The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop - and Why It Matters Paperback – Dec 2 2008
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I don't believe that she has listened to hip hop seriously in 10 years nor do I believe she understands the sentiment of young (16-28 year old) hip hop fans and followers. The people who buy 50 cent, TI, Lil Wayne or Jay-Z cds and understand their music as "autobiographical" are the same people following Us weekly's coverage of Britney Spear's mental breakdown with schadenfreude-istic pleasure, or buying Mylie Cyrus cds and fighting to the death to attend her concerts, naive consumers whose reductive understanding of culture feeds their need for sensational media. The parents of these idiotic consumers are the only ones who are causing all this political concern (them, and the bougie blacks like Bill Cosby who are overly concerned with what whites think of us).
Most rappers are aware and vocal of the fact that they are producing a persona, a character. Jay-Z, TI, Lil Wayne and even Cam'Ron have all explicitly said in one interview or on their albums / mixtapes that they draw a distinction between who they are as people, and the character that they are crafting in their music for entertainment purposes (interviews Rose does not cite). Why does Jay-Z get shot at the end of his 99 problems video? It was supposed to represent the death of Jay-Z the character and rebirth of Sean Carter the person (didn't last long...but that was the point). Watch 50 cent's video for In Da Club. We see Eminem and Dr. Dre doing physical tests and experiments on 50, in essence, creating 50 cent, juxtaposed with his resulting club/market persona. Most serious hip hop fans understand this divide, and the most successful, perennial rappers are the ones who consciously and creatively craft their persona in contrast to their real selves.
The reality is, hip hop was party music to begin with. It is no surprise, then, that hip hop functions mainly as party music in popular culture. People like Kanye West, Common, and Lupe Fiasco provide a much needed alternative, but I would hate for them to be the only hip hop archetypes.
What we see in a lot of discussions around hip hop is an anxiety around what others (mainly whites) think about black people. A fear of reinforcing stereotypes and "airing our dirty laundry." This is the psychosis of the Baby Boomer/X generations that most young people reject but that Rose proves herself incapable of overcoming. That is not to say that racial stereotypes do not manifest themselves anymore, or that these stereotypes do not negatively affect black people's status in America. Rather, I argue that young black and white people are tired of the monomaniacal fixation with the politics of positive/negative racial representations. We are willing to be aware of our biases and attempt to judge individuals accordingly.
The bottom line is, black people are people like anybody else with diverse sentiments and opinions. If white people want to pay black people to market themselves as thugs, this should have no bearing on black people's overall consciousness. Instead of promoting exclusively "positive" representations that appeal to white/bourgeois standards, we should promote a consciousness around persona and blackness in America (one which acknowledges the difference between the perception of black life and the reality of black life) that seeks to exploit the market, rather than change it. Until race and culture no longer serve as capital to be commodified and sold, I believe the market will not change. Consumers want what they expect and will pay handsomely for it. Let's take advantage of that, while being conscious of who we are and our potential as a people. Instead of simple saying "I'm gettin' mine" we should say "I'm gettin' mine for us"...which many rappers do (see the philanthropic ventures of TI, Cam'ron...etc)
Ultimately, Tricia Rose provides more of the same arguments we've been seeing for the last decade, and, even in her progressive section, offers nothing new to the discussion.
If the history of this country wasn't so fraught with old and new forms of racism, perhaps that approach to hip hop would be possible. Instead, we have a context in which hip hop is constantly made to stand in as a representation of all black people and to stand in for various forms of "deviance." Rose demonstrates how representations circulated by mainstream hip hop allow people to excuse themselves from dealing with their own complicity in racism, sexism, homophobia and systemic inequality. By taking both hip hop's critics and defenders to task, Rose insists that there are very real consequences to leaving these matters unaddressed.
Stepping into a club and seeing the ways so many men and women, boys and girls of all races mimic what they see in mainstream hip hop representations tells us that the 'hip hop trinity' is schooling youth to interact in ways that often reinforce sexism/racism/homophobia while leaving the larger forces that drive systemic inequality invisible.
One of the things I have witnessed consistently in discussing _The Hip Hop Wars_ is how people will often fall back into the rhetoric of either the critics or the defenders of hip hop as they talk about the book. Though Rose takes the time to outline the mutual denials that both critics and defenders have left intact, people's refusal to detach themselves from their investments in the current state of mainstream hip hop often takes us back into the same spiraling cycle. Because after all, isn't mainstream hip hop tremendously useful for allowing numerous investments to remain intact? One can hold onto his or her investment in racist projections of 'pathology', because this allows them to evade the ways they are complicit in perpetuating systemic inequality. One can hold onto their investment in racist projections of 'sexual deviance,' because this helps one disavow the practices and policies that perpetuate women of color's vulnerability to violence and inequality. One can hold onto sexist projections of 'hoes,' because this allows investments in destructive forms of masculine power to remain intact. One can hold onto their investments in the capital and wealth derived from mainstream hip hop by saying that performers are just 'artists', because this helps people distance themselves from the ways life chances are systematically being stripped away from youth in devastated communities.
And my favorite, one can claim to be THE exception to this context, miraculously outside of the world of mainstream hip hop even as it pervades the culture, people's interactions and assumptions everywhere (see Drew's review above).
Rose is most powerful in her call to move beyond this spiraling cycle toward transformative action--both in the industry, the music, in ourselves, and in mass social action toward systemic equality. But only a few are fearless enough to take on that call.
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