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Hip-Hop Fridays: Rise up Hip Hop Nation - Wise up: From Deconstructing Social Ills to Building Real Solutions By Kristine Wright

We must start working a little harder to disrupt the status quo!

I teach a class that analyzes hip hop culture as a lens to view society and social inequality. We DECONSTRUCT the institutional structures that keep people of color in this country (and around the world) down; and the structures we see in society in general are magnified in the entertainment industry. The game is the same game it's been since the dawn of colonialism. Exploit people of color, their labor, and their culture while benefiting financially and gaining more power over them.

In many ways, hip hop may try to keep it real, but that voice is often silenced because oppressors control hip hop's IMAGE. Those in power get to reap the larger benefits of artists' labor, while simultaneously controlling their image and teaching the youth values that reinforce the same old shit. They get to make money, villianize the black man, and prostitute the black woman all at the same time. For them, it's a win-win situation. For the hip hop community, it becomes a trap we fall into because we believe money gets us power. Right now what money gets us is bought.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad at young brothas and sistas for getting into the industry and making money in one of the only legal ways they can. The schools are definitely not offering any better solutions, and our youth are victims of an inequitable educational system that doesn't even teach them how to spell the word money, much less any skills to make some.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the type of money one needs to have real power, individually, none of us have it. If the powers that be wanted to end blooming rap careers tomorrow, they could because THEY have the power to do it. THEY control the market. Here today, gone tomorrow, out with the rest of the trash. And all the platinum and the ice in your world won't change that.

So what's the solution? Although it is important to continue to shed light on these issues by deconstructing the institutional power structure that keeps us down, it is now time to move beyond deconstructing and start building. I've come up with a few concrete solutions that I hope will help anyone who wants to make a difference but is not sure how:


1. Continue to diffuse important information about positive events and people making changes. Continue to offer much needed public space for people speaking truth to power that are purposely ignored by mainstream outlets.

2. Journalists often have social networks that extend from activists to artists. Bring these people together.


1. Continue to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. In your classrooms, continue to highlight the reality of oppression around the world. Many students (especially those privileged enough to be in a college classroom) are really unaware of many issues and need the knowledge and our guidance. If we teach anything, teach students how to think critically and question the status quo.

2. Use university resources for youth outreach programs. Universities have big money for outreach to underrepresented youth of color, but we need to access it more often to build real relations with community youth. For example, my university sponsored a hip hop day of performances, films, and panelists, and we sponsored field trips for local high school students from lower income neighborhoods to come take part in the day's events. The high school students were introduced to college in a way they related to - namely hip hop.


1. Continue to rally and demonstrate on campuses. Dissent is an important part of balancing power, and we're not hearing enough of it.

2. MENTOR or TUTOR a least one younger child. If money is a problem, universities have funding that you should be able to tap into. Many schools have funding for "student initiated" outreach programs. We should all be able to spare a couple hours a week to ensure our future humanity.


1. Although I know many already give back to your communities in significant ways (and I respect you for that), I think we need a more united effort. One suggestion: It is no secret that youth in hoods look up to rap stars. I think the hip hop community should reach out to urban school districts and maybe offer free shows featuring the kids' favorite hip hop artists for the school that has shown the most academic improvement, or has had the best attendance, etc. I think that would be a great motivation for our young people that look up and idolize you. With some unity and organizing, I think this offers a great opportunity for artists to mentor students while promoting achievement at the same time.

2. Consider carefully what you leave as your artistic legacy. Believe me, I fully understand the politics of the industry and consumerism, and I do not blame artists for the content of successful entertainment. However, when it comes down to it, you alone are responsible for the life you live. Live it honestly. One day, it may be your daughter that gets pissed on from a young cat that's heard "Fuck a Bitch" in one too many songs. Remember with everything, you reap what you sow.


1. One concern I often highlight, and one I've heard from underground more "conscious" local artists is that the only one hearing their music are college students. I know you want to reach a community that needs your music and messages more. Keep in mind that these communities do not have the same access to your material as college students might, because of lack of resources to go beyond the gatekeepers of free television and radio. Go to local schools and colleges and tap into the same money that academics can tap into to sponsor after school classes or performances. I've also heard of local middle schools and high schools that are teaming up with local artists to offer more performance art opportunities for local kids. School districts have money for these type of things but it takes resolve to deal with the politics of schools and funding. Have schools approach radio on your behalf for sponsorship or to broadcast from community events. Radio is much more willing to bow to the political pressure of city government and community activism than they are to underground artists requesting airtime.


1. Continue to preserve the elements of hip hop but stop the divisiveness over what's "real" hip hop. We often only see appropriation by corporate america, but I find that heads sometimes need to check how they've appropriated hip hop. To say that mainstream music, especially from brothas and sistas that made their way from no way, is not "real" hip hop is a lie and elitist, and it misrepresents hip hop, which you often indict mainstream media outlets for doing. At its essence, hip hop is making a way from no way. And in the case of mainstream hip hop, it's been a legal hustle for many cats from ghettos that would not have had many other opportunities. Underground "conscious" hip hop isn't any more real if only privileged folks hear it. Please keep in mind that having access to underground web sites and copping' every CD that drops implies some level of middle class. If you're on a college campus, you're already better off than 90% of the world's population. It's time to stop sitting in judgement and recognize that consciousness is often a luxury everyone can't afford, especially poor people with few options. Let's stop romanticizing revolution and start "keepin' it real". Revolutions may start in lyrics but they must end in action, and if the only action you are taking is to hate mainstream music, or to think only about "skillz" and preserving elements, then you are not a part of any real solution. And that’s not hip hop. Don't forget: It's bigger than hip hop, and it should be.


We all need to respect life and live that respect. EACH ONE must TEACH ONE: Live the example you want to teach and understand the power of example. I do believe that as a community we must look for solutions on personal and community levels instead of holding on to the idea that the powerful will one day wake up and realize the evil of their ways. While the system hurts the disadvantaged, the segment that gains advantage from it is not likely to sacrifice all the benefits that come with the status quo without a fight. For this reason, I believe real progress must come through SELF-DETERMINATION. It's time to start taking care of our own and taking ownership of our lives. The revolution can never be televised, until WE own the channel. ONE LOVE.

Kristine Wright teaches a course in Hip-Hop at the University of Califorina - Irvine and can be contacted via e-mail at

Kristine Wright

Friday, May 17, 2002

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