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All about hip-hop

By Staff | Jan 27, 2009

Nobody in the world can accuse you of being predictable.

Take your iPod, for instance. You’ve got Prince on there, and some Queen of Soul. A little Elvis, both Costello and Presley. There’s a Snoop Dogg tune, and one from the Pussycat Dolls. You’ve got Stevie Wonder on there, and some songs that make you wonder why you downloaded them.

But on your playlist, there’s a lot of hip hop. ODB, De La Soul, Choclair, Kurtis Blow, Dead Prez. Those are the artists who speak to you, right?

But are they speaking the truth? In the new book “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” by M.K. Asante, Jr., you’ll examine another side of your favorite music.

“Although West African in its derivation, hip-hop emerged in the Bronx in the mid-70s as a form of aesthetic and sociopolitical rebellion against the flames of systemic oppression,” says Asante. Although it’s older than the youth who embrace it, hip-hop is the “language of youth rebellion.”

But why music as rebellion? In answer, Asante says hip-hop music and its generation shape and define blacks and black culture, both public and private. The lyrics are a way of keeping poverty and oppression “real.”

The problem with that, he says, is that, “Under the banner of ‘keeping it real’, the hip-hop generation has been conditioned to act out a way of life that is not real at all.”

Many hip-hop artists have denied their middle-class background for publicity’s sake. Others have created lines of clothing that glorify the prison system, which Asante says is largely political and biased against blacks. Elders — the Civil Rights generation — have vilified hip-hop for its misogynistic lyrics and liberal use of the “n” word.

Worse, as Asante discovered, the people who created hip-hop do not own it. Large white-owned, white-run recording companies control who is recorded, what songs are on CDs, and even to whom the music is marketed; a large percentage of hip-hop fans packing concert venues are white and male.

So if it’s really “bigger than hip-hop,” what can the post-hip-hop generation do with the rebellion created by the music? Understand your history, Asante says. Think critically beyond the problem to search of a viable solution. Don’t wait for “mainstream musicians to say what needs to be said.” Take injustice and make it newsworthy. Embrace ubuntu, or “humanity toward others.” Teach love, for yourself and others.

Author and Morgan State University Professor M.K. Asante is too young to have heard, first-hand, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, but in some ways, “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” includes a similar gentle call-to-action. Asante melds hard facts with interviews and history, throws in suggestions, and offers some amazing personal stories to make this a thought-provoking book that shouldn’t be missed, especially at a time when racism blazes on the hot burner.

If you pick up this book — and you should — give yourself extra time to digest what’s here. “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” is filled with plenty of big meditations.

Contact Terri at bookwormsez@graffitiwv.com