That was one of the first things that came up when I did a google image search for “rap meme”, but it bears particular relevance. But just hold that thought for a moment while I set the stage if you would be so kind.
The internet has done a lot of things for hip hop, and it has done a lot of things to hip hop. For instance it has given hip hop the ability to reach an even wider audience with even greater acuity, thus the rise of many finer gradations in the realm of subgenres, and the eventual inclusion of an even more diverse group of people in the culture. This is evidenced in part in the rise of different forms of hip hop that were perhaps anticipated, but never actualized before a time when their audience could truly exist as a community. But it has also allowed for broader control, and more insidiously entrenched ideals from both industry players, and media outlets. This is evidenced in part through the rapid rise, and constant saturation of artists who are backed by particularly weighty industry players, or corporations, but seem to lack any degree of artistic merit or positive cultural influence. The decisions of record executives and industry players still bear heavily on what hip hop most people will hear. However through it all, hip hop has continued to endure as the primary folkway of an increasingly trans-generational, and constantly expanding base. I say folkways, and not folk art, because I’m not just talking about the 5 elements-type of craft. It has become increasingly apparent, through the internet, that hip hop applies to all of us who choose to allow it to, and it serves as a unifying point not only for artist and audience, but for all of us as artists together united beneath this folkway. Hip hop showed us that we’re all artists, and the internet gave us a means to actualize that realization.
To me, one of the most interesting ways that I’ve seen the folkway proliferate is the community of journalists that are covering hip hop. If you pay attention across many respectable sources for hip hop you’ll find a lot of the same writers writing for many outlets. These folks also interact on twitter. And it’s this community of twitter-avid hip hop journalists that spawned this article, and inspired the meme above as the image for the post. In particular it was Craig Jenkins‘ article on his tumblr earlier this week. And this is where things get heavy because he’s right. Hip hop’s role as cultural capital in the internet age is incontestable, and perhaps unmatched. Thus, for those who are the chief disseminators of hip hop to the masses there comes a great deal of power. And, in his article Craig is reminding us that with great power, comes great responsibility.
To be honest, I don’t think that people have been wielding their power very responsibly. There are certainly plenty of exceptions to the rule, but that doesn’t change the rules, does it? It still means that we find ourselves amidst a host of media outlets and industry players whose chief concern is not to honor the core values, and founding impetus, but to make a buck, and then to ensure that they will continue to make a buck at any cost. A lot of what masquerades as hip hop is not about creating and maintaining a higher ideal of community amidst civil unrest and bleak conditions (sound familiar?). A lot of what masquerades as hip hop is not about the proliferation of art that moves people, and moves them together. And I don’t mean this purely from the point of the rap music you hear, and the rap videos you see. It also applies, as Craig so aptly described, to many of the people who are writing about hip hop, who may be part of a different community when we talk about folk art, but when we’re dealing in folkways the writers and the artists fall in the same category.
And in this regard, we are all united under a single founding impetus that Afrika Bambaataa embodied so accurately. Hip hop came to exist only because people were trying to be productive and better themselves, and build a community where the institution left them none. Hip hop came to be widely dispersed because it is infinitely commodifiable, and its participants are not averse to doing business. Sebastien Elkouby was no stranger to either side of this dynamic. He worked to promote art that was beneficial to the world, and he made a business out of it. Thursday morning Potholes published Mr. Elkouby’s formal letter of resignation as a hip hop publicisit. It’s not that dude had some epic career, and his story is so wild that we all need to know it and ackonwledge his departure. Really, it’s quite the opposite as he is just one of the hundreds of thousands of people making a living through the folkway without being a famous artist. With nothing of note to marvel at though—as much as contemporary TUMBLR logic may tell us that he has nothing to offer—it’s simply his perspective that has so much value, and the fact that he was willing to share it. He pointed out very matter of factly how much complacent, passive violence has to take place in order for hip hop to exist in this grotesque and embarassed state of exaggeration where the biggest liars are the most revered figures (from Mr. Elkouby’s letter):
“Behind every Chief Keef, Tyga and Trinidad James, there are college educated men and women whose job it is to promote music that contributes to the dumbing down of our youth. Behind every music video full of half naked girls, there are casting agents and directors who would never allow their own daughters to portray themselves in such light. Behind every rapper who claims to be a thug, there are countless professionals who send their kids to private schools while promoting music which sends our kids to prison. ”
I’m not saying we can determine what people like. Nor do I think that we should censor what is promoted. But I am advocating for honesty. Real honest to goodness honesty that isn’t about hoodwinking the audience into buying something. How many people who are writing about Danny Brown are telling you how crucial Emeka Obi is to Danny’s success? How many people who raved about Kanye’s genius on MBDTF are going to tell you that Ken Wilson and Mike Dean are every bit as responsible for that record with Kanye? How many people that gave rise to Odd Future told you that they were signed long before anyone started writing about them being an unknown hip hop group? Enough with the lies, and the false realities, and the perpetuation of a system that wasn’t built for us or our freedoms. This world, and this culture are ours to live or die by. So what’s it worth if all we do is continuously embody the worst-case scenario of bad examples? If gunshots are the cowbells of hip hop, then we need less cowbells. We need no cowbells. Shitty hip hop is over if you want it.- Zachg