Youth Cultural Angst and Hip Hop/Rap
Perhaps it would be best to continue to seemingly examine surface contributions to the African American and Latina/o youth movement that has become known as Hip Hop/ Rap. Akil Houston is a source that helps to excavate some of today’s deep layers of complex issues embedded in Hip Hop. Some of the invisiblized societal and culural wounds from before the 1970s Hiphop elders’ innovations to African American creative expression continue to fester. This toxicity flowed into the public and private spaces from the early 20th century into the 1960s and through th 1990s and on through channels of conflict that have been inherited by today’s 21st century generations. In “Who Are the Hiphop Generation” 1 notes that,
“Hip hop culture has nine expressive elements. These are; Bombing(graffiti writers), DJs, B-boys–B-girls (break dancers), emcees/rappers, street knowledge, street language, street language, street fashion, beatboxing, and entrepreneurialism (entrepreneurs). These elements help Hiphoppas or Hiphop heads, people who participate in Hip Hop culture, make sense of the world and create a worldview that speaks to and for them.2
This is what previous generations did for themselves when they became conscious of their place in time’s flow. It is what the elders of Hiphop did before it was called Hiphop/Rap. He further notes that separation from Rap which has developed a decidedly negative image and Hip Hop culturally lived lives must take place.3 In addition, Houston points to mainstream commercially motivated appropriation and resultant dilution of the culture.
As more pop culture interests became infused with Hip Hop the generic label pf HipHop and Hip Hop generation began to be used with greater frequency. In an effort to distinguish Hipphop culture from the rap industry, Hiphoppas have engaged in a process of renaming and reclaiming.4
The concept of word and naming which has been in Hiphop culture and Rap music is ritualistically invoked into the 21st century atmosphere as a way to keep breath health into the genres social consciousness.5
However this is what usually happens when consumerism’s greedy roar resounds into the sonictapestry of African American musical culture. As diasporic Africans, we need to acknowledge that our culture is joined to our music. Our culture, its successes and its problems in this society, have interacted with complex situational systems (I am not suggesting simplistic one to one causal relationships here) impacted urban lives. This web of interactions assisted in the shaping and creating a cultural space in which this youth movement, this Hiphop culture could inhale deeply, angrily, happily, defiantly.
It’s ironic, old schoolers involved in 1970s Bronx gangs, racial conflict and Hiphop who have continued to guard heart’s aspirations for a better world in which African Americans and all oppressed can thrive, regret their mistakes, want to help today’s youth profit from their mistakes. They are also documenting Hip Hop’s very disturbing invisibilized origins when the LA riots that propelled modern Gangsta Rap into the public’s consciousness, was years in the future. Hear them speak for themselves:
In today’s gangster style “ghettos” of our verbally abusive political mean streets to the physically violent streets of rural and urban oppressed, the need for youth who are inheriting this world to inhale deeply echoes in global socio–economo–geo-political resonance.
Hiphop is a complex cultural product replete with Africana structures (Nommo, call and response, resistance through community, innovation with improvisational rhythmic flow, dance united to song to name a few) in the late twentieth century through agitated creative angst of African American urban youths’ lived interactions with a post-industrial society in crisis.
This expressive Nommo(power of the Word) and rhythmic flow is as old as the Zambezi River.
And from the rumbling in current socio-political movements embraced by this generation . .. the fullness of their potential to change our future has not been reached.
1. Akil Houston, “Who Are the Hiphop Generation” in Beyond Blackface: Africana Images in U.S.Media, 3rd ed. (Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing), 2011. 204.
3. Ibid. 205
4. Ibid., 206
5. I grateful to several of my current students for sharing robust dialogue and essays, for helping me find the courage to write this next oped. installment: Robert, Tyler, Shelly, Tyler, and Chambrea Thank you. . .