Black People and Hip-Hop Culture


Staff member
Black People and Hip-Hop Culture
Part I of the Radio Camp

Hip-Hop has definitely been going through some changes some bad, some good. On the radio, you have the same songs rotating. This can't be good for Hip-Hop or any music genre. In politics, Hip-Hop has been speaking up more and creating its own platform. That is definitely a good thing. I asked Mos Def long time ago, "where's Hip-Hop going?" He said the same thing you may have heard on his debut album Black on Both Sides, " Hip-Hop is going wherever the people are going. . ." I ask you people in Hip-Hop, "Where are the people going?"

It is clear that when the movement of Hip-Hop is moving somewhere, be it to the club or to the polls or around the block, Black people are taken along for the ride. It is no surprise that when you hear about a Hip-Hop show, before the artists are even announced, it at least means Black people will be performing. Black people and Hip-Hop have forever been coalesced in happiness or misery. Remember the first MTV battle attempt in 2003 that was supposed to have taken place near Times Square at MTV. The police came swinging and a thousand people ran feverishly in packs simulating a riot (nothing was damaged). Media reports exaggerated as usual claiming there was a gun. If you spoke to people face-to-face or in website forums it was assumed a Black person had pulled out a gun. However, an attendee said, "there was “a white kid who had a knife" but it was MTV's disorganization and miscalculation of a couple thousand people attending and NYPD's usual brutal nature. "There was no gun."

The weirdest thing I get from news, website forums, books, summits and personal conversations is that the world wants Black people to take responsibility for situations that get out of control in Hip-Hop. Yet, Black people are not in a position to make ultimate decisions in major distribution or dissemination of information be it media or music. Please be clear. There are no major black distributors. If there were, many Blacks would have left Universal and the other music groups a long time ago. There is no major Black medium on your screen. Some Hip-Hop artists have found a home in MTV. Without MTV's history, that wouldn't be such a contradiction in Hip-Hop or in the Black community.

However, if you are an artist you should know that in 1981 when MTV first came out the bag it adamantly rejected Black music. Note that I did not say Hip-Hop, I said Black music. MTV had to be forced to play Michael Jackson and Prince, which are two people who can easily be mistaken as white at first glance. The obvious hatred for Black art continued for years, until the money in Hip-Hop began to turn whiter. Then, Yo! MTV Raps debuted in the 90's. This helped MTV's credibility in Hip-Hop substantially and almost erased their racist history. This drastic change by MTV was fueled by greed and it helped pacify a significant part of the Hip-Hop community. However, MTV and other corporations run to takeover Hip-Hop not be enough had it not been for sell-outs, old and new. Utilizing a variation of Booker T. Washington's ideology artists chose to acclimate to mainstream media and corporations in order to get that cheddar and become accepted. The Run DMC's video "King of Rock" displayed the struggle in doing so. In the video Run DMC dissed the contemporary perception of Rock n Roll artists, whom MTV played mostly on their station at the same time explaining that their music was also Rock n Roll.

So in 2004 what has changed for Blacks in Hip-Hop? Blacks on television? Nah, we been on television. Usually, we're depicted as a monolithic group constantly doing the same backwards entertaining shit that Whites love to watch. No change there. Blacks are getting paid? Nah, based on Black population and taking into consideration inflation we had more consolidated funds, more Black banks, and more Black owned businesses during Segregation. This was when Marcus Garvey and Black Wall Street was alive. Read Black Bourgeoisie by Edward Franklin Frazier.
We own music labels? Let's be real homey, Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records the first Hip-Hop label dropped Rappers Delight in 1979. Shouldn't at least one Black entrepreneur now own one Black distribution with half the revenue of the smallest music group by now, instead of giving a huge chunk of money to the same greedy five music groups. I'm not being impractical. Blacks had their own labels since the early 20th century.

The only thing that has changed is the strength of the music industry and the attitude of Black folks. While the music industry has consolidated its power. Some Black folks have given up consolidating their own. It used to be the Big Six in the 90's. Now in early 21st century it's the Big Five. They didn't lose one, they ate the smallest one for unification. While at times the Big Five may seem competitive with each other for supremacy, they can always agree that a divided voice is one they can all capitalize on. Universal, BMG, Sony, Warner, and EMI are all in five parts of the world. They each lie in thriving capitalist economies which are among the world's richest. Three out of five lie in countries that have veto power in the United Nations. Only five countries have veto power in the U.N. Together the Big Five own over 90% of all the music that is distributed in stores or played on the radio throughout the world. Each music group is a conglomerate empire owning more than just musical companies. At least three out of five are major distributors of motion pictures. Each company has the power to rip a contract in half with any artist or label when deemed necessary.

And in a field such as entertainment where Blacks think they thrive but do make money easiest none of these music groups have Blacks making decisions at the top. Four out of five are White companies.

MTV also chose to exercise their muscle at the expense of Hip-Hop and Black people by running a marketing campaign by saying January is Hip-Hop Month. How old must you be or how long must you be apart of Hip-Hop to know that Hip-Hop's official month is November. Hip-Hop's anniversary is November 12, 1974. When I saw this on December 31, 2004, immediately I was upset. If I’m upset, how would the forefathers of Hip-Hop feel about this, such as Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, and many others. They should be upset. However, this is not about some Black people catching feelings. MTV has been on a mission since Yo! MTV Raps.

When MTV finally decided to play Hip-Hop videos for economical reasons Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels was the only outlet for Black music. The soul reason for Yo! MTV Raps debuting the way it did was to erase Video Music Box out of the picture. In order for MTV to accomplish this, they would need instant credibility as strong as Ralph McDaniels and Video Music Box. Fab Five Freddy was their man in the beginning, then came Ed Lover and Dr. Dre. The combination of these hosts and the variety of caliber music they put out at the time made Yo! MTV Raps large. Even I approved of their music. But, beware of the underlying plan.

Video Music Box was especially for those who didn't have cable. I heard about MTV, but I knew Video Music Box. I only had access to cable for four years. Video Music Box displayed what was out and what the people wanted to see and hear just like "Flava Videos" in New York. But, the competition from MTV was too much for Video Music Box and it died slowly. Gradually, MTV changed the visuals and the lyrics of Hip-Hop. You did know MTV has their own type of standards for viewing videos, right. MTV went on to show a totally different Hip-Hop then we Hip-Hoppas knew. And it reflects on Black people automatically, no matter what neighborhood you're in. Unlike Video Music Box who played what you asked for MTV selects what you can ask for. This is similar to popular radio stations. Thus, they play what they want to show. And that is one type of artist, creating a monolithic culture and people that is not valid. That one type of artist performs in front of bright lenses on the camera, a hundred women dancing in bikinis, bling bling, and big trucks. Is that all to Hip-Hop. Yeah Hip-Hop loves fun things and simplicity, but we love being challenged with wit and struggle joints as well.

What does this say about Hip-Hop and Black people. That whole "it doesn't matter what people think about me" attitude is lame and preposterous. Because in this country, what they think about you is made into policy. The "Rave Act" bill in congress targets youth events and clubs. The Hip-Hop Task Force in New York is singling out Hip-Hop artists, no matter their priors. Insurance companies double and triple their rates when they see Hip-Hop events no matter the cause. G.A.ME got hit with an inflated insurance cost for an event we did with Common to fund our campaign for better HealthCare access. Zulu Nation had a simple educational panel discussion at the Bronx Museum in November of 2003 and the police camped outside through it all. How did Hip-Hop get so criminalized without ownership or decision making in our identity? The media has that much influence.

Although, I was later informed that MTV has been calling January Hip-Hop month for years, that doesn't make it cool. Butt, because the power of media influence is in the hands of racist people we will begin to believe January is Hip-Hop month, and anything else they tell us. Those youngest will be the main victims.

MTV's gall to call January Hip-Hop month is just as offensive if I were to drop down a million-dollar campaign calling Women's month June and saying nothing of March or Harriet Tubman (my hero) or Susan B. Anthony or the National Organization of Women (N.O.W.). That would deemed sexist. Surely, Black people would be up in arms if Black History Month was moved from February to June. It may seem petty or worse, seem like MTV is doing the Hip-Hop community a favor by making an optional month. However, the reality is MTV does not represent this culture or the many Black artists that help give MTV its credibility by appearing on Sucka Free Sundays and other programs. The credibility of MTV has become bigger than many of the artists now and they lay more claim to the culture than some of the biggest artists. Later, MTV will explain that Hip-Hop was started in Kalamazoo, Arkansas by Bill Clinton's brother and it will be deemed true. Why, because they are evil, they are under Viacom, they are rich, and White power exists, if it didn't MTV wouldn't be where it is. Artists are already convinced they need MTV to survive, even those who've been apart of Hip-Hop for over a decade. Many more will be convinced that whatever MTV drops is Hip-Hop. However, this dependent attitude of some Black artists isn't new to Black people in America.

MTV has the power to represent Hip-Hop by championing the efforts and achievements of Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa, Davey D, Chuck D., G.A.ME and those who have been putting in work for Hip-Hop. They own 24 hours of airtime a day. MTV could have Hip-Hop speak about Latinos who have the worse access to healthcare in the nation, the racist Rockerfeller Laws in NYC, the Black and Hip-Hop community that rose up in 2001 in Cincinnati when unarmed Timothy Thomas was murdered by police. G.A.ME is building a Hip-Hop union and struggling to build a national healthcare plan from the ground up. I know MTV didn't miss all this, they have enough money to disseminate and access information.

But, MTV are a bunch of suckers. MTV had rather run racist commercials such as Thug Nation (selling their racist ass cd's don't buy!). Some of these artists being advertised on this commercial would not take to kindly to being referred to as a thug or putting out thug music. Not everybody is a thug in Hip-Hop, nor conscious, or flaunting bling bling and some are neither. Hip-Hop is huge. But, when it comes to Black people it's customary to see us as monolithic folks by stereotyping us.

Why won't MTV explain to me or Davey D why they believe January is Hip-Hop month? Could it be the date when they were forced to finally play Hip-Hop? Have you ever thought about the title Yo! MTV Raps? Sounds kind of silly and patronizing. Look Black guys! MTV is rapping. Suckers...

L. James