Hip-Hop Fridays: Fixation On Bling-Bling Isn't Limited To Hip-Hop by Davey D.

Recently, I've read a number of pieces lamenting the ``sorry state'' of hip-hop today.

One was by John McWhorter, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and another by columnist Ill Will. (See the May 30 Wall Street Journal, the July 7 City Journal, or the July edition of the West Coast State of Mind on HipHopdx.com.)

I've even received a couple of letters from folks strolling down memory lane and yearning for the days when music was sweet and pure and had meaning -- when there was no ``bling bling,'' slang that could be translated as obsession with materialism.

A reader named Mark from Santa Clara e-mailed to say, ``I used to embrace hip-hop music. I still like some of it, but all in all, it has managed to lose my attention, mostly because of the bling.''

I want to respond to these popular misconceptions.

Yes, a number of hip-hop hits do celebrate being rich and having an abundance of the things money can buy, but it's important to see these songs in their wider context.

Hip-hoppers didn't invent the glorification of materialism.

Many of today's popular TV shows, from ``Entertainment Tonight'' and ``Access Hollywood'' to practically anything on the E Channel, suggest we've become a bling-bling society. TV specials showcase the opulence of our favorite entertainers -- Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, etc. Newcasts report the price of diamonds and other jewelry worn by stars at popular award shows.

Should we be surprised when some hip-hop artists reflect this same trend?

I'm old enough to remember when Madonna broke musical ground by imitating Marilyn Monroe on a video while boldly asserting she was a ``Material Girl.'' We won't even talk about the excesses embraced by popular hair-metal bands such as Mötley Crüe or modern-rock bands like Duran Duran.

Before the E Channel and MTV's ``Cribs,'' we had Robin Leach hosting ``Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'' and glamorizing champagne dreams and caviar. We had shows like ``Dallas'' and ``Dynasty'' going over the top to flaunt bling bling.

Aren't today's hip-hop icons simply building on the past?

Have we forgotten the Yuppie (Young Urban Professional) era of the early '80s? Hip-hoppers fit right into that era back in the days when ``music had meaning.'' Long before artists such as Lil Bow Wow, Jay-Z and P. Diddy were wearing iced-out jewelry and rapping about designer clothing, their rap predecessors were mimicking the disco icons of the '70s by sporting expensive designer items. Have we forgotten Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, Sergio Valente, silk shirts, Bally shoes and the gaudy gold jewelry worn by everyone from hip-hop pioneers to disco stars to Penthouse magazine's Bob Guccione?

I often have to remind elders in my family who yearn for the good ol' '70s that that was the decade when people were flocking to Studio 54, in pimpalicious leisure suits to hear tunes that promoted drugs and free sex.

Yes, music back then did have meaning.

Heck, amid a severe economic recession during the Reagan administration, even hip-hop icon Rakim was shown on his first album cover counting a fat wad of money and telling the world he was ``Paid in Full.''

My point is not to justify the excesses but to suggest that what we see today in hip-hop, and society in general, is an outgrowth of values laid down years before. If our own generation and our parents' generation didn't repudiate these excesses, why should we expect today's younger generation to suddenly get it?

Davey D. is a premier opinion leader in the Hip-Hop community and industry. He can be contacted via e-mail at mrdaveyd@aol.com

This article first appearead in The Mercury News

Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder. All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 8, 2003