Does the above picture bother you? Well it should.
Yesterday, New York Daily News published this enlightening piece about how white rappers are taking over hip hop due to their race. And it’s true; viewed as oddities within hip hop culture, white rappers automatically receive high levels of attention. Throw in that most consumers of hip hop are white, and together, white rappers receive praise, accolades, and hype …which eventually translate to album sales, YouTube views, etc.
Hip hop is being gentrified.
As hip hop merges into pop culture and is backed by corporate dollars, hip hop is transforming into something that it was never meant to be. When the pioneers of hip hop sought out creative outlets to express their politics, frustrations, aspirations, and daily realities, they had no idea that hip hop would catch in the ways that it did. And now, these humble beginnings (borne out of artistic necessity), are fueling further subjugation of people of color.
As Lauren Carter writes; “This is about the fact that a culture that was based on peace, love, unity and having fun, one that served as a form of self-expression for marginalized and oppressed people, has become a corporate-controlled means to reinforce the very oppression it was created to fight.”
The state of hip hop is debatable. It comes down to how hip hop is best viewed; as an entity or a culture. As an entity, hip hop is thoroughly corporatized; with artists either trapped in production hell, or forced to conform and compromise their artistry. As a culture, hip hop is an intangible manifested through tangible means. Culturally, hip hop is a lifestyle, a code by which its adherents live. It’s a means of expression and insight through the eyes of Blacks and Latinos who were systematically oppressed and institutionally confined.
Whiteness is included on both sides of the equation. As an entity, white males dominate the music industry. Culturally, white males created, exacerbated, and maintained socioeconomic oppression that hip hop responds to. And now, the result is a skewed landscape of hip hop as a whole.
Should white people be excluded from hip hop?
No. But, they need to acknowledge the cultural nature of hip hop. Hip hop is, undeniably, a Black artistic form. And, if white people are to become a part of the culture (either by rapping, graffiti art, or mere consumption) a level of respect and understanding of its societal beginnings needs recognition.
Eminem is a prime example. Before he was walking stage with platinum blonde hair dressed up as Michael Jackson, he was grinding through the Detroit battle rap seen; getting booed of stages, taking any challenger that came his way, and putting in work to perfect his lyrical ability and flow.
This level of hustle and humility is missing from most white artists. Many of them “fall in” to hip hop without grinding for it. They’re handed platforms, promoted like crazy, and marketed to the masses. This happens to Black artists too (read: Trinidad James), but such Black artists promote a misrepresentation of Black culture. They’re modern day minstrel shows meant to entertain white audiences, and tranquilize Blacks ones.
Like the gentrification of Black neighborhoods, today’s hip hop has elements of positivity, hypocrisy, self-harm, and personal responsibility. Like when crime rates go down and the streets are cleaned, gentrified hip hop proffers a lighter message of progress. For example, Macklemore opened the floodgates for homosexuals to enjoy hip hop without enduring slurs. (Not so much for the Jews, though.)
Hip hop-geared media outlets are also to blame for hip hop’s gentrification. Radio DJs profusely play their music, and do little to prop up gifted artists. These outlets, which were once owned and operated by Blacks and Latinos, do little to continue hip hop’s legacy. Again, shout out to Lauren Carter for her words.
“It’s ironic that Hot 97’s tag line is “where hip hop lives” because if we’re talking about hip hop culture in its original, true form, Hot 97 is not where hip hop lives, it’s where hip hop dies.”
Black artists and consumers take responsibility for the gentrification of hip hop as well. How often have Black artists sought corp cred from white artists who are entirely unfitting of thehip hop spirit? Lil Wayne. French Montana. Juicy J. In an effort to gain crossover appeal, these artists (and others like them) lose their spiritual hip hop identity while proffering a façade of what hip hop culture is.
And of course, certain white artists enjoy being “accepted” into Black culture. It gives them license to promote prejudice. It’s the “I’m not racist… I have friends who’re Black” argument on steroids. Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are the most glaring examples.
The Black consumer also has a hand in this gentrification. Do we actively promote lyrical artists? Do we call into radio stations and demand a more balanced representation of hip hop than what’s currently played on the radio. Or do we mostly remain on the sidelines, watching as our culture is taken from us?
White inclusion comes down to talent.
Mac Miller is talented. The Beastie Boys are talented. Eminem is one of the greatest. But Iggy Azalea and Macklemore? No.They have no lyrical ability. No flow. No delivery. They’re pop stars that put words together. This, in of itself, isn’t terrible. It’s just another modicum of music. But when they’re pushed in front of mainstream audiences, and branded as “revolutionaries” who are “dominating“ hip hop culture, hip hop heads (like myself) get upset.
The revolutionaries of hip hop are the founders, fathers, mothers, and pioneers who created a social movement with the only resources they had. The Talib Kwelis, Mos Defs, Naughty by Natures, De La Souls, and Public Enemys, The new age dominants are the Kendrick Lamars and J. Coles who beautifully merge lyricism, storytelling, and raw honesty within today’s context. These are the people who we should honor in hip hop.
White inclusion can easily turn to white encroachment … which is exactly what happens when Forbes says Iggy Azalea is dominating hip hop, or when Justin Bieber let’s the n-word roll off his tongue with no hesitation, or when Miley smacks the ass of a Black dancer and tries (and horrifically fails) to twerk herself.
This is the gentrification (and ultimate death) of hip hop.