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


Straight from Prison onto the Stage

30 05 2008

By Jolanta Slomkowski

South African youth, as well as youth all over the world, are facing a number of challenges, particularly when they live in conditions of poverty and disadvantage. Considering the very high levels of violence in our country, the effective treatment of violent youths is imperative. Crime statistics in South Africa say that most of ‘youth violence’ is a result of either alcohol and drug abuse…or being bored. I was thinking the same thing…crime is officially attributed to being “bored”!?! I can understand that alcohol and drug abuse impairs one’s judgement and for some, it means committing a criminal offence. I however, cannot understand the latter. (I’m bored now…but I know what I can do to not be)

Ok so I’m back and not bored anymore. Don’t worry I didn’t do anything that would classify me as a first offender J I’ve had time to think about that ‘bored part’ and voila…it makes sense. You see all too often the available official crime statistics are incomplete; what the statistics can tell however, is that something urgently needs to be done with the youth ’at risk’ and on the streets in South Africa. Youth is regarded as a developmental phase in its own right with a unique contribution to make to the individual’s present and future. (Let’s not forget the contribution the individual has to make to society too)

Crimes these children are facing include; their demographic presence, their ability to cope with rapid change, their openness to the future, as well as the challenges facing them – peer pressure and identity formation. Growing up, we learn how to interact and develop within families, social and cultural groups, schools, workplaces, communities, and the economic, political and social orders. Families are the fundamental building blocks for positive human development as well as being a ‘safety net’ for people facing challenges. Families are also a ‘storehouse’ of social values and all too often, somewhere in this hybridity, social values and norms are forgotten. Children become lost, vulnerable and ‘at risk’. I guess the important question to ask now is what can be done to rehabilitate previous offenders back into society and entrusting them to never follow the same route again. More importantly, what can be done to prevent children turning to crime as a solution? I found a poll on the South African Human Resource Science Management website which reads as follows; “What would be the most effective way to rehabilitate young violent offenders?” Perfect! This is exactly the answer I’ve been looking for. Various options were given and the follow was derived;

* 16 of 47 people say ‘Life skills education to resist factors such as peer pressure’

* 10 of 47 say ‘Skills development to help them find a job’

* 15 of 47 say ‘Mentors and positive role models to provide ongoing support’

* 2 of 47 say ‘Community service to make up for their crime’

* 4 of 47 say ‘Offenders should be kept in prison to take responsibility for their actions’

So the majority vote involves teaching children ‘at risk’ the skills they need to resist peer pressure, which in my opinion is a big influence on criminals, as well as teaching them the skills that are educational and provide them with something to dedicate their time too. (This is said in response to the crime statistics…you remember the part where it reads that crime can be attributed to being bored)

I went to visit the Egazini Centre in Joza, Grahamstown. Here I met a group of young men and women who were previously ‘at risk’ and some even first offenders that have spent time in prison. The Egazini Centre in collaboration with Grahamstown Social Development has been facilitating a program aimed at keeping Joza youth off the streets and out of prison. 30 children, ranging from between 9 and 16 years old are fetched from school everyday and brought to this centre. Since October last year, these children have been provided with a place of refuge, to learn assertiveness and confidence boosting as well as drama skills and management. They are also currently putting on a production for the Grahamstown National Arts Festival called ‘My Life on the Streets of Grahamstown’. Through this program, the children have built skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives and that could potentially help in their future dreams. Youth development is an integrated and positive approach that recognises the assets and strengths of young people rather than focusing only on their problems and limitations. This youth development project aims at doing exactly this; societal norms remain valid, the children feel cared for, valued and useful. This program serves a successful example to keep children off the streets and provide them with a sense of direction, and hopefully more like this will be implemented. If our crime statistics aren’t good enough at addressing the urgency for such initiatives to take place, then the inconsistency that exists around them should say something more.