know you've been thinking it. And if you
haven’t, you probably haven't been
paying attention. The art we once called
hip-hop has been dead for some time now.
But because its rotting carcass has been
draped in platinum and propped against a
Gucci print car, many of us have missed
I think the time has come to bid a farewell
to the last black arts movement.
It's had a good run but it no longer
serves the community that spawned it.
Innovation has been replaced with mediocrity
and originality replaced with recycled
nostalgia for the ghosts of hip hop past,
leaving nothing to look forward to. Honestly
when was the last time you heard something
(mainstream) that made you want to run
around in circles and write down every
word. When was the last time
you didn't feel guilty nodding your head
to a song that had a 'hot beat'
after realizing the lyrical content made
When I heard Jam Master Jay had been
murdered, it was the icing on the cake.
A friend and I spoke for hours after
he'd turned on the radio looking for solace
and instead heard a member of the label
Murder, Inc. about to give testimony about
the slain DJ's legacy. My friend found
the irony too great to even hear what
the rapper had to say.
After we got off the phone, I dug through
my crates and played the single "
Self Destruction." The needle fell
on the lyrics:
" They call us animals
I don't agree with them
Let's prove em wrong
But right is what were proving em"
The only thing that kept me from crying
was my anger trying to imagine today's
top hip hop artists getting together to
do a song that urged disarmament in African
American communities, or promoted literacy,
or involved anything bigger than themselves
for that matter. I couldn't picture it.
All I could picture were the myriad of
hip hop conferences where the moguls and
figureheads go through the motions and
say the things that people want to hear
but at the end of the day nothing changes.
No new innovative artists are hired to
balance out a roster of the pornographic
In their place, we're presented with
yet more examples of arrested development
- the portrayal of grown men and women
acting and dressing like 15 year olds.
Balding insecure men in their mid 30's
making entire songs about their sexual
prowess and what shiny toys they have
and you don't.
The only hate I see is self-hate. The
only love I see is self-love. All one
needs to do is watch cribs and notice
none of these people showing off their
heated indoor pools or the PlayStation
Two consoles installed in all twelve of
their luxury cars have a library in their
home. Or display a bookshelf, for that
matter. No rapper on cribs has ever been
quoted saying: "Yeah, this is the
room where I do all my reading, nahmean?"
To quote Puffy in Vogue magazine Nov
2002: "Diamonds are a great investment...
They're not only a girl's best friend,
they are my best friends. I like the way
diamonds make me feel. I can't really
explain it, its like: that's a rock; something
sent to me from nature, from God, it makes
me feel good... It's almost like my security
If rappers read, they might know about
the decades of near-slavery endured by
South African diamond miners. Or the rebels
in Sierra Leone whose bloody diamond-fueled
anti-voting rampages leave thousands of
innocent men, women and children with
Often, hip hop's blatant excess is rationalized
with, "We came from nothing."
That statement rings hollow given even
a little bit of context. African Americans
have been "coming from nothing"
for 400 years. That didn't stop previous
generations of artists, activists, and
ancestors from working toward a better
situation for the whole, not just themselves.
It's grotesque to see such selfish materialism
celebrated by a generation who are literally
the children of apartheid. The time has
come to re-define the street and what
it means to come from the street. Yes,
criminals & violence come from the
streets, but so do men and women who live
their lives with kindness, and within
the realm of the law. The problem with
making 'street' or 'realness' synonymous
with criminality is that poor black children
are demonized. You never see the image
of middle class white children killing
each other promoted as entertainment.
I respect the ability of an artist to
explore the darker side or extremities
of their personality but when that's all
there is, there is no balance. In previous
years, NWA existed simultaneously with
Native Tongues, Cypress Hill and Digable
Planets, Gangstar and 2 live crew.
There's room for thugz, playaz, gangstas,
and what have you. My issue (aside from
the fact that rappers spell everything
phonetically) is that they have no heart.
Rappers reflect what has become a new
image of success where money is its own
validation and caring is soft unless you're
dropping a single about your dead homie.
Question: Why haven't these so-called
"ballers" gotten together and
bought a farm, a prison, a super market
chain, or chartered a school? But they
all have clothing lines. Smells like a
sucker to me. The lack of social responsibility
from people who claim to 'rep the streets'
Yet we still have had the hearts and
minds of most of the world. We negate
this power if we don't step up to the
plate. Our perspective needs to change;
our whole idea of power needs to globalize.
Gangsta shouldn't be shooting someone
you grew up with in the face; " Gangsta"
is calling the United States to task for
not attending the World Summit on Racism
in South Africa. "Balling" shouldn't
be renting a mansion; it should be owning
your own distribution company or starting
a union. Bill Cosby's bid to buy NBC was
more threatening than any screwface jewelry
clad MC in a video could ever be.
As a DJ, it's hard: I pick up the instrumental
version of records that people nod their
head to... and mix it with the acappella
version of artists with something to say.
It is expensive and frustrating. But I
feel like the alternative is the musical
equivalent to selling crack: spinning
hits because it's easy, ignoring the fact
that it's got us dancing to genocide.
There are plenty of alternatives today
but you'd never know it through the mass
media. Hip-hop has become Steven Seagal
in a do-rag. Meanwhile, media radar rarely
registers artists like Cannibal Ox, adlib
and the whole Stones Throw crew, Bless,
Saul Williams, Bus Driver, Del, Gorillaz,
anything from Def Jux, Freestyle Fellowship,
Anti Pop Consortium, Kool Keith, Prince
Paul, shit Public Enemy... the list goes
on for ever. I get some solace from knowing
and supporting these artists, and from
the fact that around the world from Germany
to Cuba to Brazil to South Africa, hip
hop's accessibility and capacity for genius
is still vital, thriving, and relevant.
And yes even amongst the bleak landscape
in this country, wonderful things do happen.
Like Camp Cool J and various artists donating
money to research AIDS and even lend their
faces to voting campaigns. Russell Simmons,
among other socially conscious endeavors,
led a rally to stop NYC's mayor from cutting
the school budget and donates part of
the proceeds from his sneaker sales to
the reparations movement. The lack of
coverage of efforts like this is as much
to blame as any wack MC with a platinum
I'm not dissing the innovators of the
art form, or those of us who got it where
it is today. I will always play and support
what I feel is good work. I guess this
rant came more out of what Chuck D said
at the end of Self Destruction: "We've
got to keep ourselves in check,"
and no one has
checked hip hop for some time.
I've entertained the idea that I might
just be getting old. But if it's a function
of my age that I remember hip-hop as the
peoples champ, so be it. I
was raised on a vital art form that has
now become a computer-generated
character doing the cabbage patch in a
commercial, or a comedian 'raising
the roof.' That's not influence to me,
Hello Old friend. It's been a great couple
of decades filled with great
memories, and it's been fun to watch you
grow. We've created dozens of broke
innovators and plenty of mediocre millionaires
out of the deal, but I really
need my space now and we've got to go
our separate ways. I don’t like
you have become over the years of our
involvement, so I have to step away.
You were once there for me when I needed
you, and you used to be fun. I will
always love you, but it's time for me
to move on.
(Yo, what happened to the peace in peace?)