Hip Hop’s Lost Culture

During my undergraduate studies, I was dead set on revolutionizing hip hop music.  As a huge fan of golden age and old school hip hop, I often fantasized over how younger generations would thank me for single-handedly bringing the art form back to its origins. When time rolled around for me to write my senior thesis, the topic choice was obvious: the evolution of marketing trends in the mass dissemination of hip hop music (I was a music marketing major).

In reminiscing on my college experience, I still find some peace of mind when it comes to this paper.  Particularly, I am mesmerized on my three closing paragraphs, which concluded that marketing campaigns had a harsher effect on the destruction of the hip hop culture than did the actual music.

In thinking that I was just some naive kid trying to get into the sexiness of the music industry, I paid no attention to the wisdom that I beheld.  Although I still believe that most mainstream hip hop coming out nowadays sounds like [insert your expletive of choice], musicians’ persona and personal brands always preceded the music and always set the stage of the main act.

I cannot provide an anecdote for bringing hip hop, or any other genre, back to reality.  I can, however, plead for artists and fans to demand and implement such changes.  In the digital age you can be whomever you want to be, but artists should think hard about how that image will reflect their music and understand exactly how their brand affects the culture of their music.

Before I leave you with an excerpt of those final paragraphs*, I want to share a quote by my highly regarded former boss, Lucy Beer (and, yes, I did take this quote from Twitter): “Ur ‘personal brand’ doesn’t show ppl who u are.it shows ppl what u want them to think u are. sounds like a lot of work to me.just be urself.”

If the KKK was smart enough, they would have created gangsta rap, because its such a caricature of black masculinity, yet young people of color are being presented with this idea that somehow these people represent us.  And they’re cool, and they’re gonna stand in for us against the white power structure.  While they’re completely subservient to that white power structure.  It’s really an ironic, sad reality…So the question becomes, who’s making the decisions about what people see?  Who’s making the decisions about what gets the multi-million dollar contracts?  And overwhelmingly, and this is no great secret, overwhelmingly its white men in suits who are making those decisions.  And they’re deciding, you know, this makes money.  I’m gonna sell it.  I don’t care if it’s hurting people.  It’s a business decision, right?”

– Jackson Katz[1]

The history of hip-hop is foundational to the culture, as the history of any culture is essential in the comprehension of the culture, in the growth of its tradition and in the development of the culture itself.  Hip hop looses face when Bboys, graffiti artists, DJs and MCs ignore its origin and disregard the contributions made by its founders… Media’s characterization of  the hip hop culture is almost entirely developed by businessmen who are completely oblivious to, and uncaring about, the hip hop culture.  The idea that hip hop figureheads are following along with such characterizations make hip hop stray farther from the truth.  It is questionable if these hip hop figureheads understand what the hip hop culture once was, or even what the culture truly is today.

The history of hip hop is not an obscure footnote. The state of ignorance within hip hop is the equivalent of not knowing the history of one’s home country.  By not knowing one’s history, one looses his or her culture.  The hip hop culture, like other genres of American popular music, is lost in the industry – that is, lost in the marketing of the music.  Hip-hop is subdivided between the underground and the mainstream, with the truth lying somewhere in and between.  It is up to the followers of the music, the artists, and the members of the culture to define and preserve hip hop.  Whether or not businesses will lose or weaken its threshold on the culture, allowing the culture to regain itself, it is up to the members of the hip hop community.  Hip hop is in the hands of its followers.


[1] Hip Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, A film by Byron Hurt, ISBN 1-932869-07-7

*I made a few grammatical corrections but left the excerpt in its original context.


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