Hip Hop Fridays: We Are The Post Hip-Hop Generation by M.K. Asante Jr.
The "hip-hop generation," a tag customarily attached to blacks born after the civil-rights movement, may have once captured the essence of the rebellious, politically discontent twenty-somethings of the 1980s and '90s, but not today.
With rapper/producer Kanye West recently amassing eight Grammy nominations, there is no doubt that hip-hop is an integral part of global pop culture. Global -- as opposed to American or black -- because, like scores of other innovations and phenomena that emerge from the black community, it has helped to shape the perceptions of people, especially young ones, all over the world. Although contemporary images often reinforce negative stereotypes, hip-hop was able to successfully break through a slew of music-industry barriers and bring many talented voices into the mainstream -- voices that had previously barely been heard and never listened to.
Hip-hop, like the black musical forms that preceded it, cannot, because of its cultural context, be looked at in a vacuum. To observe hip-hop then, is to observe the aesthetics, attitudes and ideologies of its progenitors as well. That understood, and with today's hip-hop boasting problems loud enough to drown out even the most seductive samples, the urgency for redefinition by a new generation couldn't be more evident.
The current crisis isn't just that rap, hip-hop's central asset, has drifted into the shallowest pool of lyrical possibilities, or that the latest version of hip-hop betrays the attitudes and ideals that framed it. It's that many young blacks who allegedly belong to the "hip-hop generation," feel misrepresented by it and have begun to realize the limitations of being defined by a musical genre -- a misogynistic, homophobic and violent one to boot. All of this against the ambivalent backdrop of globalization and the fog of a new war has led us to a generational tipping point, the moment when a dramatic shift is more than a possibility; it's a certainty.
The term "post hip-hop" describes a period of time -- now -- of great transition for a new generation of black youths in search of a deeper understanding of themselves in a context outside of the hip-hop monopoly. Post hip-hop is an assertion that encapsulates my generation's broad range of abilities and ideas and incorporates recent social advances (i.e., the women's movement, gay rights) that hip-hop has refused to acknowledge or respect.
Post hip-hop is not about the death of rap, but rather the birth of a new movement propelled by a paradigm shift that can be felt in the crowded spoken-word joints in North Philadelphia, the krump-dance dance-offs in Compton, and on a tattered stoop on a corner of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn where Rashard Lloyd, a high school senior grumbles when I ask him, "what does hip-hop mean to you?" After a moment of contemplation, he makes clear, "hip-hop don't speak to or for me."
While Lloyd's attitude may surprise most of us who mistake the ring tones, reality shows and glossy ad campaigns as indicators of hip-hop's dominance, it shouldn't. According to "The U.S. Urban Youth Market: Targeting the Trendsetters," a study conducted by research and analysis firm Packaged Facts, black youths like Lloyd "possess an overriding desire to remain outside of the mainstream." Claire Madden, vice president of marketing for Market Research, parent company of Packaged Facts, says that once "there is a perception from urban youth that these manufacturers [companies and artists] are ignoring their origins ... they are named sell-outs and it is only a matter of time before they fall."
The commercialism of hip-hop, which has resulted in a split from those it's supposed to represent, is not new. In fact, it goes, in part, by the same name: hip. Just as the hip-hop generation was charged by rap, the hip era of the 1950s and '60s was fueled by jazz. In hip's case, and the same is true for hip-hop, Scott Saul, professor of English at UC Berkeley, points out that "it [hip] moved from a form of African-American and bohemian dissent to become the very language of the advertising world, which took hip's promise of authenticity, liberation and rebellion and attached it to the act of enjoying whatever was on sale at the moment."
No one knows what will be next, or if my generation will sell it. However, the post hip-hop ethos allows the necessary space for new ideas and expressions to be born free from the minstrel show that is modern hip-hop.
Post hip-hop is not about music, per se, although the music that is and will be created functions as a kind of soundtrack to a fresh set of attitudes, ideas and perspectives. Art, not just music, is fundamental to the post hip-hop development, as art possesses the remarkable ability to change not only what we see, but how we see.
The late Martinican writer, Frantz Fanon, once said, "each generation, out of relative obscurity, must discover their destiny and either fulfill or betray it." The post hip-hop generation must fully engage in exploration, challenge and discovery -- acts that will result in a revelation of contemporary truths that will help define us, and in turn, the world.
M.K. Asante, Jr. is the author of the books "Beautiful. And Ugly Too" (Africa World Press, 2005) and "Like Water Running Off My Back" (Africa World Press, 2002). He wrote and produced the film "500 Years Later" and is completing his masters of fine arts at UCLA. M.K. Asante can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appears in The San Francisco Chronicle.
M.K. Asante, Jr
Friday, February 10, 2006