Friday, October 12, 2007

it's who we are, not what we hear

Let me just say this about hip hop.

The problem is not the music, or the images, the industry, greed, capitalism - none of that.

The problem is culture. The problem is family values. There will always be something that turns a mirror back on society, reflecting the culture in that society. Misogyny, greed, violence, hedonism, materialism - all these things are in mainstream commercial hip hop and other media because all these things are in society. No one recording artist, video model, producer, or record label has the patent on these things. If there was no appetite for these morally questionable displays of vanity set to simple beats, then these opportunists would be out of business.

I don't excuse these opportunists for what they're doing. The problems with today's mainstream commercial hip hop are inexcusable. In fact, that's exactly where things start to go awry - people are excusing the inexcusable. People know some songs say things that don't reconcile with their values, but they like the beat, so they turn it up... with their three year old listening in the back seat of the car. They wouldn't like if their three year old grew up to have a credit card swiped through the crack of her behind, but they'll watch some other man's daughter in that very position late at night while their little girls are sleeping (or up way too late, watching TV too). They would rather their son get a good job when he grows up, but they allow him to hang pictures of admitted drug dealers - street thugs - on his bedroom walls. Not affirming our values - not honoring the values of our grandparents, is excusing the inexcusable, and as long as we let this and that continue to slide under the radar of what we should know is worthy of our time and attention, that which is considered "entertainment" will continue to degenerate. It's not just the music, it's the movies, it's celebrity "news" and gossip, it's fashion - it's culture at large, not just hip hop.

The stuff I hear on the hip hop station as I turn by it disappoints me - not just because it's bad to me, but because I know people are listening and are entertained by it. Not very long ago, stuff like Chicken Noodle Soup and Laffy Taffy wouldn't have gotten airplay, because people would have said, "This song is stupid," and turned off the radio. Rappers who rhyme a word with the very same word in the next verse were once clowned. But as people allow music to dumb down by excusing mediocrity and ignorance, this is the future of radio hip hop. We have arrived. Maybe this isn't where we want to be, but until we change our appetites, we will be spoonfed whatever we tolerate.

If we, as a group, rose to the level of the people we have the potential to be - people hungry for creativity, ingenuity, integrity, and variety, the problems we have with hip hop would ebb away like a bad dream after you wake up. We have to raise, not just feed and clothe, but guide, instruct, encourage, and believe in our children. We have to teach them their worth and about the opportunities available to them in this age where the ancestors have cried, bled, marched, and achieved so much so that we wouldn't have to shake our behinds or shuck and jive, grinning ear to ear, celebrating ignorance just to make a buck. We have to expose them to a variety of music, so they can appreciate a good hip hop sample when they hear it. We have to give our kids the tools to see hip hop and evaluate it for themselves - to separate fantasy from reality, and be able to tell walking, rapping stereotypes from genuine men and women.

In short, we don't need hip hop to go away. If we know who we are and what we're capable of and we give our kids the right tools in life, they'll see the negative things about commercial mainstream hip hop, or other media images and preoccupations for themselves, and respond in kind by rejecting that which is abhorrent, embracing that which doesn't appeal to the basest levels of our existence, and changing the game.