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Form Of Intellect

Form Of Intellect – Industry Rule #4081: Don’t Grow Old In Hip Hop

As sociologist Philip H. Ennis notes in The Seventh Stream, his text on the emergence of rock music in American popular culture, the American youth movement coalesced with rock ‘n roll in the 1950s and 1960s particularly because of youthful distrust of authority and youthful desire for alternative aspects of life that reflected their own wills, wishes, and desires (284). In other words, rock provided a perfect soundtrack for rebellious youth. Since then, popular music has been primarily youth-driven and older artists and fans have often struggled to find a space in which they can create or find music that reflects their adulthood. This is particularly true for Hip Hop, which today functions as rock did in the 1950s. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a genre of music more contemptuous of authority and more youthful than Hip Hop has been since its birth. After all, what other genre of music has its most dynamic shifts made by young artists weary of the status quo? An eighteen-year-old Kool Moe Dee shook Hip Hop in 1981 when his roast of veteran Busy Bee transformed emcee competitions into the emcee battles we know today. A nineteen-year-old Rakim ushered in the verbal dexterity that inspired generations of emcees with his and Eric B.’s magnum opus, Paid in Full (1987). That same year, an eighteen year old Ice Cube took West Coast Hip Hop to the next level by penning the lyrics to the now classic tracks “Boyz N The Hood” and ... Read More »

Form Of Intellect: Hip Hop’s Biggest Problem Is…?

Last month, a number of luminaries gathered in London for Hip Hop on Trial, a formal debate on the state of Hip Hop. The panel featured recording artists Estelle, KRS-One, and ?uestlove, public intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, civil rights icon Jesse Jackson, and a host of others. The debate—which was sponsored by Intelligence Squared and Google+—covered a range of issues, but it eventually devolved into an argument as to what Hip Hop’s biggest problem is (with the answer being either violent content or misogyny, depending on whose argument you found more compelling). Such is the case with most state of Hip Hop debates. And while many are compelling, they narrowly focus on the ills of mainstream Hip Hop. Without question, mainstream Hip Hop—as the primary means by which many (if not most) listeners encounter Hip Hop—is in constant need of critique. However, the overwhelming majority of Hip Hop artists are underground. Despite this fact, the underground rarely factors into discussions about Hip Hop. Indeed, if Hip Hop has a major problem, it is that its entire body of work—the vast majority of which takes place underground—is ignored when it is discussed in the public sphere. So what makes the underground so important? Simply stated, the underground offers the balance that we inherently assume other genres have. Consider this: we have not had a national conversation about violent lyrics in metal music since the tragedy at Columbine High School (though they surely still exist). Country music has contained ... Read More »

Form Of Intellect: On Being Gay In Hip Hop: “It’s Reality. What’s The Problem?”

An often hyper-masculine and hyper-sexualized art form and culture, Hip Hop has relied upon the perception that multi-sexuality is a foreign concept to be shunned or a lifestyle embraced by a secretive few. The contempt towards gays and lesbians by a few artists is evidence of the former; the constant speculation about which emcees are supposedly gay or lesbian is evidence of the latter. Unfortunately, Hip Hop has languished far behind other popular genres—especially pop and rock—in developing a more progressive attitude towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) communities. What makes this so unfortunate is that, like rock at its formation, these communities certainly influenced Hip Hop. In short, just as Little Richard helped give birth to rock ‘n roll, much of the LGBT communities’ influences on Hip Hop can be seen in its essential pillars. One needs look no further than Hip Hop’s early relationship with disco, a dance and music culture often linked to LGBT communities and deeply embedded in Hip Hop’s foundation. But before emceeing and deejaying coalesced into Hip Hop as we know it, disco served as its backbeat. In fact, before Hip Hop entered the national lexicon, it was called disco rap. Just as he rocked block parties in his early career, Kool Herc—the man most often credited as Hip Hop’s founder—deejayed at a disco club called The Sparkle. Disco not only shaped deejaying but also b-boying. And break dancing pioneers such as Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones explicitly have stated that they borrowed moves such ... Read More »

Form Of Intellect: These Two Words

The track was going along nicely, but then a bitch and a nigga showed up. Of course, I do not mean this literally but figuratively. Over the weekend, I listened to a number of new tracks that I had been meaning to check out for quite some time, and nearly each one featured the artist or artists tossing around these words rather arbitrarily. This arbitrary bitch– and nigga-slinging knew no bounds: mainstream and underground artists alike tossed it around with reckless abandon. By no means am I a prude or a revisionist who pretends as if Hip Hop tracks never have featured these terms. However, for the first time, I felt inundated by them. Perhaps it is because of some of the distance I put between myself and Hip Hop in recent years (a result mostly of growing older). Perhaps it was because, on one of the tracks—featuring two prominent emcees who are among my favorites—bitch was used so egregiously that it became frustrating, particularly because both could have easily used woman in its place (as is often the case). Many of the calls to end the use of these terms have hinged on appeals to morality. Several have pointed out the self-loathing inherent in the frequent use of nigga while others have highlighted the glaring misogyny or self-loathing of the use of bitch. Of course, we are all equally familiar with the counterarguments that these terms have been co-opted by the Hip Hop community and have become terms of ... Read More »

Form Of Intellect: “We All Have To Get Together and Stop This” Hip-Hop and Trayvon Martin

Like many within the Hip Hop community, I have been moved deeply by the story of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was murdered by an overzealous resident of the gated community in which Martin’s father resides in February while returning home from a trip to a local convenience store. As the debates and rallies over Martin’s death ensue, I can’t help but ask myself, “What will Hip Hop’s response be?” Immediately, my attention was drawn to “Trayvon,” a song composed by underground Hip Hop artist Jasiri X that effectively and passionately recounts the story of Martin’s encounter with George Zimmerman, the man who murdered him. The video for the song features Jasiri X retracing Martin’s steps from the convenience store back to his father’s girlfriend’s house and ends with a ground shot of a pack of Skittles and a can of iced tea, the items Martin had gone to the store to purchase and Zimmerman alleges he thought were weapons. In many regards, Jasiri X’s “Trayvon” represents Hip Hop’s capacity to reflect on the conditions and experiences of the young African-American men who are Hip Hop’s primary (but certainly not only) artists. It is a brilliant, heartfelt track that harks back to the early works of artists such as KRS-One, Public Enemy, and X-Clan, all of whom Jasiri X suggests have been influential on his career. Of course, for those familiar with Jasiri X’s community activist background and his other tracks (including the controversial “What If The Tea Party ... Read More »

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