As far back as I can remember, there has been a war on Hip Hop. Vivid flashbacks of Reverend Calvin Butts crusading against “negative rap” from the seat of a steamroller come to mind. Tupac’s disdain for C. Delores Tucker and her vocal criticism of Hip Hop’s violence and misogyny stand out. Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew fighting for their First Amendment right to be “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” at the Supreme Court is similarly memorable. Fast forwarding to more recent times, Hip Hop continues to be demonized as “the Gospel of Self-Destruction.” Bill O’Reilly even goes as far as pinning the decline of American religious affiliation on rap music’s control over our nation’s youth. (Yes, really). Despite the last thirty years of Black leaders, preachers, politicians, and pundits hymning and hawing about Hip Hop’s chokehold on Black cultural expression, what has actually been accomplished besides youth resentment and elder alienation? I argue nothing at all.
Hip Hop is afflicted by Preacher’s Kid Syndrome. Since its inception it’s been asked to live beyond reproach; prior generations have pleaded with Hip Hop not to make a mockery of Black culture. “Fix your grammar… don’t talk like that… don’t dress like that… pull your damn pants up… you’re making us all look bad!” Yet people tend to forget that Hip Hop was born in a ghetto and continues to live in the ghetto. Asking Hip Hop artists to focus solely on social uplift is as impractical as expecting the preacher’s kid not to wild out as soon as they leave home for college. As the repressed preacher’s kid, Hip Hop is going to party hard, drink, do drugs, and be promiscuous. To the top of its lungs, it’s going to shout the N-word and all the profanities it’s been told are unacceptable to mainstream society. And when Daddy calls campus to demand that Hip Hop tone it down, it’s going to start ignoring those calls and turn up even more. Hip Hop is that college roommate that goes to every party, takes every test high, inexplicably graduates magna cum laude, then gets tapped by Corporate America to generate record profits. The preacher has to settle for a measly Mercedes while Hip Hop wakes up in a new Bugatti.
In response, Hip Hop is told that it’s selling out the Black race. Its thuggery and highlighting of fiscal irresponsibility have been blamed for high incarceration rates, and subsequently the decimation of Black upward mobility. Point blank, leaders tell us Hip Hop is holding the Black community back. Now… are there thugs making Hip Hop music and spreading delusions of grandeur? Yes, of course! Here are a few of my favorite:
Along with millions of listeners from all walks of life, I enjoy their music. For Black youth, it’s the soundtrack to eudaemonia, the embodiment of the African American dream. High school dropouts, undergrads, MBAs, and PhD scholars alike find motivation in the profanity ridden tales of ghetto greatness. I know because they are my friends. Hip Hop never prevented us from attaining success; it inspired us to work hard and invest in ourselves so we could one day live in mansions, bathing in jacuzzis full of Dom. As a person that grew up listening to the hardest of hard core Hip Hop, I was never motivated to commit felonies, disrespect women, or blow all my cash chasing unattainable fantasies. The people I know who did all that stuff struggled with other household problems that would have manifested in trouble regardless of their choice of music. Saying Hip Hop systemically programs Black youth for nihilism, prison, and economic catastrophe is an insult to our collective intelligence.
But this isn’t about feelings, it’s about reality. The facts simply do not support the notion of Hip Hop being a cancer to the Black community. Keith Humphreys of The Washington Post recently dropped an article titled “There’s Been a Big Decline in the Black Incarceration Rate, and Almost Nobody’s Paying Attention.” Considering how detrimental leaders, lawmakers, and the media believe Hip Hop to be as a contributor to Black criminality, how could this be true? Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Humphreys notes that “since 2000, the imprisonment rate among African-American women has dropped 47 percent, while the rate among white women has risen by 56 percent.” In addition, “the rate of imprisonment among African-American men remains very high, but nonetheless it has tumbled 22 percent since 2000.” This all comes at a time when “Spotify has analyzed 20 billion tracks and has come to the conclusion that hip-hop is the most listened to genre in the world” (as reported by Angel Diaz for Complex July 14, 2015). Could it be that public policy and NOT Hip Hop has had the greatest effect on whether or not Black youth end up in prison? Certainly appears that way.
But what about money? All that champagne popping, strip club raining, rim buying, fashion fanaticism, and jewelry dripping are what we’re told is keeping us from competing with other ethnic groups. Yet, NYU Professor Patrick Sharkey studied “Neighborhoods and The Black-White Mobility Gap”prior to and after the advent of of Hip Hop. The report concludes:
In the United States, living in a poor neighborhood often means living in an environment that is unhealthy and violent, and may offer relatively poor learning opportunities and economic opportunities. The troubling news from this report is
that inequality in our neighborhoods may be contributing to the persistence of racial differences in economic mobility. The hopeful news is that investments in neighborhoods that reduce the concentration of poverty could have powerful effects on the economic trajectories of children living within the most disadvantaged communities.
So is it Hip Hop holding us back or rather systemic wealth inequality? In the famous words of James Carville “it’s the economy stupid!” Take a look at this chart:
With Hip Hop not emerging until the mid 70s, the rate of Blacks living in high poverty neighborhoods is virtually identical when comparing pre versus post Hip Hop. Subscribing to Hip Hop culture can’t be blamed for creating an environment of perpetual poverty in predominately Black neighborhoods. That’s because government sanctioned policies like redlining and Jim Crow show a direct impact. Blacks have historically and currently continue to be locked out of the wealth creation cycle home ownership provides. For instance, Emily Badger of The Washington Post reported in the past year “the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.” Certainly, racist policies like redlining create problems for Black communities Hip Hop can describe, but never spawn.
Furthermore, with education being a major key to upward mobility, it’s obvious what kind of long term impact Jim Crow has had on Black plight. Deplorable education was the most severe consequence, as Black schools received significantly less funding and attention in comparison to White schools. [Cues Onyx] But, but wait it gets worse! After Hip Hop swept America’s airwaves, the Prison Industrial Complex arose to punish and profit from the actions of the very same youths it confined to ghettoes with crappy education. But it’s somehow Hip Hop’s fault for brainwashing kids into being criminals? As mentioned previously, the Black incarceration rate is currently decreasing at the same time Hip Hop is being recognized as the world’s most popular music. It’s evident Hip Hop has been unfairly targeted as the source of Black youth dysfunction; the true blame rests squarely on the shoulders of American public policy. So why are we still being sold the lie that Black youth’s allegiance to Hip Hop is leading to the races’ demise? [Cues Cam’ron] This ain’t math class but this s**t ain’t adding up!
Numbers don’t lie. To the best of its ability, Marketing Research Incorporated has tracked Hip Hop buying trends by race. HipHopDX writer Omar Burgess reveals “if you put stock into the MRI data, you’re left juggling the fact that Hip Hop is by and large performed by black people selling product to an audience of mostly white people between the ages of 18 and 34.” Yet, White youth aren’t driven to destroy their communities by joining gangs and squandering their money. So why would Hip Hop lyrics have a disparate impact on Black American youth and not the youth of any other community worldwide? Obviously our country’s policing of Hip Hop has produced the disparate impact, not the content. Saying Black minds are somehow more impressionable than White, Asian, and other minds who opt in to Hip Hop culture is as absurd as it is offensive.
Knowing all of this, how dare anyone in America treat Hip Hop as a pariah. Hip Hop is the most uniquely American art form to ever emerge; it’s literally a reflection of hundreds of years of domestic policy. America has squeezed Black Americans into abject poverty, yet begs Black youth not to describe the conditions of their existence, nor glorify the mechanisms of their perceived escape? As fiercely as Americans cling to the Second Amendment, we must also support the First Amendment rights of Hip Hop artists. No matter how much you hate the lyrics and/or appearance of Young Thug, Tyler The Creator, Nicki Minaj, or Future, they’re owed the right to vocally and visually do what they please. Kanye West deserves the right to be as bat s**t crazy and vulgar as Ozzy Osbourne – censorship is an un-American quality.
Above and beyond everything else, Hip Hop, with all its perceived shortcomings, is fun; Black youth are owed the right to have fun. Some guy in a suit or a robe is not allowed to dictate the parameters of Black fun. That’d be like me telling Country music artists to stop singing about revenge, or better yet, asking Heavy Metal artists to tone down the devil worshipping. So, the next time somebody espouses some unquantifiable theory about Hip Hop degrading Black quality of life, cue Jay-Z and tell them “we don’t believe you, you need more people!”