Hip Hop Advocacy & mini exploration

Posted: December 12, 2011 by mjb88 in Uncategorized

** Note and Disclaimer:  Please take no offense to inappropriate language that has been quoted, and keep the context in mind.  **

Hip-hop music can encourage positive personal reflection as well as social action on a large scale.  Through understanding and applying the benefits this art form has to offer, society can be transformed for the better.  Many artists and their lyrics can attest to this, as they profess love, positive minded thinking, and aspects of spirituality, while simultaneously detailing the hardships faced by many people today, and providing advice and encouragement in the face of these hardships.  However, there are still many individuals who have negative connotations and sentiments towards the genre, and with good reason.  The majority of hip-hop music that the general public receives often portrays and reflects anger, violence, excessive partying, misogyny and other less than divine qualities. The fact that all of this exists within the hip-hop world is undeniable, but there is much more to the genre and culture, which we will briefly begin to look into.  Through these posts I am attempting to show a side of hip-hop that too often goes unnoticed. I will attempt to do this using videos and lyrics, in collaboration with minor academic research and personal experience/observation.

Musicians from this genre can have a beneficial impact on a variety of individuals, including older generations who may be under-exposed to the full scope of the genre, as well as adolescents or young adults who have interest in the culture and music. One of hip-hop’s most important attributes is its ability to create truthful discourse. Hip-hop provides a conversation and expression of experience that describes the profundities and complexities of modern day life. Hip-hop captures everything from specific and personal moments to universal and global history, and does so through an incredibly unique and progressive lens.

Hip-hop music is prone to getting a bad rap in the news.  Theoretically, reports about a weapons incident in a club involving a celebrity rapper are going to get more attention, and be broadcast more widely and tele-visibly, than reports of some unknown hip-hop artist who has spoken to the inner hearts of maybe ten to twenty random kids in the inner city.  The positive transfer of energy that can be experienced through listening to or creating hip-hop is apparently more difficult to produce a story on than a quick short that can be cycled and recycled throughout the nightly news clip.  Hip-hop has the ability to produce lasting and positive effects on society.  However the genre has been painted in such a way that leads people to mistake a part for the whole.  The hip-hop music played by MTV and mainstream radio often perpetuates the negative stereotypes that are present in hip-hop.  It’s important to remember though, that this is only a certain brand of hip-hop.  The negative influence within the genre seems to be over-represented, while other hip-hop music is under-represented. It is important to consider where and how many of these images and perceptions are created.  An article written by Martin Scherzinger describes the concentration of mass media ownership within recent years, and cites recorded music specifically as “the most concentrated global media market today.”  The article also cites Clear Channel Communications, as “the world’s largest broadcaster, concert promoter, and billboard advertising firm.”  Beyond this, the article points out that many record label executives, and people who make decisions as far as what gets heavily played and promoted, are not people who are involved in the music or performing world at all.  In fact, many are invested in other industries such as pharmaceuticals and printing.

The MC blueprint has attempted to curb the negative stereotypes within hip-hop through his song, Hand Me Downs.  Excerpt from verse 1:  “… I’m mister positivity, I wanna bring it back, but rap now a days is by a buncha’ ignorant cats, not young gifted and black just guns bitches and crack.  I react by turning off BET, and Sambo telling me what blackness is supposed to be, used to give us world news now its all videos, … if you let the TV define what black is, you think ice and violence is all we think that matters, i guess this is what happens when rappers look up to thugs, and kids look up to rappers, to some of ya’ll if I don’t talk about the gat enough, or sell crack enough, I ain’t black enough, but I’d rather be a pro at bein’ myself than be an idiot tryin’ to be somebody else. Come on Say it loud, look what we’ve handed down, don’t it make you proud?”  (((The first verse describes the state of hip-hop, and rejects the stereotypes of the genre that are often represented by the media.  It also makes social commentary in general about the the TV and what it promotes.  The second verse involves personal reflection on an experience of the mc, as well as providing a hopeful outlook and recipe for making a change and strengthening the overall community; stating))): excerpts from verse 2:

“…15 same age I learned shits wild, An older lady walks up greets us witta a smile, asks how we both doin’ and sits down, she knows what its like to grow up in the south, civil rights when the whites was holdin’ us down I started thinking to myself that even though when times were tougher, they still took time out to speak to one another, but look at us, me and this young brother, actin’ too proud to break down and speak to each other. So inside I felt ashamed, not sure of how to, but I wanna change, and as long as I’m alive then the fact remains, that its never too late for us to break the chains… come on ya’ll.” 

Beyond just perceptions of the genre, there have been a number of studies that exemplify the negative attributes which hip-hop can promote to people. According to an article detailing a recent study, “Young people who listen to rap and hip hop music are more likely to have problems with alcohol, drugs and violence than listeners of other types of music, a new study shows.” (Chen, 2011)  The article also states, “People should be concerned about rap and hip hop being used to market alcoholic beverages, given the alcohol, drug and aggression problems among listeners,” said lead author Meng-Jinn Chen, Ph.D., a research scientist at PIRE Prevention Research Center. “That’s particularly true considering the popularity of rap and hip hop among young people.” (Chen, 2011)

Yet another article speaks to the genre’s ability in influencing people and their actions on a personal level.  This stance proposes that lyrics and video images encourage individuals to portray themselves in degrading ways.  Although this is one opinion, and may not be entirely objective, it could indeed have some truth to it.   “According to Dr. West, rap music identifies young black women in five sexual personas: Diva, a woman who trades sexual favors for luxury; Gold Digger, a woman who trades sexual favors for basic necessities and leaves men bankrupt; Freak, a sexual powerhouse; Gangster Bitch, a “tough” girl; and Baby Mama, a child’s needy mother.   The most popular song that openly promotes this belief system is “Gold Digger” by Kanye West: “She take my money, well I’m in need/Yeah she’s a triflin’ friend indeed/Oh she’s a gold digger way over time/That digs on me.” The accompanying music video shows women provocatively dancing in black lingerie and posing in sexual positions.  When young black women listen to lyrics and watch images that promote sexual conduct, they take on the persona that is illustrated in the music and treat themselves as sexual objects.”

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08165/889550-51.stm#ixzz1fP3hxhaT

While this may have truth to it, again it is important to remember that this is only a certain brand of hip-hop.  If hip-hop can have a negative effect on people in this regard, then it must necessarily also be able to have an inverse, or positive effect on people.  If music has the power to promote the enacting of these objectifying portrayals, it must also have the potential to promote positive portrayals.  So if a young black adolescent listens to a song that promotes self awareness, self help, and the strength an individual can possess when facing challenges, is it not fair to say that he or she can take on that persona, and treat him or herself as an empowered individual with the potential to achieve what he or she believes?

In an attempt to balance the scales, and to represent an educated, truthful, and loving side of the genre, we can look to artists such as Macklemore, Zion I, & Soul Position, who embody and reflect constructive attributes and qualities being promoted through hip-hop.  In a world ever leaning towards new multi-media based communications; and in a culture continually engulfed in entertainment, hip-hop can be a very useful tool to promote positive change and growth.  Hip-hop generally expands upon and fuses poetry (the written/spoken word) with a variety of instrumental and or electronic music.  Modern day culture is heavily steeped in the idea of being entertained, and hip-hop for many is a great source of entertainment. The genre has grown in popularity since its origin, making it a medium that is currently reaching a wide and expanding range of audience.  What some people may not be aware of, is what I will deem ‘the socially and personally aware style of hip-hop; which promotes the improvement of human life in a variety of aspects; including spiritually, mentally, physically, economically, and socially.

A direct example of one such song comes from the artist Macklemore; who is ever growing in popularity and reaching more and more kids.  These lyrics exemplify an incredibly truthful take on his experience with reality.  The song and video Otherside remix (produced by Ryan Lewis feat. fences) speaks to his personal experiences and observations of others’ battles with drug and alcohol abuse.  This song is truthful about the possible and negative effects that the excessive use of illicit substances can have on people.  Rather than promoting things like ‘bottle poppin and blunt smokin’, which has become common among the ‘party anthems’ often played on the radio and seen on TV; Macklemore has been promoting understanding throughout his expression process, as well as creating an example of a sober MC who has gained popularity.


A comment recently posted on this page serves to strengthen my argument, stating: “Honestly if schools really wanted to teach anti drugs, like for Health class or something, then they should just play this song for their students. These 5 minutes have affected me more than many hours in multiple health classes from multiple years. You just do not get that “truth” or personal experience from those books. This song does it all. Schools really need to show this song to their students.”  Other comments speak to similar sentiments.  The video has certainly sparked a discourse among its listeners.

Another song by Soul Position, exemplifies the promotion of many positive qualities that hip-hop can encourage throughout day to day life.  Excerpt: “my rhyming get invited in your body like a vitamin, I supply the supplement, you just discovered it, hold me close and overdose on my poetic potion, love me when you rub me in your skin like lotion, then I begin to stimulate your innovative action, you used to be subdued but now you choose a route of passion, … let my thought direct you when you start to feel lost… you don’t need a needle just to put me In your arm.,.. use me to the fullest it will never get old… let me be an example of how to break the mold…  study all my hardship and learn to think critically… visit every continent without movin’ physically, exercise mentally get in shape spiritually, visit me and take deep breaths of my imagery, exhale, all the hate you had for your enemy, exhale, all the hate you had for your enemy.”  ((Note: All Blueprint lyrics transcribed from personal listening to the best of my ability))

As we can see through these songs, hip-hop also promotes positive qualities throughout society to those who are listening, and can serve as an outlet for individuals to gain and provide knowledge for and from others. Where part of the problem lies, is the availability and exposure of tracks like these, which are only heard by people more or less specifically looking for them.

Beyond this primary application of the genre, hip-hop might also be implemented into formal schooling and education methods.  “As an academic who has researched hip-hop and advocated for its use as a media literacy tool in the classroom (Kirkland, 2008), I have learned that hip-hop can be used in classrooms to inspire youth to be agents of social and political change.”  The majority of this article focuses on a high school English class in the Midwest, and details the ability of hip-hop in creating social awareness which can be cultivated into change. “Mr. Kegler’s lessons represented hip-hop as a critical language and common voice for the historically marginalized.”  (Kirkland, 2008)  The students studied Tupac lyrics, and applied/related these lyrics to imperfections of their own society.

America today is in a state of flux, and imperfections can be seen almost anywhere one looks.  The ‘Occupy’ demonstrations around the country have been a visual representation of the frustration that many people in our country are feeling.  This is combined with uncertainty about the future, dissatisfaction with the present, and actively motivated by what many feel are past transgressions and shortcomings of our government and country as a whole.  In my opinion the feelings go deeper than this, we are not even completely happy with ourselves as a civilization, or even happy with ourselves as individuals in some cases.  The hip-hop genre can serve as a springboard towards working together to bring about real and beneficial change.  Through listening to socially conscious hip-hop, individuals can gain an accurate depiction of the world we live in.  Through the creation of hip-hop, individuals can express their concerns about reality as well as encourage others to improve upon our shared reality.

The television, our most turned to source for entertainment and news, paints a daily picture of polemical arguments producing little fruit for the community as a whole.  It seems that almost every night we are shown two battling political parties, warring over scandalous past behavior and stealthily one upping one another in damage control tactics.  We are told that we are in a depressive recession.  Is this the case?  Maybe we are being taught a lesson.  Maybe we need to lessen our consumption as a nation, start participating in collaborative efforts, think about our problems and face them, move forward together and strengthen.  Hip-hop is a great framework for promoting these very ideals.

The song The Thing About It by Sweatshop Union, speaks to this notion.

“This is a time of growth for those that know,   And it’s a time of hope for those that don’t,

But if your mind is open you’ll get shown.


We’ve had our sights blinded, all of my like-minded people need to get up and discover the right time is,

Now, just start opposing the powers that arose, n’ ancient days have paved the way to this load,

that’s so controlled, it’s sitting & most, just sit and stare, at a television with a distant glare,

And I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m a slave to this shit as much as anybody but I’m not afraid of it,

This is where the change comes, and this is where we make some difference,

Embrace what’s within us and escape from this prison,

All it takes is a little bit of faith, And a little bit of love to get rid of all the hate


But the thing about it is we can’t just sing about it,

We can’t just sit around and wait until they thin us out,

We figure out where we’re going while we live in doubt if you want my truth, listen now and just think about it.

The thing about it is we can’t even think about it,

Can’t afford a minutes time to figure how to bring about a change,

So, take a second, and, shake your head, And then, take a step ahead and think about it.


Now the ball is in our court, while we sit and watch passively,

The face of the earth changes drastically, after we, clear space at this rate for strip malls and factories,

We risk take a crew fate at a pace beyond gradually.

No more crops for us to harvest and feed, self-sufficiency replaced by clone-copy written seeds,

Now ask yourself, how can we be free? When the water that we drink is owned by some company.

 I hear the weep of the streets, and cries of the skies,

see weakness is disguised with deceitful lies, Well we all eat to survive, and sleep through our lives,

competin’ for highs, all sheep and no pride,

Never speak of our lie, let the fear fortify, My insides are dying trying to fit in the design,

I’m reminded daily, of a world gone crazy, Guns mean safety for orphan babies,

Ignore the distortion you’re forced to perceive and believe what supercedes is love, but who agrees?

        Chorus 2

Could you survive in the wild, with a wife and a child? A whole human history, a line a type and a file,

So live your life in denial, or try to live on your own, without your colour TV, heat, fridge or the phone,

While the average guy lives an elaborate lie, Waste days on slave wage beneath the passionate eye,

Now we ovulate, copulate and over-populate, never stop to think about the things that we were taught to hate,

Now the stage is set, watch the players place their bets, take a sec shake your head, feel alive, make em sweat,

Realize that the system can’t exist without belief, appreciate your true potential, untwist your mouth and speak,

We’re working on building a world our children can live in, Understand, I can’t be while you’re still in this prison,

And I could spend my days preaching, so on and so forth,

But it won’t change, until we don’t want to go on, no more…”

 Chorus Repeated Twice

It is my personal belief that the hip-hop genre and community can serve as a unifying framework and function as an example for the entire nation.  The study of hip-hop is important right now especially because of the challenges and divisions that we as humanity continue to face.  “Today, the message of hip-hop is even transcending borders.  From xi ha in China to “hip-life” in Ghana, hip-hop is a lingua franca that binds young people all around the world, all while giving them the chance to alter it with their own national flavor.” (Hang, 2007)  At a show at red rocks this previous summer, a hip-hop artist yelled out to the crowd of thousands, exclaiming the sentiment that the gathering was ‘church’ or the closest to it, that a lot of the ‘congregation’ experiences.  Shows like this have become a religion of the youth in a general sense, or in the sense that Sunday mornings in the pews are many times traded for Friday and Saturday nights spent dancing to music, possibly consuming illicit substances, and coming together as a community to participate and experience enjoyment and entertainment.  The great thing about this entertainment, is that it can also stimulate true change and growth, can be educational, and does not necessarily have to incorporate partying ideals. I may even claim that this community has the potential to be even more spiritually enlightening than the community of a standard church.  Also, this culture is more able to reach a youth crowd and able to do so more quickly than many youth groups seem to be able to.  Hip-hop intertwines entertainment, and the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy oneself, while also learning, being aware of oneself and one’s actions, and seeking to improve oneself.

Maybe one of the most under-rated attributes of hip-hop is its ability to create truthful discourse.  Whether this discourse is indeed negative or positive, or viewed as good or bad becomes less important, as long as the truth is what is being expressed.  Truthful expression is valuable to any society, regardless of what it may entail.  We need to be exposed to the difficulties faced by others, rather than ignoring them.  We can learn from each other, and help each other, connect with and relate to one another.  So groups that express messages of violence, drug use, and even misogyny should be heard as well.  If this indeed is the reality of the world from their eyes, there is something to be taken or learned from it.  It brings to light in-efficiencies within our culture.  The song “express yourself,” by N.W.A. begins to break down stereotypes which the group dealt with firsthand, and simultaneously advocates creative expression of truth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8dlsZ1018s (NWA)

For a further look at what hip-hop is, what it seeks to be, and what it truly encompasses, we can look to another direct source from within the genre itself.  Hip-hop is home to many artists who strive to reflect and report upon the experience of particular, usually important situations.  As a number of the lyrics suggest, the truth of reality can be harsh and corrupt.  These songs also attest to the fact that as human beings, we are destined to face adversity, but we have the opportunity and ability to not only deal with this adversity and gain strength from it, but also to empower ourselves and others in the process.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNWpxwflQ5A (Zion I)

This video provides an example of what hip-hop can mean, where it can take an individual, and how it can move and inspire people.  The videos and lyrics also demonstrate hip-hop’s ability to capture personal and local histories.  On top of all of this, this form of music involves an aspect of enjoyment and entertainment, which I hope the videos and lyrics also achieve.  Hip-hop is an art form, a culture, and for some becomes a way of life.   It would be a shame to let a limited amount of bruised apples define and represent an entire sub-culture and group that has the potential to become a warming, healing, inspiring and thought feeding brew of cider, would it not?


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