It's quite fascinating to watch the reactions to Hip Hop music and culture among many of my friends and acquaintances. I'm going to generalize here for a moment, but I can roughly divide them into two camps. Camp One consists almost entirely of people under thirty. Indeed, pretty much every person under thirty I know is in Camp One. Camp One is the group that understands Hip Hop, that loves Hip Hop, that simply accepts Hip Hop as the fundamental cultural language in which they are living.
Camp Two, just about everyone over thirty, does not understand Hip Hop. More importantly, Camp Two consists of people who don't think there's any "there" there with Hip Hop, that there's nothing to understand. So Camp Two people not only don't understand Hip Hop culture, but they also don't understand that they don't understand. Camp Two has contempt for Hip Hop, its creators and, by extension, its fans.
In a sense, Camp Two people are little different from the naysayers who lamented Elvis' pelvis, who decried The Beatles' long hair, who saw the Devil in Heavy Metal. What's amazing to me is that many of them are yuppies who came of age under such social messages; they suffered hearing their own beloved subcultures demonized and spat upon, and they knew the true power that lay beyond what their parents and teachers could see. And yet these Camp Two folks can't (or won't) give Hip Hop the same benefit of the doubt.
Now, in order to disrespect an entire social movement in such a sweeping manner, it's necessary to also disrespect:
1. Youth -- Only a person who thinks young people are stupid could accept that their media of choice are stupid. Contempt for youth and their passions is a time-honored tradition within the maintsream in America; "kid culture," which begets mainstream culture, is always ignored when it's new. Later, when the "kids" grow up and become the next generation of yuppie journalists and tastemakers, the previously-marginalized culture (Rock and Roll, long hair, and MTV, as examples) enters the mainstream with nary a note of apology or reticence.
2. Blacks -- Again, only a person who is implicitly racist would accept the rap (no pun intended) that's pinned on black people for their music. The music is perceived as misogynistic and violent (some is, most isn't), and this being so, it then follows that it incites its fans to also be misogynistic and violent. This is an especially noticable viewpoint among people who consider themselves liberal and progressive and would be horrified at the notion that their reactionary dismissal of Hip Hop betrays a deeply racist worldview.
The standard liberal argument against Hip Hop (always confused with Rap, which is a tightly connected and similarly-misunderstood art form) is twofold. Part One says that Hip Hop encourages violence and demeans women. That this is untrue is of no concern to the smiling happy denizens of Camp Two. Part Two of the "Hip Hop is bad" argument is that the negative image of Black Men portrayed in Hip Hop is bad for the Black Community. As a strong proponent of Building Healthy Black Communities, Mr. Liberal Camp Two Dude can't help but see Hip Hop as anathema to Black Progress.
Unfortunately, the people of Camp Two have been fed bad information. There's a propaganda war out there to destroy Hip Hop culture (usually targeting Rap). This disinformation campaign is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the world's young, but it was quite effective in the early days. Anyone old enough to have been reading newspapers or watching TV news when Gangsta' Rap first hit (circa 1988 with NWA's explosive Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy's seminal It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back) can remember the extraordinary demonization that went on in the mainstream media. Every other rapper was a cop killer, or a thug, or advocated beating and raping "ho's."
If you think Rap and Hip Hop is all shit, then the propaganda war worked. You've been effectively brainwashed. Nearly twenty years of creative work by some of the best and the brightest young, mainly black, artists is now easily dismissed as irrelevant, undeserving of our attention, indeed NOT the work of the best and the brightest but that of the society's dark forces, greedy non-talents debasing global culture.
Luckily, almost everyone under thirty simply accepts Hip Hop the way my generation accepts Rock and Roll. No amount of contempt from our parents and their mainstream culture could dissuade us from our passion; our passion was pure and sacred. And you know what? We were right. The music was worth our time and energy. It was a force to transform the world, both artistically and politically.
The same thing is happening today with Rap and Hip Hop. It is the lingua franca of people under thirty. They know what it is and they know how to use it.
And one more thing. Hip Hop is much much, more powerful than Rock and Roll.
More to follow.
Coming up next: Why and how Hip Hop is transforming the world.