Two Great Quotes on Hip-Hop

by Latoya Peterson

I am in the middle of working on a series about hip-hop, but I came across these two gems and had to share.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

dnA chimed in on his site and basically read my mind by making the point that people who make judgments about the moral worth of hip-hop, often aren’t especially schooled in the music. I was literally thinking that this morning, during my jog. I virtually never write about country music, or have any commentary on it. Know why? Because I couldn’t tell a Toby Kieth song from a Tim McGraw cut. Essentially, I’d have no idea what I was talking about.

But hip-hop, evidently, requires no such knowledge and any Tom, Dick and Hank often feels free to weigh in and lambaste the entire genre, or better yet, attempt to do it themselves and lambaste it. [...]

People talk about misoginy and violence-glorifying lyrics as crimes against women and young people. But most of all that stuff has been a crime against hip-hop, as its marred many a great lyrical performances. Now we are heading into a time, when the profane is all hip-hop is apparently all that makes hip-hop notable.

For me, the greatest tragedy of hip-hop is that its literary qualities were never cultivated, were never really celebrated except by the kids who could recite verses in their sleep. I think Ghostface and Raekwon will die without the larger world really getting the beauty of, say, “Motherless Child.” Remember Rae’s wicked intro?

    Rich man, poor man, read the headlines
    Niggers gettin murdered for spots and bigger dimes
    Jobs and drug wars, living by gun-law
    Jail-cats come home and wanna take me on
    As a young one growing up broke, me and people had to sell coke
    I guess we all in the same boat

You gotta hear the beat (play the video above) with it to get the full effect obviously, but this pairing of pounding drums with Rae’s own concise description of late 80s, early 90s Statin Island has a visceral beauty. I swear when I was playing the video for this post, I almost broke the table banging it with my fists when the beat dropped in. But my point is that hip-hop at its best has an incredible beauty to marry words to the natural rhythm of the world. As I’ve written before, the beat itself puts a premium on words–can’t say too much, or you go off beat–and thus you get incredibly beautiful and resonant phrases like “living by gun-law” or complete understatement and modesty like “jail cats come home and wanna take me on.” If you think about it, they probably want to do a lot more than that–but the great MC, like the great artists, knows not to reveal too much. [...]

I tried to fashion my memoir like an M.C. fashions rhymes, with a close attention to langauge and a constant attempt to stay with the beat which I could hear pounding in my head. If my memoir does anything, I want people to get how much I owe, as a writer, to the years I’ve spent rewinding the lyrical performances of Big Daddy Kane (“The Symphony”), Gza (“Liquid Swords”) and Chuck D (“By The Time I Get To Arizona”). These cats (thanks to a bunch of fools who’d sell their souls for a spot on VH-1) are going down in a heap of disgrace. But, for whatever it’s worth, they taught me how to think, and in large measure, how to write.

You can’t understand what I mean by that if you somehow think “Cop Killer” is a representative sample of the genre.

And Nojojojo of the Angry Black Woman blog writes on The Hip-Hop thing:

What I am, though, is a member of the generation that grew up on hip hop. I’m not an across-the-board fan, but I nod my head. I lean back. Sometimes I buy. What I don’t do, unlike Mr. Williams and apparently the majority of black Americans who’ve decided to blame hip hop for “high drop-out rates, record black-on-black murder statistics and a record number of out-of-wedlock births”, is tar and feather a musical form as the root of all evil. Because, quite frankly, that’s silly. Of all the scapegoats they could come up with for the myriad of problems faced by the black community, this is the best they could come up with? Come on, now.

On top of that, they’re not even talking about all hip hop. If all you’re listening to is what’s in constant rotation on the Clear Channel and other “big corporate” radio networks, then you’re hearing only the tip of a massive and diverse iceberg. Most of the hip hop artists on my iPod have never gotten airtime on mainstream radio. Some of them are regional acts, popular only in certain cities or chunks of the country. Some of them are from other countries, because hip hop went global ages ago and sometimes I like my hip hop in Japanese, or Portuguese, or Arabic. It’s easy to find translations online. Some of the older artists in my iPod started out mainstream, then got pushed underground by the surge of gangsta rap in the 90s; most are still going strong. Some are newbies who distribute their work strictly online, or through CDs passed around hand to hand at parties, or through obscure labels not generally known for hip hop. [...]

The next time any of you out there decide, like Mr. Williams, to make some denigrating blanket statement about hip hop and its terrible, epidemic effect on the black community, please make sure it’s actually hip hop you’re talking about — the real stuff, I mean, and not the musical Frankenstein manufactured by rich old white guys in suits. You’ll sound much smarter if you do.