Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Power of the Tongue

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The Power of the Tongue

Most people would define hip-hop or rap as a person reciting words to music, but hip-hop is much more than that. It’s a form of expression. The voice of hip-hop comes from a generation trying to make something out of nothing, a generation that was not being seen or heard. Hip-hop’s voice comes in a variety of faces from pioneer rapper Jo-Jo, who is Puerto Rican, to African-American rapper Sista Souljah. With this diverse face, hip-hop has been able to speak to a generation from all ethnic backgrounds. Hip-hop can be a reflection of social and economic conditions or a source of history that might not normally be taught in traditional education. It has been the voice for those who have been oppressed, and has also been a vehicle for economic self-sufficiency and collective survival on urban streets. While Hip -Hop is a multi-billion dollar industry, over the years it has lost its freshness and originality causing a state of artistic and spiritual paralysis within the Hip-Hop culture. Rap music has become shallow, a superficial business, and it resonates with greed, vanity and violence. The genre is now a shadow of its former self. Artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Mos Def, Tupac, Rakim, and Run DMC, that have enriched the lives of many people and embody the beauty, pride and self-respect of the art form, are being passed over for the “bling bling” era which can be defined as an era filled with competition of who has the hottest car, the most jewelry, or who’s rollin’ on “0’s”, car rims. As a result, the Hip Hop culture has become a rebel against its own existence by allowing itself to be controlled and defined by corporate powers, which profit enormously at the expense of the


destruction of the Black male image. The corporate stranglehold on Hip-Hop has made the need

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to be a “thug” over shadow positive hip-hop, slowly causing its demise and creating a new form of slavery within our music industry and urban society.

In 115 Americans rushed to movie theaters to see the box office smash, Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith. The movie was and still is one of the most notable pictures produced. The film was even endorsed by President Woodrow Wilson and was shown at the White House. While the film was a tremendous hit it was also very controversial because it was based on the antiblack writings of Thomas Dixon and depicted the black male as being an ignorant, lazy, over-sexed, buffoons thug. Though “Birth of a Nation” was made over 80 years ago stereotypes depicted in the film are still reminiscent in our society. Unfortunately, Hip-Hop has internalized the many negative generalizations that America has created about African-Americans. An example of one stereotype can be seen in juxtaposing the main African-American female character in “Birth of a Nation” with the African-American females in rap videos of today. In “Birth of a Nation” the African-American female is portrayed as a “sex pot”, she needs to have sex no matter who its with and at any time. Though the technology of rap videos are far more advanced than “Birth of a Nation” the portrayal of African-American women has stayed the same. Today, whether it’s on BET or MTV it is hard not to find a rap video that doesn’t have half-naked African-American women poised and ready for sexual exploitation. The internalization of these negative stereotypes manifests itself in the forms of self- hatred, disrespect of women, and Black on Black violence; African-Americans between the ages of 15 and 1 that have been killed have been by the hands of other African-Americans. This self-hatred


can be heard and witnessed in the hedonistic, materialistic, misogynist, and violent rap lyrics of today.

Gangsta rap continues to promote and glorify the most negative and heinous aspects of the ghetto, drugs, prostitution, and violence, without any positive balances. The images of “gangsta rap” feed into the racist propaganda notion that Black males have the propensity to commit crime. Currently, many rap songs and videos are punctuated with hyperbolic expressions of excessiveness. Moreover, the relentless images of thugs, gangstas, playas, bitches, and hos are glamorized and can lead to a self-destructive path.

In the late 1500’s the auction block was continuously adorned with Africans brought to America to participate in slavery. The next step was to degrade, dehumanize, and strip these slaves of their identity. Though the slaves were black and the masters were white the color that fueled this travesty was green. Someone once said that ‘money is the root of all evil’ and money is the disease that has fallen upon the hip-hop community. Though the reconstruction period started in 1865 and slavery ended the music industry has fallen in to a form of slavery that is powered by “mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money”. The difference between slavery of colonial times and the choke hold on the music industry is that the people with money come in all different colors. Once corporations began to realize they could make money off of rap music and Hip-Hop culture, it was all over. Positive messages, social and political awareness, intelligence, and eventually even talent all seemed to disappear. Just as slaves were stripped of having a powerful voice, hip-hop artists’ voices are being quelled, and an identity is being lost.

One of the ways slave traders would check to see if a slave was good for selling was to lick their sweat, by doing this the traders believed that they could tell if the African had a

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disease. If the African was sickly then he/she was tossed to the side. In today’s music industry this same method still prevails. Corporations taste the sweat of the artist and if it isn’t pertaining to the latest fad then it is tossed out the window. Corporations do not literally taste the sweat of the artist, but they are taking the hard work and creativity of many artists and not giving it a fair chance. As of right now the latest fad portrays negative images of all young people. Anything that can’t maximize profits in the least amount of time is out the door. Ice Cube said it best, “ ‘Self-Destruction’ don’t pay the fckin’ rent”, referring to Chuck D’s collaboration song, “Self Destruction” to stop the black on black violence of the late 80’ early 0’s. As a result of this shift toward the corporate value system, companies and labels only focus on signing and marketing rappers, who are spewing forth what the mainstream is willing to ingest, which is mindless, materialistic thug mentality. One of the rappers that contribute to this is Ja Rule. I must admit that if you listen to Ja Rule’s music over tracks of from Stevie Wonder you can get caught up in the hype but the key is to really listen to the message of the music. In his song “Livin’ it Up” Ja Rule glamorizes giving young women ecstasy in order to have sex with them. Why would a public figure whose many fans are young children put something like that in his lyrics? It’s quite possible that he believes that’s the only way to go about getting sex but most importantly it pays the fckin’ rent.

In Spike Lees film Bamboozled, the rappers of today are depicted as being modern day minstrels; minstrel shows became popular in the 180’s and were savage parodies featuring white and black actors in “black face”. Many rappers have sacrificed their moral and artistic integrity in order to chase the illusion known as The American Dream, nice house, white picket

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fence and .5 kids. Sadly quite a few Hip-Hop artists have sold out their souls and their culture in exchange for uncertain riches while the corporate world capitalizes.

Words have been the catalysts for revolutions. I don’t want to point the finger at one particular group because every one needs to step up and promote positive messages, but what rappers need to understand is that their words are powerful instruments. Life and death are in the power of the tongue. Hip-Hop artists are in the unique position to influence others with their words. They should use their lyrics to elevate, inform, and inspire the youth, instead of constantly focusing on the demoralizing aspects of human nature. Hip-Hop must get back to its essence and its roots, while maintaining its cutting edge. The one thing that gives me hope, is seeing that conscious rap is finally making a comeback. The success of the recent offerings from Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Jurassic 5, and other positive artists in other genres (Bilal, Musiq, Jill Scott, india.arie, etc.), show record companies that awareness is marketable, and positive messages are profitable. I hope that they continue to support this trend, and nurture artists who care about more than how shiny their jewels are and what they drive. Mos Def said it best, “Life is more than what your hands can grasp.”

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