The late Dick Clark once said “that music is the soundtrack of our lives” and as I reflect on that prescient statement that he uttered I can’t help but to think about my soundtrack and how the music via the medium of Hip-Hop that blared through the speakers of my Sony Walkman in the late 1980’s & the early 1990’s helped to inform my perspective of the topics of the day and influenced the trajectory that I would eventually take on my life journey. It isn’t too farfetched to say that music served as a mentor of sorts, giving me instruction that I sometimes took and ran with, often with mixed results.
I haven’t reached the point where I am firmly ensconced in the tribe of what some would refer to as “old”, but it would seem that I am in a netherworld of sorts; a strange duality, where I still have a firm grasp of my youth while still being cognizant of the power that the wisdom of my years has afforded me.
Hip-Hop music was such a powerful influence for me that I can recall the hair standing up on the back of my neck whenever I heard Run D.M.C come on the radio, which was followed by my modeling various incarnations of the B-Boy stance in search of the perfect one. As I grew older and Hip-Hop music began to diversify, the options offered were tantamount to going to a buffet and trying to figure out where to start.
But, when I first heard Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” in the summer of 1989, I truly felt empowered and it lead to me to be inspired to read into the subject matter, current events and political discourse that was consistently touched on by many artists of the day. Artists such as KRS-1 who was the front man for Boogie Down Productions with “Stop the Violence, Self Destruction and We’re All in the Same Gang” being on frequent rotation on the radio and in music videos, it seemed that Hip-Hop music had a gauge on what was going on at the time. It was music, through the medium of Hip-Hop that helped to tune me in to the injustices posed by Apartheid in South Africa, violence in urban communities and the like. It served as my version of the news and I was a seemingly a sponge.
In 1992, Pete Rock & C.L Smooth released their sophomore effort “Mecca & the Soul Brother”; dare I say that this album changed my life? The album’s release coincided with the ownership of my first car, I played this album to the point that I eventually broke the cassette tape (twice) from overplay due to my being overly enamored of the storytelling weaved into the music. Coupling this with the cohesiveness shown by A Tribe Called Quest as they infused elements of jazz into the music, it was nothing short of pure genius to me, I often sat transfixed nodding along to the lyrics as if I was in a trance.
Not to say that there weren’t elements of discord and rancor in Hip-Hop music in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s because there was plenty. The difference between then and now is that there was a host of voices that were able to be heard and for a time it didn’t drown out other competing voices at their expense, but ultimately the publicity that some of the artists got had the effect of popularizing the niche of “gangster rap” and pushing it into the forefront.
In the present it is my fear is that the listeners and proponents of contemporary Hip-Hop don’t have that same inspirational vibe that would encourage them to push the envelope intellectually. The bulk of messaging seems to be focused on the debauchery of the day whether it be misogyny, the glorification of the criminal element, escapism via the medium of drugs use and last but not least, this sad trend of abdication of the power of the belt to prevent the undergarments of the wearer being shown to the world.
In short, today’s Hip-Hop music has moved far from its original role as a voice of the voiceless which empowered many in the form of protest music, to that of a marketing arm to whatever product needs to be sold. It is my contention that the mainstream rap artists of today have no awareness of social justice… No call to a higher power, no dedication to the communities that supports them, zero intellectual curiosity and no desire to push the envelope past their own selfish designs of self aggrandizement …
And that in my eyes is nothing short of criminal, but then again “messages” and love for the craft went out of style a long time ago!