Monday, January 10, 2005

'30' dirty words?

I’ve been marinating on Greg Tate’s assessment of 30 Years of Hip-Hop and have clearly fallen behind on the blog debate… but it looks like most folks who are still listening don’t agree with the maestro Tate. What I thought was going to be his argument AGAINST the overlap of art and commerce slides into an argument FOR the overlap of art and activism. The former got my interest and the latter seems to be the same old argument that fans find themselves in, especially with people around my age or older. But at least Tate has writing skills and a reasonable premise.
I hope I sufficiently sum up the premise as ‘Hip-hop should be using it’s lines of communication to further political activism.’ Which is different from the statement ‘Hip-hop should ONLY be using it’s lines of communication to…’ fill in the blank (I ain’t wid it).
Understanding the minor scope of my blogiverse I will assume for the moment that most folk reading this are still into some form of hip-hop and believe in it’s diversity of form and content.
Emphasis on ‘believe’ because at times it seems as if one style and subject blocks out all others, testing our ‘faith’ that hip-hop’s ‘evolution’ will continue (that’s right faith and evolution in the same sentence).
But continue is what it always does… even if you call it gangsta, crunk, grime or reggaeton.
I am one of the few folks who believes that hip-hop IS dead… AND was reborn… MANY times! (A future post on that…)

If Tate proposed to fight against hip-hop ‘monotheism’ then I think he would have less opposition. But instead he takes a position that attempts to protect him from an attack by the ‘faithful’ hip-hoppers when he says
Against my better judgment, I still count myself among that faithful.

But we realize he has left the congregation when he refers to his ‘better judgment.’ We don’t need anyone who doesn’t ‘feel’ the spirit pretending that they do. And it surprises me that Tate would embody that.

What’s interesting to me is that Tate’s criticism, in general, is the same that heads make amongst themselves constantly (most often with less articulation)…but when someone steps into the cipher from ‘outside’ they will defend the generic term ‘hip-hop’ ‘til they run out of breath. And that, I believe, is proper positioning. A ‘position’ is always relative to circumstances.

Tate is a fantastic writer and anyone who has ever listened to hip-hop should read this article… you can agree or disagree… but savor every turn of a phrase, left-field reference, colloquialism, social theory tidbit and hilarious juxtaposition. He is masterful … and has provided a few passages I’d like to comment on…
globally speaking, hiphop is…a valued form of currency where brothers are offered stock options in exchange for letting some corporate entity stand next to their fire.

Tate beautifully criticizes this corporate tactic but ‘their fire’ would have been burning ANYWAY and although it has finally attracted the cold corporate hearts they will gladly keep feeding the flame as long as there’s the potential for heat.
True hiphop headz tend to get mad when you don't separate so-called hiphop culture from the commercial rap industry

Fair criticism of the ‘headz.’ The truth is that the culture and the industry always overlap. Sometimes parts of the culture-circle don’t overlap with commerce but that condition always changes to some degree. We saw b-boying burn at the center of the overlap, swing out to return to a pure folk art and THEN return to a ‘commercial’ player in recent years. DJs and Writers have felt similar movement through the commerce circle.
"They don't pay niggas to sit on the bench," hiphop was never going to not go for the gold as more gold got laid out on the table for the goods that hiphop brought to the market.

That metaphor just seems off. They DO pay ‘niggas’ to sit on the bench in the NBA but their role is between games.
And where hip-hop entrepreneurs have found many opportunities for EASY money in other ventures it’s clear that the art TENDS to maintain it’s own level… the extras only come when the people still love the art.
Problem today is that where hiphop was once a buyer's market in which we, the elite hiphop audience, decided what was street legit, it has now become a seller's market, in which what does or does not get sold as hiphop to the masses is whatever the boardroom approves.

Tate again takes the premise that whatever is sold to the masses is what defines hip-hop. The hustle 50 put into reinventing the power of the mixtape was pre-boardroom and NOW the boardroom is earning off that previous hustle but it was the streets (plus a couple interested mega-platinum artists) that determined his earning potential… Compare that to the boardroom attempt to earn off of D12 (even with their multiplat backer, hell, frontman!)… VERY different results.
Now the boardroom knows that the mixtape scene is the hustle to watch… and pounce at the right moment… but the trigger is always the streets support of an artist.
Hiphop's ubiquity has created a common ground and a common vernacular for Black folk from 18 to 50 worldwide. This is why mainstream hiphop as a capitalist tool, as a market force isn't easily discounted: The dialogue it has already set in motion between Long Beach and Cape Town is a crucial one, whether Long Beach acknowledges it or not. What do we do with that information, that communication, that transatlantic mass-Black telepathic link? From the looks of things, we ain't about to do a goddamn thing other than send more CDs and T-shirts across the water.

Eloquent summation… but doesn’t it disrespect the musical and (one) graphic representation of the culture in a very dismissive way? The CDs ARE the MUSIC that Tate refuses to ‘easily discount’ which provide, not one half of the dialogue, but material FOR a dialogue.
Hiphoppers… were the… first generation for whom acquiring those legal remedies so they could just do the damn thang wasn't a priority requiring the energies of the race's best and brightest.

An excellent point that I’ve never heard before. They are the self-determined ‘best and brightest’ of their non-institution. It’s not clear if Tate is criticizing the condition but it comes dangerously close to reading like ‘sour grapes.’
If we woke up tomorrow and there was no hiphop on the radio or on television, if there was no money in hiphop, then we could see what kind of culture it was, because my bet is that hiphop as we know it would cease to exist, except as nostalgia.

There would be nostalgia because it WOULD be something different from ‘hip-hop as we know it’! Just the way b-boying, djing and writing moved on to other spheres of creativity without the love of RAP music in tow… there is no question their existence is still hip-hop even if none of the participants give a fuck about a Ludacris record. Now those of us who do love the new Luda would (most likely) still be digging whatever he decided to do even if he couldn’t release another record. Again we’re in the MIXTAPE PARADIGM, Greg, (and some are even catching the first ripples of the AUDIOBLOG wave that will wipe out what we understand as music distribution).
Cronies, Dame Dash and Camron have both expressed similar viewpoints recently (go figure!). They both have stated that money is not made through their music (Cam was speaking pre-Purple Haze release and Dame was speaking of ‘not recently’-money). Through their satellite ventures, into Tate targets such as liquor and fashion, they earn their profits. They just do the music out of love or, as Cam says, because he’s ‘NICE!’ They are clear on the distinction of culture and business as are many of their discerning (music!) fans.
If enough folk from the 'hood get rich, does that suffice for all the rest who will die tryin'? … I remember the Afrocentric dream of hiphop's becoming an agent of social change rather than elevating a few ex-drug dealers' bank accounts.

More than a few (and more than a few who were never drug dealers) but isn’t that direct social change if they are not dealing anymore? And isn’t it social change when these new industries hire others who may have been in the street?
Tate’s rhetorical question addressing ‘the rest that die trying’ is brilliant. I’m no Buddhist (‘but Buddha’s a master’) so I can take pleasure knowing that many more folks are making ALL levels of income in relation to an ARTFORM… dare I say ‘CULTURE’… that didn’t exist when Mr. Tate, or I, was born.