Urban D writes about the current state of hip-hop.
Hip-Hop has been under the microscope in 2007 as its repetitive content continues to get challenged. People from outside as well as inside the culture have been bringing up some real valid questions. Earlier in the year Paula Zann did a special report, Hip-Hop: Art or Poison? on CNN. A poll let the viewers vote during the show what they thought and it wasnt surprising that by the end of the program more in the audience voted it was poison. That same week PBS aired a documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes by Byron Hurt. A former quarterback turned activist that loves hip-hop put this piece together. But, even as a hip-hopper Byron brought up a lot of concern about how the music has become so negative and one-sided. That same week I sat at a town hall discussion at the University of Florida as a room full of people passionately discussed this same topic.
Next we had the Don Imus controversy explode onto the scene as the media and general public wanted accountability for his degrading comments about women. The spotlight quickly expanded to also include hip-hop. The question was asked, if Imus was called out, then what about these hip-hop artists that say much worse all the time? There soon was a ton of negative press about hip-hop music and the industry once again found themselves in the hot seat. Suddenly there was this attempt to try to restore the image of hip-hop on several fronts. Oprah even did a town hall where she invited hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and conscious hip-hop artist Common to sit on a panel and discuss the lyrics and the current state of the culture. This was rare to see a hip-hop artist chopping it up with Oprah as shes tried to distance herself from having hip-hop artists on her show, as much of its content is negative and degrading towards women. Of course it was brought up that the lyrics are just a reflection of society, but Common shared that all women are princesses. It seems there is a consistent contradiction in these discussions. Snoop even got into the action in some different interviews and tried to explain away how when he refers to women with certain offensive names its different than Imus.
Snitching has become another hot button in this years downward spiral of hip-hop. This is when someone witnesses a crime and gives the police information. In urban communities snitching has long been looked at as selling out and this has lately been elevated through hip-hop as there has been songs about it and even a popular T-Shirt with a large no snitching logo on it. 60 minutes recently did a special about this featuring hip-hop artist Camron. Cooper from 60 minutes asked Camron if a serial killer lived next door to him if he would tell the police. He replied, No, I wouldnt call and tell anyone on him. But, Id probably move but Im not gonna call and be like, you know, the serial killer is in 4E. The show consisted of interviews with teenagers and young adults who are fans of the music from inner-city environments who strongly agreed with Camrons stance. There are murders that happen in urban areas all the time that continue to go unsolved because nobody will share what they witnessed. There have been some recent unsolved murders where I live in Tampa and one of the local news stations did a program about this very topic. Some leaders from our church were featured on the panel of people from our community. There are many that feel like they cant trust the police, or theyre scared someone else will come after them. But, some of it comes down to this negative attitude of just not wanting to submit to any authority or take any responsibility. This attitude continues to be celebrated in commercial hip-hop, but how long will the masses buy into it?
There have been some strong indications the public is tiring of hip-hops mainstream message even before the documentaries, the special shows, the Imus comment, and the snitching controversy. After about thirty years of growth hip-hop sales dropped 21% between 2005 and 2006 according to Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Yes, the entire music industry is in a major slump, but other music genres only dropped around 6%. Nielson Sound Scan reported that 2006 was the first year in over 12 years that there were no hip-hop albums in the top 10 sellers list. All these figures include physical and digital sales. Clubs, concerts, and record stores are noticing the drop. The founder of allhiphop.com Chuck Jigsaw Creekmur stated, The past few years has been terrible for rap. Some blame the drop in an increase in bootlegging and illegal downloading, but many factor in the growing disinterest in the uncreative negative music.
As I travel around the country and build with people in the culture I find this emerging outcry for change. Im not just talking about Christians either. Many feel that Nass latest album title Hip-Hop is Dead sums up the cultures current state. Ive dialogued with several cats from urban environments that are so fed up with whats on the radio that they are even starting to venture into listening to other music genres, as they feel uninspired by hip-hop. This movement started out as a positive urban form of expression in the South Bronx over thirty years ago and has evolved today into this commercialized multi-billion dollar industry that is starting to self-destruct. So, whats the verdict is it dead? Is it going to die out and go away? In my opinion No. Has its influence dropped? Yes. Will it continue to drop? Probably. The masses have been fed a one-sided message for so long that they are now getting sick from its poison. They want something different. Something balanced. Something healthy. Hip-Hop is growing up and people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s want to hear something deeper than just throwing some Ds on it.
Many of us have kids and teenagers and we see how this destructive music is now influencing them. There is even an emerging group of secular artists now changing their tune. Master P and his son Romeo are putting out an album on September 4th the same exact date as 50 cents new album Curtis. P and his sons project is said to be totally clean and positive and he wants to put it out on the date to offer an alternative to 50s message.
One of hip-hops slogans has always been Keep it real. We all know that there have been very few artists in the mainstream that have kept it real. The music videos and lyrics have become more of a fantasy than reality. With rented cars, jewelry, and mansions much of it has become smoke and mirrors. Its tired. People are waking up and looking for a different message, a real message. I believe this is a great time for Christ followers that do hip-hop music. There is a real passion and creativity behind many of these artists, as theyre not driven by the same goals as those that are just trying to get paid. I also believe this is a great time for all Christ followers in our generation to use this music as an outreach opportunity and a conversation piece. Jesus shared in Matthew 5:13-16 that You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (TNIV)
Even if hip-hop isnt your thing, most of us know someone thats into it. It might be a friend, someone at our job, someone at the local grocery store, or the person that sits in front of us at class. Introducing them to some new flavor by passing along a hot CD from a Christ centered artist can be such a tangible tool. Groups like Flame, Precise, Pettidee, Cross Movement, and Da T.R.U.T.H. are all serving up some new heat this summer. I recently gave one of my CDs to Taiwan working at my local 7-11. I just saw Taiwan tonight as I stopped to get some milk. He was ecstatic about the music as he starting telling everyone around him about the music and my church. God has a plan for the Taiwans in my community and yours and many of them are openly searching. Hip-Hop isnt dead yet but it is getting pretty stale and dark. This is a great time for believers in Christ to throw some salt and some light in the mix and watch what the creator cooks up.