Hip-Hop, the pinnacle of a people’s expression?


I’ve been reading Saul Williams’ Dead Emcee Scrolls. It’s a wonderful book that delves into the psyche of an unknown Emcee. The entire concept of the book interesting to begin with, Saul Williams is the “legal” writer. However, the book was translated from an unknown source. He found a manuscript rolled up in a spray can. When he took it home he tried to read it but the letters weren’t english letters. They looked more like Arabic or a Sanskrit characters. Williams studied the writing for a few days and after a while he cracked the code. He realized that it was someone’s personal alphabet, so he began to read and write what he could decode/translate. His first few lines “I stand on the corner of the block slingin’ amethyst rocks” “Drinkin’ 40’s of mother earth’s private nectar stock. Dodgin’ cops.” He realized that they seemed to be verses, and he spent years deciphering the text. To this day he really doesn’t know if the word came from within him or was it the mysterious manuscript. So he offers this not as his work but a piece of personal inspiration, that has helped him become the poet/writer/singer he is.

The book

The book

This book bought up something that I’ve often thought about but never had the exact words to express it simply. Throughout the book there are sections in which Williams is just commenting on the translated manuscript. In one section he says “At what point does the power of hip hop begin to work against itself?” I’ve often thought todays hip-hop/rap (and some r&b) is a sad representation of “African” American culture. I only use that term because that part of the music industry directly correlates to that part of American culture. (Even if that correlation is misguided or misrepresented) The images that some contemporary urban music and artist portray directly oppose the true origins of hip hop.

Hip hop goes back to the most primal of customs that many early civilizations had. The art of oral storytelling. In the case of many African cultures there was a storyteller called a Griot. The term usually refers to a West African poet, praise singer, and wandering musician, considered a repository of oral traditions. Just simply how man would pass down information. Or even to just share life with other people. The Griot is more closely related to Hip hop because most Griots’ stories were accompanied with drums and other local instruments. Now a days we just call it “beats” and instead of drums we have drum kits etc. The Griots of this century reconnected with that tradition. Expressing their struggles, life stories and experiences. Rappers like Tupac, Run D.M.C., Public Enemy and many others of that time just were telling their story. Or sharing their frustrations with their culture’s, their community’s, their country’s current state. Rap back in that day meant something more that just a sick beat and more than how many girls you been with. Of course there’s always been songs about possessions or love/relationships. But the track that they play today are solely about “how much money I got” “who rockin my label” or “very descriptive accounts of (usually fictitious) sexual experiences.”

What happened to the days when you could just say “make love” and everyone knew what you were saying. You were talkin’ ’bout that one girl. But now we have songs like “I wanna f**k every girl in the world.” The artist have lost their original focus. To uplift a culture (not just black culture) uplift a community, uplift a nation, and essentially uplift man.

In the book Saul asked “At what point does hip hop reflect more of its American birthplace than its African roots?” Rap/Hip Hop was born in this country. Created by a a people ripped from their home. Brought here to be reshaped and “reformed” into a service for the creation of this country. Then fueled by the continued injustices of a nation against its own citizens. A nation that brought them here in the first place. It was only natural for the creative outlet for those citizens to create rhythm & blues leading into what we call Hip Hop/Rap. But we/artist have walked away from those roots. Maybe because they have lost their reason to express. Life has improved for the culture that birthed this art form. But the problem is that they moved their focus in the wrong direction.

Ok we’ve come a long way and our lives are better now. But instead of talking about bouncin’ booties, cars, and Cristal. Maybe we should talk about the injustices that are going on in other places. Music from the 50-90’s helped the darker citizens from this country get through and overcome. How about we do the same  for the rest of the world?

I dunno just my thoughts on the situation?

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3 thoughts on “Hip-Hop, the pinnacle of a people’s expression?

  1. Pingback: Hip-Hop, the pinnacle of a people's expression?

  2. I understand the sentiments of what you write, however, I think we diverge in thought at a crucial point that you may not have considered (or at least you don’t in the post; I know it’s hard to get everything in there).

    Hip-hop does draw directly from traditional African culture in many of he ways you describe, and others. And it is influenced by the context, in the case an American one, in which it resides. So you get American cultural trends/beliefs/ideals entrenched in the music, coupled with a perversion of any of the inherent “blackness” within the music by record conglomerates. I think that’s why Black music seems to have lost its potency in terms of being a change/hope agent. The point at which record companies have diluted true culture to the point that it is but a hollow hull of synthesized melodies and sinister lyrics is the point at which American takes over as the predominant force in the music.

    My two cents. Thanks for reading. Let’s keep this dialogue open.

  3. I have that book as well. Love it.

    I also agree with most of what you write – up to a point. I interpret the music of today almost as a barometer of the current psyche. A bell curve always moving in certain direction. Things aren’t cyclical, they’re ever evolving using the influences of familiarity. The current messages will pass – and they will influence the next set of voices. You can never truly ‘go back’. You can only move forward. I don’t believe the hip hop of today is as shallow as we may perceive it. There’s lessons to be learned in the lyrics – as it’s always been.

    Feel like we could talk about this forever, but I have to get working on my own blog with the precious few minutes of free time!

    Maybe yourself, ParenThelonius, and I could Google Hangout and discuss the topic sometime. #powerofsocialmedia

    Glad to have found your blog…and your voice. I hope you keep writing.

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