The State of Hip-Hop

This week in my Intro to African American Studies class at University of Houston, we watched a documentary titled, The MC: Why We Do It, about the state of Hip-Hop music, where it came from, and where its going. Hip-Hop can be defined as a representation of African-American culture, struggle, and progress through musically-backed poetry delivered in a fast-paced cadence. Other cultures have began to express their thoughts through Hip-Hop now as well, but there are not many new methods or styles being introduced.  Many new artists continue to use the same type of fast-paced cadence, express thoughts that reflect personal ‘struggle’, and wear clothing and hairstyles that are similar to Black popular fashion, such as fitted baseball caps and baggy jeans.  Though the style remains mostly the same, the lyrics become more just for fun or entertainment than a cultural representation as a greater diversity of artists step into Hip-hop.  What does this mean for the art?
 Aesop Rock, a Caucasian Hip-Hop artist, voiced a similar query in the documentary.  He basically stated that though Hip-hop was created by African-Americans, and like Rock, artists of many cultures were claiming a place in it now.  He wondered if there would come a point when you did not see African-Americans performing Hip-hop anymore (The MC: Why We Do It). Cultural expansion may indeed present a threat.  Rock music began with African-Americans,  but one does not see many as  Rock artists presently.  Rock has become dominated  by other cultures to the point where it is considered rare to see a Black Rock lead musician.  

There could come a time when African-Americans are completely pushed out of Hip-Hop like Aesop Rock projects, but even more likely, the original intent of the art, to express a cultural plight musically, will be diluted to the point of no return.  Alternatively, input from other cultures can also expand the artistic breadth of a musical genre. However, cultural expansion is not the only ‘threat’ to this art form. America is a capitalistic country where every creative medium is at risk of becoming a marketing tool. Mainstream Hip-hop artists now have to take the responsbility of selling cars, clothes, and other products if they want to be financially successful in the industry.  This brings up the question, how can one translate a history, present, or future into lyrics while trying to tie in Coca-Cola, Lo’real, and Mercedes without diverting from the message? “The MC” touches many of these points through interviewing past and present popular musical artists.

What do you think is in the future for Hip-Hop? Will it grow through cultural expansion and marketing influence or fall apart? Does taking an art form ‘mainstream’ inherently destroy the essence of the art? What are some recent commercials that you’ve seen using Hip-hop music, and do you think these products represent the essence of what the music should be? What are your thoughts?

The MC: Why We Do It.  Dir. Peter Spirer. Perf. KRS-One, 50 Cent, and Common. QD3 Entertainment, 2005. DVD.

1 Response to “The State of Hip-Hop”

  1. November 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Personally, I think that two elements you mention–poetry and musical expression of a cultural plight–are the most diminished in today’s commercial hip-hop. The biggest problem facing a people is the fact that you cheated on your girl and now she wants to leave?

    Sometimes, too, the more thoughtful tracks aren’t the ones that get the big-budget videos or the most radio play. I’m thinking of Lil Wayne, since he’s out of jail now; not all of his stuff is the sexual tease of “Lollipop,” but that’s what a lot of people know as far as his lyrics go.

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