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!