The Real Hip Hop

1 06 2008

by Catherine Sackville-Scott


Nas was not entirely wrong when in 2006 he boldly proclaimed “Hip hop is dead”. In the song of this same name he conveys his disappointment at how the culture has developed:


Everybody sound the same, commercialize the game
Reminiscin’ when it wasn’t all business


Many established and respected hip hop artists all over the world have expressed similar feelings of disillusionment. The music that was once a powerful tool used in defiance of oppressive social structures, has now become a manufactured commodity in an industry where profit is the only objective. To maximise profit, of course, you should appeal to the desires of the consumer. Today it seems that consumers simply want power, sex and money.   


If we turn on a radio the lyrics of any hip hop song we hear are likely to be about a man (playa, gangsta, hustler etc.) “putting Lamborghini doors on an Escalade” or lusting after a woman (often referred to as a bitch, ho, lil’ mama, shorty etc.) wearing “Apple Bottom jeans, boots with the fur”. Viewers of television are sure to be lambasted with images of lavish lifestyles where men adorned with grillz, chinchilla and four-finger rings sip casually on Hennessey while scantily clad women “shake what they got” in the background. This is particularly evident in shows like “Pimp My Ride” and “MTV Cribs” where hip hop artists proudly show off their extravagant possessions.


So it is easy to understand where perceptions of hip hop as a misogynistic and materialistic genre come from. Some however, have not buckled under commercial pressure and continue to do justice to the music’s original form, even if this means being pushed underground in favour of the newer, more easily-consumable kind of hip hop. Emcees began distancing themselves from the industry around the late 80s. In 1988 KRS One released his album By All Means Necessary featuring a track called “Illegal Business” where he voiced a refusal to change his style:


KRS, I speak when I must
This that official underground rap, this you can trust
I stand outside the industry and there’s many of us
Talkin mad shit but for those who not bilingual, plenty of stuff
My whole crew is why you can’t get with any of us
Reason I’m not on TV cause I’m not sellin you nothin
I’m not rhymin for a Bentley or a house this plush
I spit for the conscious, what about us?


Like-minded hip hop heads, both international and local, have stayed true to the real hip hop, continuing to make politically and socially significant contributions. South African artists have stepped up in light of recent the xenophobic violence. Today, Sunday June 1st, the cream of the SA hip hop crop (think Jozi, Slikour, Tuks, Jub Jub, Koldproduk, Tumi, Zubz, Nthabi, DJ Kenzhero and others) came together at Baseline line in Johannesburg to perform at the Headz Against Violence concert to raise funds for affected areas.


Hip hop IS still doing good work, even in our own backyard. Just last month a group of Grahamstown hip hop activists, the Fingo Revolutionary Movement, in collaboration with the Gender Action Project, hosted a break-dancing competition where all funds went towards the building of a safehouse for victims of domestic abuse. Check out the full story on our news page…then go listen to some real hip hop!

activismhip hop


Hip Hoping for Change

27 05 2008


By Daniel Epstein



I got into hip hop when I was about 12. There was something cool and relatable to its sound. The first album with hip hop that I bought was the soundtrack to Blade 1. Although hip hop is in no sense monolithic, there is in almost all its music an underlying dissident voice, a voice that is angry, or at the very least, displeased. This is, of course, excepting the new dirty South crunk that has swept through much of American hip hop culture – the ‘made-it’ black voice that celebrates materialism and misogyny. My interest in hip hop, like the interest of those artists I admire, has been forced into the underground, that which has been labelled ‘conscious’ hip hop.  


Much of their subject matter regards ‘the street’ and street values. It’s the cry of the once, and in most ways still, marginalized, and it’s filled with the harshness of this reality. Its not too difficulty to work out how this sound can appeal to people from various walks of life. Although the lyrics might not directly reflect your story, it’s the underlying dissonance which is relatable. As I’ve said once before, rap artists criticized the socio-political system. Kids transpose the artist’s derision onto any other permutation of that ‘machine’- school, domestic relationships, money, or all of it. This is not to describe hip hop as being in some way morbid. It harnesses its power in an expression that is vibrant and colourful. I can’t deny the side of me that connects simply with its cool sound. Whatever the reasons for its widespread appeal, much of it seems to be relatable to youth with even the slightest instinct for rebelliousness (and this, once again, I do not take to be something negative).


In South Africa, like much of the rest of the world, rap and hip hop culture has staked its place in the milieu of our cultural environment. There is also a sense in our local artists, like many in the US, to remain authentic to their roots. This means engaging with the community from which they come. This makes hip hop an ideal vehicle for community engagement. Since 1990 Cape Town artists such as Brasse Vannie Kaap and POC have engaged critically with South Africa’s political landscape. Black Noise also started Heal The Hood (, an anti-racism and anti-crime campaign.


In the small town of Grahamstown too, hip hop artists are engaging with their community. Fingo Revolutionary Movement, headed by Xolile Madinda, or ‘X’, arranges events that uses hip hop to empower local Grahamstown youth. This can be through rapping, breakdance or poetry. The latest event was a collaboration with the Gender Action Project, a breakdance competition that was used to raise funds for the establishment of a safe-house for victims of sexual violence. Although hip hop often contains violent content, sometimes even regarding sexual violence, people like X would agree that hip hop is not about that, and that it can be used to create awareness about social issues of this type. 


Related video to be uploaded soon.

mc on the micmcdj