byron Hurt
made clear that rap music can be as sexist and homophobic as it
can be positive and enlightening. Marginalized young women and
men have found their voices in hip-hop arts, gathering to share
culture at b-girl conventions around the world or reading for
each other in after-school poetry classes. Hurt's film pointed
the finger where it needs to be pointed at American popular
culture, which has trafficked in racist and sexist images and
language for centuries and provides all sorts of incentives for
young men of color to act out a hard-core masculinity.
If all the
overnight anti-hip-hop crusaders really cared about the generation
they want to save, they would support the growing Media Justice
movement led by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and such outspoken
women activists as Malkia Cyril and Rosa Clemente. The group contends
that such media powers as Emmis Communications and Clear Channel
have corrupted hip-hop radio.
would engage young public intellectuals like Joan Morgan ("When
Chickenheads Come Home to Roost"), Gwendolyn D. Pough ("Check
It While I Wreck It") and Mark Anthony Neal ("That's the Joint!:
The Hip-Hop Studies Reader"), who are defining what they call
a new hip-hop feminism.
The gap between
the programming on Viacom's MTV and BET and young people's interests
seems never to have been bigger. According to the Black Youth
Project, a University of Chicago study released in January, the
overwhelming majority of young people, especially blacks, believe
rap videos portray black women negatively. That's one reason rap
music sales declined 20 per cent last year and remain down 16
per cent this year.
are a poor indicator of what is really happening in hip-hop.
scenes are thriving. Great art is being made not just in music
but in visual arts, film, theater, dance and poetry. It can be
seen in the works of Sarah Jones, Nadine Robinson, Rennie Harris,
Kehinde Wiley and Danny Hoch. Hip-hop studies is a rapidly growing
and popular field at colleges and universities, with more than
300 classes offered.
In hip-hop after-school programs, voter registration groups, feminist
gatherings and public forums, the future of hip-hop is under discussion.
These hip-hop thinkers want to take the culture that unites many
young people and channel it toward political engagement. In
2004, voter registration campaigns using hip-hop to target youth
produced more than 2 million new voters under the age of 30.
commercial rap made by a few artists with how hip-hop is actually
lived by millions is to miss the good that hip-hop does. If hip-hop's
critics paid attention to the hip-hop generation, they would learn
that the discussion has already begun without them and that they
might need to listen. Then a real intergenerational conversation
Jeff Chang is the editor of "Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics
of Hip-Hop." Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Welcome
to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports."
has also gotten himself a new
blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His new book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is now in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com
Other articles by Dave Zirin:
The Greatest Anti-War Protestor
Pimping Mike Tyson
Pat Tillman's Brother Breaks His Silence
The Passing Of Peter Norman
When Fists Are Frozen
Why Today I Wear My Zidane Jersey
Hey Guys, It's Not A War
Using Soccer To Kick Iran
Why Did Pat Tillman Die?
Why Pat Tillman's Parents Are No Longer Silent