Friday, 29 June 2012

The Hip Hop Debate

A recent internet and audience based hip hop “on trial” debate can be replayed here.

The motion debated - Hip Hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it.

I haven’t watched it yet. I may, I may not. I know of some peeps who went, or watched online and commented.

The reason I haven’t watched this, is so much really depends on what your basic definition of Hip Hop is. Anyone who saw hip hop grow from the start, is going to have a very different view, and some might say ownership, of hip hop. I can only give a perception of what it has meant to me as I grew up with it.

What hip hop means to me…
I first heard hip hop in 1981. I was at that time, extending parts of tunes I liked from old disco tunes, by recording instrumental breaks on cassette, and then keeping on the beat and re-recording them… so the instrumental break was longer. I loved the percussion or rhythm guitar and just wanted to hear more of them. I did it for myself. I didn’t know this was being done anywhere else.
Then I heard the Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on The Wheels of Steel, and parts of different tunes were being “extracted”, repeated, scratched, and rapped over. I didn’t know it was sampling then. I didn’t know it was break beats then. I knew it was like nothing I’d ever heard. I knew I fell in love with it straight away.

More hip hop came, and samples and break beats used from tunes that I had loved, gave honour to the original tune, but also the creation of an art form using essentially a live remix and yet more overlaid… the artistry, skill and ingenuity frankly just blew me away. So part one, hip hop to me was and is about the DJ.

Part 2 came from lyrics like in The Message, and later Public Enemy. Hip Hop actually stood for something to me. Revolution, change. Even if not for me, it was opening my eyes to something wrong in the world. So hip hop fundamentally by definition to me was a “constructive” art. It was positively about change. To me, my perception… it was a fight for equality.

So I’ll reiterate, this is my perception of hip hop from time. So when Biggie and 2Pac hit the scene. Me, personally, I didn’t feel them. I still don’t. I respect their legacy for the scene and what they mean for others, so I will never dis them. I can only say the first 2Pac track I bought was California Love… when I listened to the other tracks on the EP, I was shocked at 2Pac going off with some violent chat. It’s a shame, because it stopped me listening to much of his work… music and words that I know many people revere. Maybe if I’d heard more of his work first, then I would have a more rounded view of him. With Biggie, the talk of B’s as women, again, I couldn’t really get inspired to check much else out. Do I like some tunes by both 2Pac and Biggie. Of course. Am I a hater?… of course not. I simply never have got into hip hop that went down this route.

Hip hop, if it is hip hop, and that’s my point, left me for many years.
Only really Guru (Rest In Peace) and DJ Premier as Gangstarr kept my interest… trusted lyrics, DJ based. It was my kind of hip hop. But I’d really left “the scene”.
And it’s for this reason I wonder if I’m the hip hop lover that I’ve always claimed to be. I have a huge gap in hip hop knowledge because I left a scene I didn’t personally buy into. Either way, I look back at it now, and I think I love the ethos of what I thought hip hop was… this fight for truth, justice, equality, change and revolution. True hip hop was not sexist nor homophobic (and it should still be neither now).  Maybe I love that ethos more than I love hip hop, and my claim that hip hop has to have that ethos could be flawed. But that’s what it means to me.

What brought me back to Hip Hop, and discovering a lot of tunes that I had kept away from, was female MC’s. I got into Missy telling it from a woman’s angle. I just found it refreshing. I don’t really like male dominance in the world.

When I first got into the spoken word scene, about 2006, I saw this as an extension of hip hop. Not because it was like rapping…. Def not!!, but because the messages I heard from the likes of Mosaique, David J, Kat Francois, Zena Edwards etc., were talking to me in the same way hip hop did. But it’s now I’m starting to realise that maybe I love the “Constructive Arts” more than I love hip hop. I thought I loved hip hop, but I loved an ethos, which extends to constructive art from many forms, some hip hop, poetry, reggae, even calypso. And more recently for me Afrobeat.

Afrobeat has totally immersed me the last year, and I simply can’t get enough of it. It’s drawing me to explore much more music from other nations in Africa. You see like Hip Hop, I love a constructive message firing over a contagious beat. And as with a good DJ, I love a beat to be relentless (ps. and I love funk rhythm guitar).

One issue with hip hop… I have a radio show with a clean language policy on the station. How much hip hop do you think I can play (no I’m not re-buying my whole collection in “clean version”). The answer, too little. Does that say something? Does it say something about how we define hip hop? Does it confirm the premise, that we have to define what hip hop truly is and stands for, before we start debating its value to society. Because the version I thought I loved, (and still do), is life changing… and would kick every corrupt politician and banker off their asses… all over a beat to die for.

I’m just not sure if that’s the version of hip hop (real hip hop) that we’re debating.

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