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Hip-Hop Fridays: What Is Hip-Hop?

Where would Black America be today without the birth of Hip-Hop? What would this current generation be up to if Hip-Hop culture had not evolved? What would America look like as a whole minus Hip-Hop culture and Rap Music? It is hard to imagine. Hip-Hop not even 30 years old- depending upon who you talk to - has been the most influential cultural movement to emerge since the 1960s. Yet it is so misunderstood.

As with most cultural forces, this is the case because with the passing of time we have moved further and further away from the origin of the art form and means of expression that evolved into what we now call Hip-Hop. And with time always comes revisionist history and the work of those who oppose change who wish to eliminate, contaminate or totally absorb the revolutionary impulse contained in every art form. Of course you have the "wanna-bes" who use the name of Hip-Hop in vain, just to get a rep.

And finally there is always a group of individuals who wish to pull Hip-Hop out of civil society where it originates and into political society in order to change laws. This latter group always seems uncomfortable with those who simply wish to enjoy Hip-Hop as art, divorced from any specific political agenda.

With the passage of time, Hip-Hop became a powerful economic force with the ability to provide food, clothing and shelter for an entire industry. And it is in this arena where the greatest tensions over what Hip-Hop is truly manifest. Many, claiming to be Hip-Hop purists, rail against the "commercialization" of Hip Hop. They articulate how the quest for profits has undermined Hip-Hop as a culture and art form. They strongly argue that once Hip-Hop culture became distributed by Corporate America the process of its death began. To them Hip-Hop will always be composed of four elements that best take place on the block: rhyming, scratching, breakdancing and graffiti.

Others, claiming to be purists and Marxists at the same time, argue in economic class terms and seek to demonstrate that Hip-Hop culture has been destroyed by Capitalism and the entire world economic system. Often, this group, when pressed reveals that they really don't understand Marx. Though they speak in Marx's name it is hard to find one within this group that has even read Karl Marx's magnum opus, Capital. Some have never even heard of it. Kind of difficult to fit Hip-hop into a world-view that you do not even understand.

But that basically is true of all in this generation that are touched by Hip-Hop in some way, shape or form. They are all trying to understand how the world works and how the life force embodied by Hip-Hop can contribute to the living of life at its highest level. This is true whether speaking of a youngster trying to strike it rich through the marketing of his talent or a 30-something lawyer who finds that hip-Hop Music provides an escape if only via the sound system in her car, to and from work

Hip-Hop's reason for being, its genesis, definition and purpose will probably be debated until the end of the world. But at least for today, although many will argue over its shape and size and its characteristics and which direction it will turn, none will argue that it is.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, May 12, 2000

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