Binary Visions, Black Consciousness, and Bling Bling*

Regina Naasirah

Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy. We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.
-- Malcolm X

It’s got to be collective leadership.  It’s got to be holistic and be able to speak in these times.  Leadership has to be able to connect the dots.  The day of the single leader is over.  We’ve elevated Martin and Malcolm like they were the only people doing work and that’s not true.
-- Kevin Powell (Davis 37)

That’s when I started thinking/how many people hip hop’s affected/How many dead folks/this art’s resurrected/ How many nations/this culture has connected/Who am I to judge one’s perspective?
-- Common, “The 6th Sense”

From Freedom Ring to Bling Bling.  A major drop. A major drop.  Imitation of the bling bling of the older generation.  Eleventh commandment—thou shalt not get caught. Money shapes the vision.
-- Cornel West

Hip Hop is the dominant youth-culture in the first decade of the 21st century.  Many political activists are either displeased with this fact or refuse to acknowledge it. The idea of male generational binarism, between the Hip Hop generation and its predecessors, seems especially crucial to African American thought (Levine).  If there is to be a movement-of-return to the task of struggling for liberation and justice, a bridge must be built.  Political activists must make conscious efforts to listen to and work with the Hip Hop cultural movement.

Inspirational elements for Hip Hop are represented in the decade-plays of August Wilson. Art truly imitates life, and Wilson presents some 20th-century battle issues through his characters. In Gem of the Ocean, the battle is between Citizen Barlow and Caesar over the law; in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seth Holly and Herald Loomis battle over the effects of enslavement; in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Levee and Toledo battle over African history; in The Piano Lesson, Berniece and Boy Willie battle over legacy; in Seven Guitars, Floyd and Hedley battle over money; in Fences, Troy Maxon and his sons, Lyons and Cory, battle over the act of fighting against discrimination; in Two Trains Running, Memphis and West battle over urban development; in Jitney, Becker and Booster battle over prison-worthy crimes; and in King Hedley II, King Hedley II and Tonya battle over their unborn child’s life.

Battles are also the major theme in Heru Ptah’s novel, A Hip Hop Story.  Ptah says, “It takes a thick shell to bear it, to hear it, to stand still, all the while crafting an ever more denigrating comeback.” Fictitious rappers, Flawless and Hannibal, indulge in bloody battles that lead to death and tonguelessness. History teaches us that battles for representative identity (Levine) have plagued the struggle and the vision for a long time.

The connection between the old-crowd binaries and the Hip Hop binaries is that both have an astounding influence on the mindsets of Blackamerica. The utimate objectives of the old-crowd binaries were liberation, equality and education.  Hip Hop artists, for the most part, have not carried the torch.  Although rappers occasionally make constructive political points, battle lyrics garner the most interest.  Political goals simply do not serve as their foundation when they battle; the value of education has generally fallen by the wayside.  Thus, Kanye West’s album College Drop Out has an interlude that tells of a young homeless man who is thankful that his father left him a bunch of degrees.  Instead of sleeping on newspapers and cardboard, he rests his head on diplomas.  The most successful Hip Hop artists do not embrace the politically constructive driving forces that propelled Blackamerican activists in the 20th century.

The Old-Crowd Battles

Some of the older battles sprouted out of birth location and status (e.g., free-born vs. slave-born).  Class played into consciousness, as did attitudes toward Africa, freedom, unity, morality, education, economic stability, self-image, and cultural perpetuation. “Race” confusion, begun during slavery, was fueled by most of the old crowd battles.  Foreign birth often offered a view that native born could not see.  The kind of education one received definitely shaped one’s perception and approach to struggle and leadership.

The common thread that ran through old-crowd battles was the drive for Black liberation.  But the means to obtain it became part of the battleground.  Even in the heat of racism, lynch mobs, separate and unequal living, employment discrimination, and poverty, Blackamerican leaders of the past too frequently saw the future from drastically different angles.  Habitual, vicious verbal attacks and character assassinations too often saturated visions.  Genuine commitment to black elevation ironically fueled the clashes.

African Personality vs. Westernized Negro: Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) vs. Alexander Crummell (1819-1898)

Let me forever be discarded by the Black race, and let me be condemned by the White, if I strive not with all my powers, if I put not forth all my energies to bring respect and dignity to the African race.
-- Edward W. Blyden

The faith of Jesus is to supersede all the abounding desolations of heathenism.
-- Alexander Crummell

St. Thomas (Caribbean)-born Blyden’s vision of Africa included repatriation of Blackamericans. The vision was formed by his rejection because of race in America. In December 1850, when Blyden emigrated to Liberia and enrolled at Alexander High School, Monrovia, he realized Africa's2 place in the world. He fashioned a total philosophy of Africanness.  He encouraged Freed Slave descendants to bridge the continental gap. In this effort, he traveled to America eight times representing Liberia, his last visit being 1895.  Blyden’s writings, speeches, and famous proposition of the "African personality" inspired Negritude and Pan-African consciousness.  In Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, he argued that Christianity has had a demoralizing effect on blacks, while Islam has had a unifying and elevating influence. He encouraged Africans to “learn to unlearn” European constructions and misconstructions. Although W.E.B. Du Bois articulated Blyden’s writings, Du Bois does not mention him in Souls of Black Folk but devotes a chapter to angelic Crummell.

Crummell, born free in New York, was excluded from a meeting of priests of the diocese because of race.  After completing a Queens College, Cambridge A.B. in 1853, he was a missionary in Liberia and Sierra Leone and professor at Liberia College. He believed Blackamericans were ideal missionaries to Africa because of “a tropical fitness.” He believed African improvement was through acquiring "civilization," that is, a classic Western education. He said that if Africa "is ever regenerated, the influences and agencies to this end must come from external sources. Civilization... never springs up, spontaneously, in any new land. It must be transplanted." His American Negro Academy, an organization of the prominent, best-educated Blacks, inspired Du Bois's idea of a "talented tenth."  Souls of Black Folk celebrates Crummell’s flowery “vision of life,” for he fought temptations of Hate, Despair, and Doubt in dealing with white supremacy (136).

Assimilation vs. African Pride: Frederick Douglass (1819-1895) vs. Martin R. Delany (1812-1885)

[Delany] has gone about the same length in favor of black, as the whites have in favor of the doctrine of white superiority. -
- Frederick Douglass (Levine, 6)

The elevation of our race…is [our ultimate] aim, and whatever respectfully and honorably contributes to this end, is among the means to be used for accomplishment.
-- Martin Delany

His mother was raped by her slave master, and from that union Frederick Douglass was born a slave. Yet, Douglass’s sensed birthright was eventually challenged by the never-enslaved, “unadulterated” African, General Martin R. Delany.Of “composite nationality,’’ Douglass considered himself half white and chose to focus on nation more than race.  Douglass said that Delany had the “intensest embodiment of black Nationality to be met with outside the valley of the Niger,” suggesting “that Delany would be a more suitable leader of black Africans than [of] American blacks” (Levine 109). Delany considered Douglass’s attitude akin to White racism (Levine 227). When Douglass met with President Lincoln, Delany accused Douglass of confiscating his idea to use John Brown’s original plan for increasing Union ranks  (224f). When Douglass served as Assistant Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry to Santo Domingo (in 1871), he argued for “humane” and “enlightened imperialism,” claiming the islanders “want Saxon and Protestant civilization” (228).  His assignment in 1874 as president of the doomed Freedmen’s bank sparked hope “that the days of racism (and race) were over” (225).  After the war, Douglass’s and Delany’s battles over allegiance to America or to Africa escalated.  Douglass accused Delany of taking “the place of the old planter” in Delany’s “domestic triple alliance” among northern capital, southern white landowners, and black labor for which Delany ironically hired a police force (231).

Delany, the first black major in the U.S. Army, was concerned with patriotism. He proclaimed that his commitment to black advancement was “True Patriotism,” though he said it was “a patriotism that, in a racist nation, would inevitably make him seem out of step, perhaps, even a ‘felon and outlaw’” (225).  Delany’s binary vision concerned itself with rooting his “pureblooded blackness” body in America or Africa.  He felt that emigrationist programs were essential to racial pride and purity (233).  He regarded black leadership as a form of racial solidarity.

Delany and Douglass worked together until 1849.  In his May 1849 lecture “Colorphobia,” Douglass “described whites’ racist responses to blacks as akin to ‘delirium tremens’” (Levine 109).  Douglass equated this to Delany’s focus on Blackness. Delany and Douglass had tongue-slashing disagreements about Harriet Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Delany viewed the book as a racist slander and attacked Douglass’s naïve celebration of its author; Douglass affirmed that the book demonstrated the potential for Black elevation in America, and used it to rally against Delany’s emigrationism. Delany proposed an “affirmative action” demand, for white racist Republicans were deliberately ignoring “pure black men” by only appointing “mixed bloods” to government positions (Levine 230). Delany advocated a quota system based on blood and proportionality.  The nation’s five million Blacks (one-eighth the population) would be entitled to 32 seats in Congress, of which 26 would go to “pure”-blooded Blacks.  Douglass scoffed at Delany’s statistical principle, saying, “equality of numbers has nothing to do with equality of attainments” (232).

The Masses vs. Talented Tenth Elitism: Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) vs. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

Mr. Washington came, with a simple definite programme, at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes, and was concentrating its energies on Dollars.
-- W.E.B. Du Bois (Souls, 34)

In Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois writes, “Easily the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington” (34).  Washington knew first-hand the curse of racism and economic exploitation. He urged Blackamericans to “drop your buckets where you are,” to abandon the drive for full citizenship, eschew politics and put emphasis on economic self-reliance.  He was first Blackamerican to create a successful, self-perpetuating institution outside the Black church, where he promoted vocational education and character-building.  “Washington’s ideal of a self-reliant black community was the concept of ‘the nation within the nation’” (Gates 2000, 34) that would never be integrated¾a vision that inspired nationalism from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X.

Northern free birth in a relatively integrated environment offered Du Bois “some flexibility in imagining how to traverse the color line” (Gates 2000, 3). The Harvard Ph.D. slyly said of Washington, “One hesitates, therefore to criticize a life which, beginning with so little, has done so much” (Souls, 36). In his battle with Washington, Du Bois pressed for Blacks to use education as the route to full integration on every level.  Impatient, he was dedicated to full citizenship in the US. As a college student, he went into the South and “found himself on intimate terms with black poverty and suffering”; but he believed “he had been chosen to commence his assault on white supremacy in the United States through the life of the mind” (Gates 3f), for he was an elitist and a prime example of the Talented Tenth.  Harold Cruse, in Plural But Equal, said, “One of the causative factors in the cultivation of the ideology of Du Bois’s black Talented Tenth was crude materialism” (Cruse 124f).  Du Bois bulldozed his intellectual prowess into leadership of a popular movement.  As he addressed the double consciousness battles (the dilemma of being “both a Negro and an American”), he warned: “We must first of all not fall into the prevalent error of speaking of [Negro Americans] as though they formed one essentially homogeneous group.  This was not true even in slavery time” (Foner 51).

Integration vs. Self-Determination:W.E.B. Du Bois vs. Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

The Pan-African movement ran into two fatal difficulties: first of all, it was much too early to assume, as I had, that in 1921 the war was over.  In fact the whole tremendous drama which followed the war, political and social revolution, economic upheaval and depression, national and racial hatred, all these things made a setting in which any such movement as I envisaged was probably at the time impossible.… There came, too, a second difficulty which had elements of comedy and curious social frustration, but nevertheless was real and in a sense tragic.  Marcus Garvey walked into the scene.
-- W.E.B. Du Bois (Dusk, 276f)

When Washington died in 1915, Du Bois assumed leadership of Blackamerica.  He continued to push for integration. His “reign” was challenged, however, by the rise of Marcus Garvey. Du Bois heard of Garvey in 1915 during a vacation to Jamaica.  When Garvey landed in the US and presented a “widely advertised plan for commerce between Negro groups, and eventually of Negro domination of Africa,” it was met with Du Boisian skepticism.  Du Bois scrutinized Garvey’s steamship line fund drive and called his methods “bombastic, wasteful, illogical, and almost illegal” (Dusk, 277).  The collapse of Garvey’s “over-advertised schemes” hurt the “development of the Pan-African Congress idea,” but Du Bois himself soon afterward “went to Africa and for the first time saw the homeland of the black race” (278).

Garvey, born in Jamaica, was segregated amongst Black people early in life.  Like Delany and Blyden, Garvey was an unadulterated African, and took great pride in this fact.  As a timekeeper on a banana plantation, he had first-hand knowledge of oppressive conditions for Africans.  He asked: “Where is the Black man’s government?  Where is his president, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?  I could not find them and I declared I will help to make them.”  After reading Up From Slavery and becoming a staunch admirer of Washington, Garvey’s goal was to build Black institutions.  Finding receptivity to his “race consciousness” among Blackamericans, Garvey created the largest black political movement up to that time. His Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) spread throughout America, the Caribbean, and Africa, and “ignited the imagination of a black proletariat disappointed by the promises of urban immigration and frustrated by racial injustice in America” (Gates 1997, 95).  Garvey’s vision materialized in the Black Star Line, the Negro World, UNIA’s Negro Factories Corporation, a convention that drew 25,000 delegates from around the world, and parades with military regalia evoking an African government in exile.

Nonviolent Resistance vs. “By Any Means Necessary”: Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) vs. Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1925-1965)

He got the peace prize, we got the problem.... If I'm following a general, and he's leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a peace award before the war is over.
-- Malcolm X on King

We declare our right on this be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.
-- Malcolm X

The system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. -- Malcolm X

Malcolm X asked, "Who ever heard of angry revolutionists all harmonizing 'We shall overcome... Suum Day...' while tripping and swaying along arm-in-arm with the very people they were supposed to be angrily revolting against? Who ever heard of angry revolutionists swinging their bare feet together with their oppressor in lily-pad park pools, with gospels and guitars and 'I have a dream' speeches? And the black masses in America were—and still are—having a nightmare." Although King witnessed daily abuses and discrimination, he believed white supremacists were capable of loving Blackamericans. He waged his nonviolent struggle in order to obtain complete integration for Blackamerica.  His famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” questions American justice and laws. The Montgomery bus boycott was a pivotal moment in US history. King inspired sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and the voter education program. Later, he focused on the economic nature of racism, the evil of neocolonialism, and the violence of the Vietnam War.  Of Malcolm X, King said: “right before he was killed he came down to Selma and said some pretty passionate things against me, and that surprised me because after all it was my territory there. But afterwards he took my wife aside, and said he thought he could help me more by attacking me than praising me. He thought it would make it easier for me” (Malcolm X website).

Malcolm X’s life was a “chronology of change” (Gates 2000, 271). Malcolm X said, "Dr. King wants the same thing I want — freedom!"  Completely dissatisfied with King’s non-violent stance, however, Malcolm considered it “criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”  More nationalist in his outlook and practice, he insisted that there could be “no black-white unity until there is first some black unity.”  Of the binary visions of King and Malcolm X, Gates says, “by the sixties their visions seemed less incompatible with one another, partially because King moved leftward” (270).  But Malcolm’s summing up of his generation’s achievements was sobering.  Addressing young people, he remarked: “What did we do, who preceded you? I'll tell you what we did. Nothing. And don't you make the same mistake we made....”

HIP HOP BATTLES [Rap music is] a mind-numbing virus that masquerades as a black cultural extract. Ojo Alyede in  “Another One Bites the Dust”

Money follows values—we pay for what we value.
-- Amos Wilson (93)

Hip Hop rappers are poets who often wield their skills in battles for supremacy. Many rappers are delusional, and confuse their popularity with true leadership.  Kelefa Sanneh, in “The Woozy, Syrupy Sound of Codeine Rap,” clarified this issue when he said, “Critics sometimes complain that hip-hop is stuck in a sex-and-crime-and-violence rut, which is a bit like complaining that R & B is stuck in a love rut…. this complaint is beside the point: you can be a great rapper even if you don’t have anything in particular to say” (Sanneh).

Some insist that rap moguls such as Russell Simmons, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Master P, and Dr. Dre have captured Washington’s dictum of accumulating wealth, but they have gone far far beyond anything that Washington, let alone most 20th-century Blackamericans, could possibly conceive. Hip Hop is a culture driven by capitalism.  In Alonzo Westbrook’s Hip Hoptionary—the dictionary of hip hop terminology, few words have as many synonyms as those for “money”:

trap, paper, bones, skins, scratch, scrilla, sacks, flow, chips, cheese, cheddar, bank, grips, green guys, mullah, loot, looch, loaded, jing, grip, fetti, ends, ducats, dough, dead presidents, cream, c-notes, coins, chi-ching, cabbage, cake, beans, bankroll,  Benjamins, big faces, biz-zank, bricks, butter (191).

(“Good” has 65 synonyms, “sex/have sex” has 27, “hip hop” has 22, “fun” has 28, and “nigga” has a whopping 97.)  M.O.B. stands for “money over bitches.” Hip Hoppers live for wealth; individual accumulation of wealth.  Some, like Jay-Z, look for exclusivity.  Of the watch he wears and his taste in general, Jay-Z said, “‘It's a Masterpiece Rolex,’ allowing an inspection of the diamond-studded watch twinkling on his wrist. ‘I was, like, the first one in the country with it. I try to stay on top of things…. I read the Robb Report, the duPont Registry, things like that. I tend not toward expensive—more toward exclusive’” (Sales 2002).

In “'Bling Bling' Added To Oxford English Dictionary,” Minya Oh notes that the term was coined by New Orleans rap family Cash Money Millionaires in 1997-98 and came into national awareness as the title of a song by Cash Money artist BG [Baby Gangsta].  Once it described sparkling diamonds, jewelry and all forms of showy lifestyle.  Now it means conspicuous consumption and flashy display of wealth.  The Black bourgeoisie has given it new meaning with tawdry competing visions. “'Bling Bling' will never be forgotten," BG said. "So it's like I will never be forgotten. I just wish that I'd trademarked it, so I'd never have to work again."

Thuggism is classy today. The Hip Hop “Talented Tenth” finally have the resources to do something, and many of them do a “little something something,” but not only could they do much more; the direction that they are leading the youth—chanting empty slogans—has devalued the morals and unity of African people.

Russell Simmons and the Problem of Negation

Hip hop is the ultimate capitalist tool.
-- Nelson George, Hip Hop America, 156

Hip-hop culture is so influential, so mainstream these days that it’s being used to market nearly everything: beer, batteries, clothes, credit cards and, yes, even the United States Army.
-- Daily Challenge

When Russell Simmons started Def Jam in 1984, he “laid the foundation” and “set an aspirational agenda” for hip hop (Clinkscales Vibe).  “He made the blueprint—the philo’” said the rapper Jay-Z.  Simmons recalled his thoughts two decades ago: “I’m sick of making other people rich.  I want to own my own shit, my own record label, my own movie company. There were a lot of blacks thinking that way back then; not a lot of examples to follow.” (NY Mag 26).  One day, Simmons hopes to be the first hip-hop billionaire.  Now he has a movie company (Def Picture), an ad agency (Rush Media), a now defunct magazine (Oneworld) a TV show (Russell Simmons’ Oneworld Music Beat) and a clothing line (Phat Farm).  Although he resides in an exclusive suburb of Saddle River, N.J. in a 30,000-square-foot mansion, he and his wife, Kimora Lee, donated only $10,000 to Oprah’s Angel Network that is building schools in Africa.

Simmons’s vision of crossover urban black music and fashion (to white suburbia) was opulently displayed on 60 Minutes II with Charlie Rose. Simmons is credited with taking “hip-hop music from the inner city streets of New York to the shopping malls of Middle America.”  He explains that Corporate America is “getting an entrée in a world that they don’t know enough about. So they want a gateway to selling their clothes and their phones, their movies.”  He told Tommy Hilfiger “there was big money in hip-hop fashion” and gave him street creed by introducing him to rappers and black supermodels. In return Hilfiger introduced Simmons to people like the buyers at Macy's who order Phat Farm style (NY Mag 25).  When asked how he benefits in aiding corporate America, Simmons said, “I get paid.”

According to Nancy Jo Sales (1999), Puffy Combs has been the public face of the hip-hop revolution.  But in terms of record sales, industry clout, and social cachet, “Russell Simmons is the man.”  Simmons defended selling his Phat Farm for nearly $140 million while still wanting to run it.  He explained, “There are deep, deep questions in black culture in terms of ownership, [when] somebody who is the very paragon of success sell[s] his share off to the Man….  I don’t want the money…I want the money.  If you want to push bigger buttons, you have to get inside the building” with “Titanic money!” (25). Nevertheless, Simmons has a personal-social vendetta against mainstream corporate record executives who ignored him and refused to invest in his ideas, especially in his “Def Jam” record label.  He flaunts the fact that Hip Hop is now a multi-billion dollar industry, as he boasts to Charlie Rose:

The arrogance of white men is why I'm here today. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be here. What the hell did they need me for if they were open-minded enough to allow this cultural phenomena to be part of their make-up… My independence is because they didn't accept me. So every step of the way I've made more money. (60 Minutes II).

Following suit, mainstream corporate America scrambles to take on MCs and Hip Hop language and culture to capture the ever-growing youth market.  Hip Hopreneurs like Simmons help them become hip-hop savvy. Darryl Cobbin, Global Marketing Manager, World Wide Sports and Entertainment for Coca-Cola, acknowledges that one of the keys to his success is Hip Hop.  He says that he wants to value Hip Hop culture “not only as an image, but as a method of communication.”  Corporate America, aware that kids look to Hip Hop artists for all their social cues, wanted the $103 billion they spent in 1998.

When Rose questioned Simmons about the gangsta quality of the music, saying “They brutalize their women and then they worship the gun,” Simmons quipped, “Worship a gun? George Bush worsh— what! What!”  Rose interrupted, “George Bush is not the issue there”; but Simmons pressed him: “Not the issue…? Why aren't we talking about the ‘gangsta government’ we have? Why are we talking about gangsta rappers? They're imitating the gangsta government … You wanna point at the rappers.”

In another arena, Simmons said, “People aren’t threatened by black people getting ‘economically empowered.’  That’s too much thinking.  They’re threatened by rappers saying that shit about we gonna rob you.  They’re threatened they might get robbed, too!  ‘Thank God, I wish they’d be successful, and not rob me—if that’s all they want, please, [laughing] somebody give them niggas some money!’”  Simmons considers rappers to be “spokespeople for the people who have nothing” (Sales 1999).  He professes to be generally apolitical, but believes that Hip Hop will forever change the face of America, by making people “more open-minded about each other.”

Black consciousness rooted in struggle, in anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, faces the most intense battle yet with the Hip Hop life perspective.  In fact, the first battle of this section deals with contestants who are best known for Black consciousness rap. In Introduction to Black Studies, Maulana Karenga identified the ensuing battle between teacher-rap or nation-conscious rap and gangsta rap.  He credits rap for carving out “a space for independent Black artists and companies.”  Initially rap “rebuilt an eroding sense of community among Black youth, spoke to them in a special way” and did the same for Black musicians (414).

Rappers in general have dropped the baton of responsibility to uplift youth and impart commitment. The rap audience has become more violent (Source April 1998, 110).  Rappers often deny “their debt to predecessors in rhythm and blues” and “ pretend a sui generis origin for rap, dismissing a rich cultural history and drawing generational lines so typical of the European society these rappers claim to reject” (Karenga 415). Succinctly: “Political rap has a tendency to claim a knowledge it does not have, a link with struggle it does not demonstrate, and a political relevance it still must prove.  The point is that a song is not a revolution” (ibid.).

Pro-Black vs. Humanist: X-Clan [Jason Hunter] vs. KRS One [Lawrence Krisna Parker]

X-clan merged deft rhymes with political philosophy to create a new style of rap. The lyrics take the government, the culture of white America, and other socio-political issues to task.  X-Clan’s “Fire & Earth (100% Natural)” begins by telling cave people (whites) to hush.  Professor X warns, “Ah! Check the blackness!”  KRS One’s inclusion of Whites in his analysis of struggle is one of the roots of the battle.  X-Clan calls him a humanist and announces: "Here's a message to the Rainbow Crew and their fearless leader, Captain Human! Revolution is not humanism. Individualism and not separatism. Point blank living-ism is a tech, 'cause there's just some things that I'll never forget."

KRS One and his Boogie Down Productions crew, Kenny and Will, respond to X-Clan’s attack on KRS One as “the humanist.”  KRS One says, “Yo, I love the way I am and can't nobody out here change me/ Rearrange me, tame me, try to game me, you don't play me/ When I grab the mic then SHOCK the party spot/… I'll rock, hip-hop... I'm still the original/ Leaving MCs lyrically miserable/ Their criminal syllables are minimal, show me respect BOY/ Cause I build and destroy!”  He directly speaks to his sense of humanity and questions theirs: “You ain't a human while your music's boomin’ anti-human/ I'm assumin’—if you ain't human you're a beast.”  Furthermore he points out that being pro-black often wrongly includes Blackamericans who have a track record of anti-African behavior:

It ain't enough to study Clarence 13X The white man ain't the devil I promise You want to see the devil take a look at Clarence Thomas

He continues his attack on another recognized Black leader:

…the devil is Colin Powell You talk about being African and being black Colin Powell's black, but Libya he'll attack Libya's in Africa, but a black man will lead a black man, to fight against his homeland An accomplice to the devil is a devil too The devil is anti-human, who the hell are you? I lecture and rap without rehearsal I manifest as a black man but I'm universal

KRS One turns the table and asks X-Clan, “What are you doing for yourself black man? / Trying hard to be the original man—who? / The first man, with the first tan, on the first land / with the first clan, who gives a damn???!”  Boasting, KRS One clarifies the skills and intentions of Boogie Down Productions, reminding anyone in earshot, “Don't ever try to challenge BDP!”

“Death Row” vs. “Ruthless”: Dr. Dre [Andre Young] vs. Eazy E [Eric Wright, d. 1995]

Eazy E ushered West Coast into the Hip Hop house. The polyvocal language of rap as the black noise of the late 20th century (T. Rose, xiv) took on a new dimension as the energy moved west.  At first appearing invisible, the West Coast entered the scene like gunfighters in old western films.  New identities and subject positions were on the scene with a gangsta lean. Out of Compton emerged Eazy-E and a money-status-hungry crew with loaded iron and bad talk, who proudly called themselves Niggas With Attitudes (NWA).  NWA's uncensored 1989 album Straight Outta Compton served notice that the West Coast gritty, street-level subject matter retained its primary function as party music.

Many rap lyrics, drawing from vernacular sources, describe (sometimes in the bawdiest of terms) sexual quests and imagined conquests along with fantasies of power, mobility and access to money and its trinkets.  One strain of this music, sometimes called “gangsta rap,” offers raw and raucous testimony—in language often intentionally offensive in its blunt vulgarity and brutal sexist diction—from those who laugh at the idea that rappers should be role models.  What the group N.W.A. says it wants is simply put: it wants sex and money.  Like badman boasts and trickster narratives dating back at least to the 1940s, N.W.A.’s lyrics broadcast the will to meet a violent world with alluring, shocking fast talk and, if necessary, with hard fists and bullets (Gates 1997, 60).

Gangsta rap became the most commercially successful form of hip-hop in the late '80s and early '90s. The lyrics swayed between accurate reflections of reality and exaggerated comic book stories; between violent hedonism and righteously angry social commentary. NWA Brotherhood diminished over time.

West Coast Rap established Dr. Dre as one of the most influential figures in rap history.  Hip-hop's Golden Age is bookended by the commercial breakthrough of Run-D.M.C. in 1986 and the explosion of gangsta rap with 1992's The Chronic by Dr. Dre. Those six years witnessed the best recordings from some of the biggest rappers yet—LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim, NWA, Boogie Down Productions, Biz Markie.  Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg on The Chronic, replied to Eazy E with the song “Fuck Wit Dre Day” declaring “Death Row's in the motherfuckin house.”  He advises, “When you diss Dre you diss yourself, Motherfucker.”

Eazy E’s boasts about himself in “Eazy Duz It.”  He says he is “A hardcore villain cold roaming the streets/ And wit a homie like Dre just supplying the beats.”  At this point Eazy E and Dr. Dre were partners. When NWA broke up, it was emotionally violent.  In retaliation, Eazy E’s “It's On” begins: “Today’s a good day to die!” Promoting violent images he continues, “Ain't nuthin but Eazy baby/ He'll smoke two niggas cuz they crazy/ Talk a gang of shit but it don’t faze me/ That punk nigga Dre still pays me.” Eazy E attempts to shatter Dr. Dre’s masculinity: “Hey Mister prankster/ Story book gangster/ Back in 86 you wore pumps and mascara/ Down did the motherfuckin wreckin crew bid/ But once a bitch always a bitch/ And now the fuckin switch/ Fag with a stethoscope now you sag….”  As Eazy E says, the people “ain’t down with D-R-E.”

West Coast vs. East Coast: Tupac [Lesane Parish Crooks, d. 1996] vs.The Notorious Big, aka Biggie [Christopher Wallace, d. 1997]

You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You.
-- Biggie

Tupac became the unlikely martyr of gangsta rap, and a tragic symbol of the toll its lifestyle exacted on urban black America.  By 1994, Tupac rivaled Snoop Dogg as the most controversial figure in rap, spending as much time in prison as he did in the recording studio. Tupac joined the Death Row Records in late 1995 and became a crossover superstar with the Dr. Dre duet "California Love."  Tupac and Biggie were friends initially, but when Tupac was robbed and shot, he held Biggie (along with Sean “Puffy” Combs) responsible. Shortly after the crime, Tupac taunted Biggie with a vicious slam on the East Coast scene called "Hit 'Em Up."  He reminds Biggie of their earlier friendship:

Thug Livin out a prison, pistols in the air, hahaha Biggie, remember when I used to let you sleep on my couch And beg the bitch to let you sleep in the house, ahh Now it’s all about Versacci, you copied my style Five shots couldn't drop me, I took it, and smiled Now I'm bout to set the record straight, with my AK I'm still the thug you love to hate

But then he goes on, “I ain't got no motherfuckin friends/ That's why I fucked yo' bitch, you fat motherfucker/…/ Bad Boy killers/ (take money) You know the realest is niggaz.”  Ego huge and believing his lyrics put him above Biggie and all East Coast, he acknowledges, “I don't even know why I'm on this track/ y’all nigguz ain't even on my level/ I’ma let my little homies ride on you/ bitch made-ass bad boy bitches, deal with it!!”  He tells Biggie, “you deserve to die/ Talkin bout you gettin money but it’s funny to me/ All you niggaz live in worry while you're fuckin with me/ I’m a self made millionaire.”

Biggie offered no rebuff on wax to Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up.” But Biggie confessed, “I really want to stop [rapping].  If I was financially stable I would.  I figure if I was to make like a cool ten or fifteen million, I could probably just chill and put my artists out on my label and help them out more but just not make any more music.  I would quit”  (B.I.G. in Source, April 1997, 71).  The title, “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You,” is prophetic.  In it Biggie says, “Nigga, I’m the hardest/ Nigga in hip-hop.  My/ Shit comes off so strong/ And my hardness is/ Sincere because I/ Lived all that shit…”

Hip hop participation led to the deaths of Tupac and Biggie.  Death boosted sales for both estates.  Both had an eerie connection to death in life. The fate of 19-year-old Yafeu "Kadafi" Fula added mystery.  Kadafi, one of Tupac’s backup singers in “Hit ‘em Up,” was the only witness willing to come forward and identify Tupac’s killers, but the Las Vegas police refused to listen to him and released him. Two months later Kadafi was shot execution-style in Orange, New Jersey. All three murders remain unsolved. Jay-Z is gunned down in his latest video, “99 Problems.”  He claims that it is symbolic of the death of Jay-Z and the rebirth of Sean Carter.  It is merely a feeble ploy to mimic the murders of Tupac and Biggie in order to elevate his stature without dying.

Hip Pop vs. Underground: LL Cool J [James Todd Smith] vs. Canibus [Germaine Williams]

Back in Rap’s infancy, the only way for emcees to tell who was better was to battle. An emcee battle has two basic forms. The first is the live battle, which consists of two rappers facing off in person, using witty metaphors and clever lyrics to put each other down. The second form is the recorded battle, in which rappers take each other on in the studio, responding to each other’s disses on a song. Now, the term “battle” implies violence, but a true emcee battle involves no physical fighting at all. A classic emcee battle is a test of skills. How well he/she has mastered the use of lyrics, metaphor, and even improvisation will determine the victor of an emcee battle.
-- Canibus review of Canibus: 2000 B.C. On-line

Tricia Rose writes, “Police brutality, racism, and harassment form the political core of male rappers’ social criticism, and lyrics that effectively and cleverly address these issues carry a great deal of social weight in rap music” (T. Rose, 106).  Her analysis of LL Cool J’s “Illegal Search” clarifies his outspokenness against racial profiling.  Yet, LL Cool J clothes his comments in self-lauding of material possession.

What the hell are you lookin’ for? Can’t a young man make money anymore? Wear my jewels and like freakin’ on the floor Or is it your job to make sure I’m poor? Can’t my car look better than yours…

His ego is wrapped in his popularity and he attacks anyone, white or black, who threatens to tarnish his reputation.

“Milky, and I'm back,” is the first line in LL Cool J’s "Jack The Ripper."  Hip hop terminology defines milk as “take advantage of.”  Despite tribulations, LL Cool J’s career has spanned almost two decades. And he is, after all,  “double platinum,” “debonair” and “Aiming to please while I'm killing emcees.”  His battle with Canibus is initiated over a tattooed mic on LL Cool J’s arm.  LL Cool J tells Canibus, “You living foul/ Here's what my game is, kill is what my aim is/ A washed-up rapper needs a washer, my name is—Jack the Ripper…King Hercules!”  Later he scolds Canibus because “he was sleeping, so now I gotta slice my man/ Like ham in a pan, wrap him up in Saran/ Kidnap him and slap him up inside of a van.”

There were technical difficulties with Canibus’s album, as LL Cool J quickly points out.  He reminds Canibus, “I heard your new jam, I don't play that/ It ain't loud enough punk, it ain't hitting/ This year you tried, next year you're quitting/ Last year you thought I was dying out.”  LL Cool J proved that he could battle viciously.  He declares,

I'm a beast on the microphone, a night stalker A killing machine, a savage street talker Jason with an axe, but I put it on wax To eradicate the suckers who thought I had relaxed

“Second Round K.O.,” a song on Canibus’s album Can-I-Bus featuring Mike Tyson, is the response to LL Cool J’s behavior with “4,3,2,1.”  Canibus, disgusted by LL Cool J’s behavior, informs him, “You better give me the respect that I deserve or I'ma take it by force.” And without further ado, Canibus warns:  “Now watch me rip the tat from your arm.”

So I'ma let the world know the truth, you don't want me to shine You studied my rhyme, then you laid your vocals after mine […] I studied your background, read the book that you wrote Researched your footnotes, bout how you used to sniff coke Frontin like a drug-free role model, you disgust me I know bitches that seen you smoke weed recently You walk around showin off your body cause it sells Plus to avoid the fact that you ain't got skills

Canibus recites the rules of the game: “It's about who strikes the hardest, not who strikes first.”  Attacking a rapper’s skills is a serious war cry.  Nevertheless, Canibus tells LL Cool J, “Well lemme tell you somethin, you might got mo' cash than me/ But you ain't got the skills to eat a nigga's ass like me.”  Nevertheless, LL Cool J’s prediction that Canibus would be out of the business in a year transpired, for Canibus enlisted in the United States Army.

In “Canibus: A Soldier’s Story,” Paine’s interview of Canibus eventually focused on Canibus’s perception of hip-hop.  Although Canibus said that the greatest weakness in hip-hop right now “is the division of the community of rappers that exists today whereas other genres of music for the most part strengthen themselves by sticking together,” Canibus: 2000 B.C. clearly illustrates his attitude: I’ll Battle You and Battle You and Battle You.  Every track contains battle lyrics.  For example, Canibus on “I’ll Buss ‘Em U Punish ‘Em” raps complicated and textured battle lyrics.  Confident with his skills, Canibus says,

Fuck a pad and a pen, I write rhymes on an IBM Ebonics is dead, the binary language is in Canibus practices in a room with a thousand candles lit Meditating on this rap shit Because my freestyle reigns sovereign

Ego vs. Ego: Jay-Z [Shawn Carter] vs. Nas [Nasir Jones]

In Jay-Z’s  “Takeover,” he declares, his record label, “R.O.C., we runnin this rap shit.”  Although the energy of the attack is towards Nas, Jay-Z calls out many others and says, “All you other cats throwin shots at Jigga/ You only get half a bar—fuck y'all niggaz.” And warns them: “Get zipped up in plastic when it happens that's it,” for “You niggaz gon' learn to respect the king.”  He easily turns his attention towards Nas, and declares

The takeover, the break's over nigga God MC, me, Jay-Hova Hey lil' soldier you ain't ready for war R.O.C. too strong for y'all It's like bringin a knife to a gunfight, pen to a test Your chest in the line of fire witcha thin-ass vest

Jay-Z is self-assured that Nas is out of the rap game.  He recounts what he perceives as Nas’s rise and fall from grace.

I know you missin all the FAAAAAAAME! But along with celebrity comes bout seventy shots to your brain Nigga; you a LAAAAAAAME! […] Had a spark when you started but now you're just garbage Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all…

Challenging Nas’s lyrical skills, Jay-Z says, “I heard your album …So yeah I sampled your voice, you was usin it wrong/ You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song.”

His lyrics provoke Nas’s retaliation.  On the album Stillmatic, Nas’s “Ether” opens with gunshots and Nas talking: "Fuck Jay-Z… I know you ain't talkin 'bout me dog You, what? Fuck Jay-Z You been on my dick nigga, you love my style, nigga Fuck Jay-Z."  He assures Jay Z that “I embrace y'all with napalm Blows up, no guts, left chest, face gone.”  He demands, “y'all faggots, y'all kneel and kiss the fuckin ring” for he has the heart of a king.  He accuses: “When these streets keep callin, heard it when I was sleep/ That this Gay-Z and Cockafella Records wanted beef/ Started cockin up my weapon, slowly loadin up this ammo/ To explode it on a camel, and his soldiers, I can handle.”

What's sad is I love you 'cause you're my brother You traded your soul for riches My child, I've watched you grow up to be famous And now I smile like a proud dad, watchin his only son that made it You seem to be only concerned with dissin women Were you abused as a child, scared to smile, they called you ugly?

Tapering down the gangsta style, the lyrics of “Stillmatic” touch the African soul and conjure up Aunt Ester soul deep awakening when Nas begins,

Uh, you know I still run with that, that blood of a slave Ballin in my veins It's just hot until a nigga can't take it no more Blood of a slave, Heart of a King Turn my voice up

The generation gap can start bridging by listening to Nas and his protégé. The Blackamerican life in yet another millennium demands that the youth be heard and counseled.  Mutual respect is the basis for attaining this goal.

Final Thoughts Imagine if every time a rapper screamed the name of his city or borough, they had to make a contribution to a computer literacy program.

Imagine if every bragging rapper had to post a financial statement showing how deep in debt they are. Imagine if every so-called Hip Hop Mogul had to list how they got their money, who financed them and how much and what they owe to that other person... Imagine if all these "Black Leaders" were forced to show how much money they made in the name of their "Brothers" and "Sisters" and how much money they make from lectures and Hip Hop forums in the name of "progressive movements" and "gender related" issues... Imagine rappers publicly stating that they not only accept the fact that they are models, but planned to take that role seriously...

Imagine replacing the "N-Word" with the words Brother and Sister and meaning those words and not looking for a paycheck for using those words. from “Imagine” By Ernie Paniicioli

X-Clan, KRS One, Eazy E, Dr. Dre, Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G., Canibus, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and Nas survived street up, not formal education down.  Street skills have been transformed into the boardrooms of corporate America.  Capitalism is the platform upon which Hip Hop moves, forward and backward.

With proper influence of those who have studied the problems that African Americans face, one can understand who should be the guiding models in Hip Hop. The dreams of 19th- and 20th-century leaders were shaped against racism, poverty, economic devastation, job discrimination, and the pure hell of lynch-mob hatred.  The spiraled world today is different.  The analysis of words of past centuries' giants will go on forever, yet new voices ring today.  With “the blood of a slave, and the heart of a king,” Nas demands, Turn my voice up; his “Stillmatic” paints a picture of Black America that rivals the destitute image of slave days.

Stepped over dope fiends, walking out the door, all of us poor I learned the difference between the snitches, the real ones, and who's soft And the murderous, hungriest crews People jumping from roofs, shotguns pumping made it through my youth Walking very thin lines, ages seven and nine That's the age I was on my album cover, this is the rebirth I know the streets thirst water like Moses Walking through the hot desert searching to be free This is my end and my new beginning Nostalgia

If the future and the youth are of concern to those who claim to be part of the “talented tenth” coming out of the 20th century, Hip Hop is an unavoidable avenue.  The steering wheel aiming for the future is held by those who live in the now.  Hip Hop is in that future.

To a great extent, the new products of Crummell’s and Du Bois’s vision have walked through the doors of capitalism on their terms.  They do not debate about Ebonics nor apologize for excess.  They are business people and producers.  They lecture and perform throughout the world.  They are, for the most part, college dropouts or never attended.  Their music is used in TV ads and film soundtracks.  They encourage their audiences to dress, talk, and walk like them.  They know their audiences do not live like them, and it does not faze them.  They are the direct descendants of the Talented Tenth. They are giving birth to the next Hip Hop generation.

Those activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who waged college sit-ins and marches and wore naturals and African clothing on special occasions, are the parents of the Hip Hoppers.  The “vision” generation is now on the eve of retirement. Today, Blackness is a commodity, as it was in slavery days.  Mental slavery affords the dominant group opportunity, again, to steal and market Black-inspired ideas.  Even Ebonics flows into marketing.  To a great extent Blackamericans are the spokespeople on sports, drinks, cars, clothing, furnishing—the advertising world has seized the opportunity since there is an offer of self-exploitation to make money.  The question is, who gets the money and why.  And at what cost to the masses?  The mall-mentality is youth reality.

Nas described an environment spiraling out of control.  Many of the Old School think that the spiral for today’s youth is rapidly heading downward.  Suicide has increased for the race.  The prison/industrial complex is simply putting Blackamericans away to labor.  In trying to live and witness reality as a joint activity, the professionals (as Nas calls Du Bois’s vision people) are concerned for their careers and their lives.

Maulana Karenga and Tiamoyo Karenga insist that a rescue and reconstruction must transpire if Blackamericans are to truly liberate themselves. Black talent use will determine future environment realities and benefits.  The communication gap must be dissolved, for that was one of the 20th-century blunders.   Soul empowerment will enable the race.  As August Wilson demonstrates in his plays, the 20th-century Afrikan soul is damaged.  He offered up Aunt Ester as an impetus for a racial soul-healing.  The war for Black [mental] ownership must still wage forward. When the celebratory moment of Wilson’s final decade play (1991-2000) occurs, perhaps Blackamericans will realize that until the 20th century is examined decade by decade including this final decade, the spiral will vomit nuts and bolts causing the dissipation of centripetal energy.

Blackamerica must stand up and be mighty people for themselves and take control of the African world destiny.  Blackamericans have shopped enough.  The true homelands, America and Africa, are in shambles.  Black professionals who are on the verge of retirement cannot think that their jobs are done. Only death stopped Blyden, Crummell, Delany, Douglass, Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, King, and Malcolm X in their work for racial uplift.   Let them be the guide and the ceiling for Black leadership.  The uplift of Black people must again be personalized.

Hip Hop has changed the landscape of America and the world energy.  A new type of Hip Hop must be born in the 21st century. The voice must be a tool for altering the wasteful attitude characteristic of Blackamerican spending.  Yet, if Hip Hop, so bloody deep in corporate America, suddenly changes its apolitical perspective and tells the youth, for instance, not to buy anything, Hip Hop itself may face assassination.  But the direction of this decade, 2001-2010, will prescribe the next 100 years or so.

Hip Hop has conventions, summits, and rock-the-vote concerts. Seize Hip Hop, study it, understand it, and listen. Engage students in hip hop conversations; read Hip Hop lyrics in classes.  Play Cornel West’s Hip Hop CD Sketches of My Culture.  Useless wax battles must cease.  The spiral must be smoothed and tamed. Harvard University offers a Hip Hop Archive and Research Center; make an appointment and catch up.  Look beyond the gold teeth, blond hair, limos, hedonism, glamour, and Bling Bling.  Hip Hop can and will be reconstructed—by someone.  It is up to Blackamericans to rescue the Hip Hop culture and reconstruct it into a healthy lifestyle for all of us.

Let there be a Hip Hop Renaissance that surpasses the Harlem Renaissance. 20th-century activists must join forces with the already established 21st-century Bling Bling program and steer it with the youth masses.  Hip Hop Mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs may be coming around as he plays Walter Lee in the revived Broadway hit, A Raisin in the Sun.  Combs admitted to wearing cheap underwear so that he could get into the soul of poverty.  He says he feels more socially committed to activism. He told Corporate America that he would run his second marathon for a $5 million donation to the children of New York. Maybe he can add an African flavor to his Sean John European clothing line and his dreams.  Older activists need to address him and others like him.  The human spirit can be turned around.

By producing his Hip Hop CD, Cornel West hoped to inject some meaningful themes into a genre often dominated by the glorification of money, drugs and sex. “Don't you have some other things on your mind?" he asks, for "We want the artist to grow."   West’s CD contains musical arrangements and lyrics that touch the African American homeland.  Overall West realized that it is imperative to speak to and with the Hip Hoppers if they are to become what they need to be.  Ignoring and/or dismissing them is no solution.2

In “Journey,” West recounts the dramatic story of the Middle Passage, but in spite of the “Vicious theft from Africa/ Pernicious passage to the New World America,” West declares: “Let the word go forth here and now/ That the struggle for freedom is still alive/ And the story of that struggle is still being told.”  He continues this theme in “Stolen King”:  “From the heights of rich African humanity/ To the depths of sick American barbarity/ In the whirlwinds of white supremacy/ Black people preserved their sanity and dignity.”  Clearly this Hip Hop generation thrives on ego-stroking, but they also need correction and clarity on some fixations that are clearly wrong.

In “Frontline,” West clears up the misconception that drug involvement is cool:  “Lot of brothers and sisters/ … believe frontline is gang banging/ On the streets dealing with underground drug industry.”  West declares,  “The real front line is working people/ Fighting against unaccountable/ Corporate power.”   In “Elevate Your View,” he jolts the listener to new, higher aspirations.  He paints the environmental reality of the “hood” and the psychic transformation necessary for Blackamericans to assume responsibility for their historical destiny.

Excuse me young brother man You over there with your pants sagging down Can I ask you a question? Are you familiar with 25 to life? Well what about self-destruction? Cause I’ve been watching you for a while young man The way you run around town with your burning hair Robbing Stealing Maybe even killing And I got a bad feeling So let me voice my opinion

West concludes: “Without self-respect/ You’ll certainly self-destruct/ Be true to your history/ Therein lies your possibility/ Harriet Tubman/ Ida B. Wells-Barnett/ Marcus Garvey/ Malcolm X/ The path is pole vault to your future.”

In a “Help Wanted Ad” on the front page of the Village Voice, Thulani Davis summons: “African Americans seek leaders in the tradition of MARTIN, ROSA, MALCOLM and JESSE.  Applicants must have guts, vision—and a plan.  Sky is the Limit!  Celebs and wankstas need not apply.”  In her article, “We Need You, It’s Time to Call for New Black Leadership,” Davis says, “The hip-hop generation tends to place a ‘soft’ sticker on the foreheads of 1960s integrationists.  In this grimy era, we tend to identify with the aggressive resistance of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.  We just can’t fathom being harassed, pimp-slapped and arrested for the right to eat next to the Man.”  She warns, “in terms of jobs, education, housing, we are worse off than in the civil rights era.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many young people look at these leaders (Jackson and Farrakhan) and scoff.  There’s no agenda.  It’s an embarrassment.” By the way, that ‘60s and ‘70s “Revolution” is being televised, the youth are pushing capitalism in all media avenues, and “Hip Hop” is fueling this assault on Black vision and African creativity and dignity.

Afrika Bambaataa [Lance Aasim] has observed the development of Hip Hop since the days when he along with DJ Kool Herc [Clive Campbell], Grandmaster Flash [Joseph Saddler] and others conceived it in the Bronx.  He is displeased with the evolution.

I, Afrika Bambaataa, have heard it all, read it all, in many magazines throughout the world, and seen almost all in this continuing bullshit about which rappers are better; east coast vs. west coast; old school vs. new school; Miami bass hip hop is bullshit; British rappers sound funny rapping; rap wouldn't be rap if it wasn't for the battles; I'm the quickest, baddest rapper/DJ around; I dis you, you dis me; my crew will take you out and kick your ass; fuck this and that; nigger; bitch; nigguh; nigguz; hoe; hooker; bitches with problems; hoes with attitudes.  Just look at ourselves, sounding like a bunch of fools.

Hip Hop must re-vision itself.  20th-century activists must re-vision as well.

Works Cited

Bambaataa, Afrika. [Statement on Hip Hop] (1995),

Baraka, Amiri. “The Revolutionary Theatre.” In Gates 1997, pp. 1899-1902.

“B.I.G.” The Source, April 1997, 71.

Callahan-Bever, Noah. “G Unit: Anger Management.” Vibe, February 2004, 86.

Chapelle, Tony.  “Soul for Sale: Companies Are Taking Black Culture—and Consumers—to the Bank.”  Emerge, January 1998, 42-48.

Coca Cola Press Release.  Atlanta, June 5, 2002.

Cruse, Harold.  Plural But Equal:  A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America’s Plural Society. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Davis, Thulani.  “We Need You: It’s Time to Call for New Black Leadership,” Village Voice, February 18, 2004.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward An Autobiography of A Race Concept. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1940.

Souls of Black Folk (Authoritative Text, Contexts, and Criticism).  Ed. by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. & Terri Hume Oliver.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.

Foner, Philip S., Ed. W.E.B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses 1890-1919. New York: Pathfinder, 1970.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., & Cornel West.  The African American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country. New York: Free Press, 2000.

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

George, Nelson.  Hip Hop America. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Gonzales, Michael A. “Song of the South.” The Source, April 1998, 107-113.

Karenga, Maulana.  Introduction to Black Studies. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1993.

King, Joyce.  “Dysconscious Racism: Ideology, Identity and the Miseducation of Teachers,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 60, no. 2 (1990), 133-146.

Levine, Robert S. Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and the Politics of Representative Identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Mao, Chairman. “The Once and Future King: Notorious B.I.G.”  The Source, April 1997. 78.

Oh, Minva. “'Bling Bling' Added To Oxford English Dictionary.”

Ptah, Heru.  A Hip Hop Story. New York: SunRA Son Production Company, 2002.

Paniicioli, Ernie.  “Imagine.”

Rashidi, Runoko.  “Blyden and Delany.”

60 Minutes II (February 11, 2004): “Russell Simmons Unplugged.”

Rose, Tricia.  Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America.  Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

Sales, Nancy Jo. “Hip Hop Go to the Hamptons.” New Yorker, August 9, 2002.

“Who Rules Hip Hop?  Hip Hop Goes Universal.” New York Magazine, May 10, 1999.

Sanneh, Kelefa. “The Woozy, Syrupy Sound of Codeine Rap,” New York Times, April 18, 2004.

Ture, Joseph D., & James G. Spady, Nation Conscious Rap, New York: PC International  Press, 1991.

Westbrook, Alonzo.  Hip Hoptionary—the dictionary of hip hop terminology. New York: Broadway Books, 2002.

Wilson, Amos.  Blueprint for Black Power. New York: Afrikan World Infosystems, May 1998.

X, Malcolm. Malcolm X-Quotations,


*Dedicated to my brother, Olu Kwesi Osei: You have had a profound influence on my thinking.