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 (www.healthehood.org), 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.