05 March, 2008

The Miseducation of an entire generation

This post started with a completely innocuous car-ride, soundtracked by some basic gangster rap. Sure the music was violent and misogynistic with a capitalist bent that most economists would be proud of, but its biggest sin was its banality. At one point, my friend turned to me and said: "It all sounds the same." Boring.

Now let's take a few steps back in time to a recent conversation I had with my Dad. He's a pretty enlightened music snob, far from prudish and always open to listening, but we have a complete musical disconnect when it comes to hip-hop and rap. I don't know how many times he's reiterated my friend's statement that "it all sounds the same", but when he says these words, he's talking about the entire genre. A quick listen to the top Hip Hop/Rap songs on iTunes would give anyone the impression that synth beats, primal "bird of prey" screeching, and graphic slang are all that the genre has to offer. Music should never be taken at face value. Souljah Boy, Timbaland, and Flo Rida are only a small section of the hip-hop music available for those willing to search. Even popular artists like Lupe Fiasco and, yes, Kanye are breaking the hip-hop mold and creating fantastic sounds.

Yesterday, Samhita Mukhopadhyay posted "Confessions of a Hip-Hop Feminist" on The Nation, a blog post lamenting the generational disconnect that hip-hop music has illuminated. She writes of her college days:

"It was already understood that hip-hop was political and it certainly gave many disenfranchised youth a vehicle through which to communicate the material conditions of their lives. There was no question that hip-hop was a movement, but whether it would ever be considered a "legitimate" political movement was yet to be seen."

This is still yet to be seen.

Music and politics have long gone hand-in-hand. To paraphrase the character Jimmy in Roddy Doyle's book The Commitments: Soul is the music of ridin' (a.k.a. fucking) and the music of the proletariat (a.k.a. the working class). These two defining traits bring to light basic urges: to be free and rise above your parent's class, and to "get some". These basic needs are expressed in hip-hop music, they're just being expressed with a different generation's language, and therein lies that massive disconnect.

I think it is the language and the musicality of hip hop/rap that has the Boomers and the X-ers in generational tizzies. For one, the internet generation's slang is so malleable that it's difficult for the internet generation to keep up with it. When it comes to musicality, hip-hop and rap are still seen as less than valid forms of musical expression. Turn-tableism and the use of sampling and mixing are not often validated as true art-forms by people under thirty. The delivery of the lyrics is also new enough that the lack of true singing takes even more away from the genre's musical credentials. It is also an unfortunate truth that the use of language that is uncomfortable, often obscures the meaning that underlies said use. In other words, I think certain people have a more difficult time accepting that violence, sex, racism, and sexism should be openly expressed through music, and that it would be inappropriate to use language that is not hard and painful when discussing painful topics.

Near the end of her blog post, Samhita Mukhopadhyay writes:

"Influenced by Ards and a handful of other authors (Tricia Rose and Eisa Davis) that had started to talk about hip-hop and feminism, I began to write about the political power of hip hop, how it connected to feminism and the need for dialogue between these two worlds.

Ultimately, I was ambivalent, because I realized I would never be comfortable being called a "bitch" or a "ho" no matter how much I knew you didn't totally mean it, but I also realized I would forever love hip-hop. And here I am 10 years later, still working through the same questions, and continuing to function in a political climate that is hostile to youth and the hip-hop generation and a culture of misogyny and materialism that has drowned some of the most poignant and sharp criticism of oppression through words, beats and rhythms.

Obviously, my generation is not relinquishing its right to be uncomfortable with certain words and sentiments. Thinking people will always have issues with hateful language and the application of stereotypes. Still, the most heinous crime in music is the creation of a sound that is boring, a sound that does not challenge the listener or have an underlying meaning. There's plenty of hip-hop/rap that is still challenging and thoughtful, politically charged, and questioning, but we have at least three generations who need to loosen up a little and trust that their progeny aren't complete morons before these genres can be musically validated and openly connected to the American political process.

Read all of Samhita Mukhopadhyay's blog post here: "Confessions Of A Hip-Hop Feminist".

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