This or That

Posted Mar 13 2006

Is Hip Hop becoming conscious again? A feature article for the San Jose, CA-based Debug youth magazine. This article was also picked up by Pacific News Service and Davey D's website.

For those familiar with hip-hop history, the late eighties and early nineties is romanticized as a “Golden Era,” due in part to the socially conscious lyrics of A Tribe Called Quest, Boogie Down Productions, Heiroglyphics, and even Ice Cube. People sported Malcolm X hats, wore African medallions, and Kid Frost penned an anthem for “La Raza.” However, this phase was quickly overshadowed with the rise of artists such as Snoop Dogg, Onyx, Wu-Tang Clan, and the Notorious B.I.G. While many were skilled artists, their subject matter began to emphasize more violence, sexism, and materialism than the past.

Mind you, life isn’t one long political rally and violence, sexism, and materialism are all parts of our reality. Partying, relationships, anger, and intimate relationships can all be a healthy part of life, but with a lack of context and balance they tend to reinforce negative stereotypes and glorify destructive behaviors. Beyond making catchy beats and hooks, do performers such as Cash Money, Nelly, or Lil’ Kim really bring anything special to the table?

But the issue is much more complex than the artists themselves and one has to look at the corporate roles in deciding what material gets pushed. They usually reply to the law of supply and demand, thus we need to be aware of what we’re supporting. Although the conscious element of hip hop has never gone away, even more mainstream artists are beginning to put out more thought-provoking rhymes. It appears that after years of being bombarded by violence, sex, and materialism, even casual listeners are looking for something deeper. This should come as no surprise as life is about balance. As hip hop reflects the state of our communities, if we’re out of sync, the music will reflect this. When the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will swing back the other way until equilibrium is reached. No one is all good nor all bad. Life, and people, are more complex. During the highpoint of “conscious” hip hop, groups such as N.W.A., The 2 Live Crew, and MC Hammer also thrived. Partying has always been a common theme in hip hop, which in of itself is significant, when people can have fun in spite of various stressors and forms of oppression.


1. Tena said at April 7, 2006 11:57 pm:

This is an insightful take the state of hip hop music both past and present. I think that it is very true that at times the public craves deeper music, something that makes us think. You pointed out that an equilibrium occurs with hip hop. There is a balance of the meaningful and the fleeting. However,I notice that most of the time the scale is not equal and it tips toward music that is just for the here and now. There are people constantly in support of creating meaningful music that can affect change. Unfortunately, it seems that every decade there is a period when people become disillusioned about the state of affairs and turn to an outlet of music that is less intense, something that is easy and helps them forget about hard times. In that respect it serves as a tranquilizer. So the question is will we ever reach a point when people will learn to explore their circumstances and try to effectively change society for the better, rather than supporting a part of the music industry that causes us to subdue motivation to become involved?

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