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Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes: Part I

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cross-posted from Double Consciousness.

I just finished watching a great documentary by Byron Hurt called Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes on the PBS show [I]ndependent Lens. I just want the film to speak for itself and quote a few people interviewed in it.

One thing the film makes clear is that it just doesn’t blame hip-hop for being misogynistic or sexist and it just doesn’t blame Black men but instead points out the great prevailing misogyny in American culture. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson states:

When you think about American society, the notion of violent masculinity is at the heart of American identity. The preoccupation with Jesse James and the outlaw, the rebel, much of that is associated in the American mindset, the collective imagination of the nation, with the expansion of the frontier. In the history of American social imagination, the violent man using the gun to defend his family, his kip and kin, becomes a suitable metaphor for the notion of manhood.

Rapper Chuck D puts it best during the movie when he speaks on white supremacy and confronting it:

The dominant image of black masculinity in hip-hop is the fact that somebody can be confrontational but confrontational with the wrong cat. It’s like they’re not ever confrontational with the cats that will claim I’ll wipe your whole neighborhood out, because it’s almost like they’re trained not to even see them. It’s like, my beef is with this cat right here that looks just like me. The rise of the culture of black animosity is something that adds to the street credibility factor. It’s like almost to the point where 2Pac and Biggie were used as martyrs for this new endorsement of black animosity.

And more from Chuck D:

Black death has been pimped by corporations. Young people think that the street credibility is the gig that will ride them to some profitability in life.

Black manhood, by the structures and powers that be, the corporations, they’ve found a way that they think they can put soul in a bottle. If they can put soul in a bottle, then they could put manhood in a bottle. And then show the bottle in advertising. And we’ll follow the crumbs to the big bad wolf.

Latter on in the documentary Hurt focuses on how corporations, owned by white males, exploit the Black community through their selling of hip-hop. Talib Kwelli reacts to some comments some up and coming rappers who say they need to act thug to become real big time rappers
Those are the same cats who are just listening to the radio and just watching TV.

They’re confused. They don’t know. We have trusted the media and the corporations to define what hip-hop is. Back in the days when it first came out, and ABC did a story on rap, you’d be like, I know that’s bullshit. I know it’s not true. But now you see it on the news. You see it on BET. Because they call themselves hip-hop now. Now Hot 97 is the station where hip-hop lives, so we hear that, but we don’t understand that it’s some corporation owned by people who have nothing to do with hip-hop. They’re just trying to cash in. It’s like, hip-hop lives there. So they must know. That must be what rap is. No, we had never let the media define us, so why are we doing that now?

Hurt then interviews former Def Jam president Carmen Ashurs-Watson who had this to say:

The time when we switched to gangster music was the same time that majors bought up all the labels. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. At the time that we were able to get a bigger place in the record stores and a bigger presence because of this major marketing capacity, the music became less and less conscience. We went to Columbia, and then the next thing I know, our producers of Public Enemy were over producing an Ice Cube album, and then the next thing I know we’re pushing a group called Bitches With Problems…

Followed by Chuck D:

Once that perpetuated into one thing and corporations get involved,
yes you’ll sell two million NWA’s as opposed to one million [Public Enemy]. You’re gonna go from “Fight the Power” to “Gin and Juice.”

BET is the cancer of black manhood in the world. They have one-dinemsionalized us and commodified us into being a one-trick image. We’re throwing money at the camera. We’re flashing jewelry that can actually give a town in Africa water. We got 160 million dollar contracts because we got happy niggas.

When asked about what happens when he confronts mainstream rappers about the misogyny and falling into the racist corporate trap Chuck D answers:

They couldn’t even look you in the eye. Fuck that. We can really get to the nuts and nails of this. They couldn’t even look you in the eye. Number one, cats can’t even look a man in the eye. If they look a man in the eye, they think it’s confrontation. Why? Because they can’t answer. They can’t answer to it. And it’s almost like now, and it ain’t their fault. This is all systematic. It’s all part of genocidally breaking things down to the point where people are gonna follow a program that gets played out for them. This is the play. This is the playbook. Y’all gonna follow through. Crank robots up, they gonna do what robots do, what you told them to do.

I’ll blog more about white consumption of hip-hop and white supremacy in marketing hip-hop in part II.

Transcript obtained from Media Education Foundation.

Image From:
Rappers Den

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One Comment
  1. Derick Robinson permalink
    Tuesday, June 10, 2008 5:53 pm

    this was a great documentary. it had a lot of great points it took a look at. i recommend it to anybody and everybody.

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