Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Who is really killing hip hop?

Today, I saw this post and it got me thinking about how parochial (?) its author is. This is for us, he seems to be saying, and isn't it terrible what white people are -- yet again -- doing to black folks' art forms?

White people have always taken to "black" music. And because so much of it so genius, it has lent itself to others riffing off of it. And thereby that which was exclusively of one demographic has become universal. In so becoming, it has become different.

Personally I hate how Renaissance and Baroque art has somehow through the centuries morphed into the ugly, soul-killing crud that passes as art today. Where is the search for the true, the good, and the beautiful?

My point is that art -- if it is art -- will always lend itself to others building off of it, for good or ill. Maybe you think that what Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman did with the music of Jelly Roll Morton is a travesty. Maybe you think what Elvis Presley did with the music of so many black artists is a travesty. Maybe you think what Eric Clapton did with the artistry of Robert Johnson is a travesty. Regardless, they took what those giants had done before them and built on it, expanding the reach, and actually expanding the number of those who were aware of those giants.

Who would remember the awesome Arthur Alexander were it not for the Beatles? A handful of people. Who would have known of so many blues artists were it not for the Rolling Stones? The only reason even the scant few who know about Louie Jordan today do is because of Joe Jackson doing an entire album of his and Cab Calloway's music. And on it goes. What is being complained about here is simply the common trajectory that should not be bemoaned but -- if you really love this music form -- be embraced. (Unless it makes it objectively worse. Then that's a different story.)

In any event, Iggy Azalea is not what's killing hip hop. Much of hip hop is killing hip hop. The lyrics, the attitudes, the hyper sexualization are what has put it on life support. You can say that all that's "keepin' it real." You can say it's just art reflecting life. That isn't art's purpose! At its best art ennobles. It lifts the souls of those it reaches. It makes us question, yes, ponder, yes, act, definitely. But most of all it lifts us up from the mundane and workaday and filth in which we might find ourselves and shows us something better and more pure to which we should want to attain.

Judged by this standard, I would humbly argue that much of hip hop is found desperately wanting. Or is the, "Let's get laid, drunk, and stoned" ethos of Snoop Dogg what we really want our young men emulating? Do we want our young women shaking their asses or even dressing like Little Kim or Rihanna or Nicki? Listen to or watch the video of "Anaconda" (or better yet, don't ... just please, don't). What a pathetic use of whatever talent God may have given this woman. Same thing with Rihanna. Or is the message of "Pour It Up" a positive one for youth or anyone?

Black, white, red, yellow, brown, purple, pink, or anything in between, we can do better than this. And yet we don't. Why not?