Friday, April 27, 2007

Voices That Need to Be Heard

I met with some of the great folks in the Hip Hop Congress this past weekend, who are doing all of the kind of constructive actitivities that aren't coming out of this condescending rap debate that I've been sucked into. Check them and others fighting alongside them to end the real obscenities--

And the vital cultural collective Tia Chucha--

And the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign--

And check out The Human Writes Project's Mark Gonzales's rhyme, "In Self-Defense of Hip Hop: Reaiming Rutger's Rifle"--

Also, check out the Memphis Rap's response to the insanity, "Rap/Hip Hop: You Can't Censor the Truth" (see link to right on Memphis Rap page)--


Dove With Claws said...

As usual, these are fascinating links, and definitely offer up some needed voices within this debate.

Still, I want to hear your take on something. In the Memphis Rap article, much of which I found both compelling and absolutely right-on, I also found this quote: "If you say Bitches and hoes discriminate against women and nigga discriminates against black people, than you are not Hip-hop nor are you the voice of today's generation."

I must admit that this disturbs me. Isn't this idea just as rigid and simplistic as those who paint hip-hop with the same negative brush? How does this help promote the kind of true conversation about (and *within*) hip-hop that seems so obscured in the current, post-Imus/Whitlock climate?

I hate to pull out one troublesome quote from an otherwise praiseworthy piece. Still, it glared a bit for me, and I'm interested to hear your response.

Danny Alexander said...


I agree with you about the quote, in a sense, but I read it as an accusation about a blanket statement.

Of course, in the sense that it is a blanket statement itself, it is flawed and, probably, unintentionally ironic.

But the intentions I see here are pretty clear. First, to single out words and say they, regardless of context, are dangerous is not very hip hop, and it doesn't seem to me to reflect the complexity of the minds of most of the music makers or their fans. As I wrote elsewhere, we wouldn't even do it with most other forms of art. We recognize poetry and fiction as having narrative specific persona, and we recognize the artists' ability to use that narrator for the purposes of larger overall goals. Otherwise, I would have left the theater after the first voiceover by Jack Nicholson in The Departed--pretty racist stuff.

Second, I do think all three words are widely recognized today as having two uses, an affectionate class-based use (like that speech Denzil makes in Training Day) and a hostile, more literal, use. I think this is generally true of hip hop and, particularly, urban culture close to the streets. As a black, female student of mine said about this issue--"If some people call me a bitch or a hoe, I don't think anything of it. I know how it's meant, and I know who I am. Now, if someone were to call me a 'whore'...."

The thing is, as we know, everything about word choice comes down to context in some sense or another. As a white man myself, I don't think I have the right to call any black man or woman by any of these names, and I also don't think I can tell blacks what vernacular they can use. As Michael Eric Dyson described pretty well 13 years ago, a lot of gangsta is a critique of bourgeois values and bourgeois hypocrisy, and I don't think that critique has to be handled with bourgeois concepts of politeness.

So, I agree with you, but I think I know where it's coming from.


Dove With Claws said...

I definitely feel you, Danny, and agree on all counts.

Still, I'll hold to the idea that the sentence doesn't really encourage the kind of conversation and critique that seems to be at hip-hop's very core. I know plenty of women and men who are as hip-hop as you can get, yet also do their best to call out the culture for its misogyny and homophobia, and try to inspire discussion about the N-word that gets beyond the standard binaries. To suggest, as that sentence does, that they are "not hip-hop" doesn't seem to do anybody any good...except maybe hip-hop's would-be demonizers.

By the way, I feel equally resistant to cries of hip-hop "realness" that come from any side of the ideological or stylistic conversation. Many in the "conscious" community is no less implicated, for reasons that I know you well understand.