Hip-Hop Fridays: Material Love
The next time that you are watching Hip-Hop music videos, place your self in a comfortable viewing arrangement and turn the volume control down. And just watch, at least two videos. As you watch what comes over the video screen, observe the behavior, gestures and mannerisms of the Hip-Hop artist or group, and all of the various "actors" playing their part(s). Then, if you are able, watch the next two videos with the volume control turned back up to a normal level. Most viewers who do this will recognize, among other things, a tremendous amount of concern, demonstrated by those in the video, over how people "look", what type of jewelry an individual is wearing, what type of vehicles are being driven, and the physical shape and form of young women. Most people will also notice, in the lyrics, an apparent obsession displayed by the artist, particularly if a male, with how much money, cars, jewelry, guns, technological devices (two-way pagers, big-screen TVs, cell phones included) and scantily-clad women, can be "accumulated".
What is at the root of this type of depiction, which is projected on MTV, but primarily BET, every day of the week, several hours a day?
When I was in the music business I was always interested in the lifestyles that most of us lived and were pressured to live. It was as if there was a force and power operating on all of us to "accumulate" or possess non-animate material items. And when I and the artists that I worked with were traveling, or with family, friends or acquaintances, I would often recognize that in the eyes of many, an unofficial gauge of the success of any of us, was the car that we drove, the clothes that we wore, or the jewelry that we had on. I remember back then, and still to this day, fielding questions from people who are familiar with my background in the music business, who wanted to know what types of cars, jewelry, and other material possessions various artists owned. And I am always asked about how many and what types of women were attracted to the artists that I worked with.
Such questions usually annoy or irritate me because it is obvious in most cases, that the person asking me the questions thinks less of themselves than they do the artist(s) that they are asking me about. I am annoyed and irritated, and even disgusted to a degree, because I know that the curious individual is nine times out of ten only operating from the grasp of an image that they have of an artist from their creative works; the music videos that they see and the gossip and rumors that they have heard about the artist. I honestly, in my heart, feel that the individual that I am talking to is as great, if not greater than the artists that I knew and worked with, and so I am often, literally wrestling, with the proper manner by which I can satisfy their sincere curiosity, without furthering the inordinate admiration they feel for the artist; without reinforcing the often inferior view that they have of themselves – relative to the artist; and without destroying any legitimate respect they should feel for these creative giants. But I am always mindful that I do not indulge the association that many fans have made between the material possessions and financial wealth of an artist and a perception that such equates to the artist being their moral, intellectual and spiritual superior.
Again, I am almost in agony (smile) when I see or hear a young person tell me that they want to be like a particular Hip-Hop artist or that they pattern themselves after another Hip-Hop artist. The first problem that I have with such a desire is that these individuals don't know the artist that they are trying to follow. They do not know the unique experience, education, family, friends or peer group that helped to shape the essence and life force that was within that person, whom they "know" only as an entertainer, when that human being (the entertainer) was born.
By the time that we learn of an artist through a music recording, video, or gossip and rumor (which is usually an illusory mix of truth, lies, vain imaginations, slander and libel), that person has been developed in ways that we could never learn of from buying a CD, watching a video or attending a concert. Yet and still, humans admire other humans, who are artists, on the basis of a carefully crafted image that distorts or lies about who that person really is, and which most often seeks to appeal to other human beings (fans) according to their base and low characteristics and natural desires - often sexual and violent in nature - and even at times, the appeal is made, and the image designed to take advantage of spiritual diseases that people have, like envy.
When I tell people of some of the methods that were/are used to sell records and to popularize an artist, many people are repulsed and often feel humiliated or ashamed to learn what objects of manipulation they have become in the "adoration" that they feel for an artist. Again, one of the most striking aspects to the artist-fan relationship in Hip-Hop and other genres and fields of entertainment, is the reality that most consumers and fans are developing "love", "loyalty", "admiration", and even lust and infatuation for only an image of a person that they do not know. When we say "know", we are not talking about physically meeting a person. We do believe that almost anyone can know another person without actually having met them physically, if they enter deep enough into the spirit of that person by becoming familiar and knowledgeable about the nature, life experience, self-concept and motives of that human being.
However, we do know that much of what today accounts for the attraction that many fans feel towards artists is superficial in nature and often revolves solely around physical appearance and inanimate material possessions and how the two are associated with one another. Quite often, aside from talent, many fans are attracted to entertainers due to the level of material possessions that artist appears to own.
What is often at the core of why human beings display an inordinate attraction to material items like cars, clothing, jewelry, and personal accessories is the lack of self-knowledge, self-respect and self-love. A person who does not know, respect and love themselves, does not who they are and as a result, sooner or later attaches more value to that which is visible on the surface, as opposed to that which is invisible (with the physical eye) and lies beneath the surface; that which is instant, readily apparent and manifests itself quickly, as opposed to that which requires patience; and that which involves pleasure but is unnecessary, as opposed to that which is accompanied by pain and which is absolutely necessary. A person in this condition always ends up worshipping that which is less than themselves. As they are unaware and/or disrespectful of the ways that lead to the cultivation, improvement and ascent of the human being, they naturally gravitate toward the image of those human beings who are elevated and projected as examples of success and achievement in society and popular culture. As a result, many model and pattern themselves after and even worship the images of the most popular entertainers. Owning material goods is a central feature of "success" in this world's life.
And because the vast majority of entertainers themselves do not have the true knowledge of themselves, they too are unable to fully respect and love themselves and as a result often accept, as their identity, the image that has been crafted and made for them by the major record labels and media outlets. Many of the artists that I knew and know were some of the most insecure individuals you could ever meet, before and after their meteoric rise to "success". Indeed, most of them pursued a career in the music business due to their attraction to the image, perceived lifestyle and fame of the artist(s) that they admired.
Of course, artists and those that aspire to become such, are gifted and blessed with many talents, but having a talent and nurturing and evolving it, is something totally different than equating one's entire self with a particular talent. This is particularly true when that talent is being used by a business entity to make money. The public promotion, packaging and marketing of the image of the artist who possesses a talent, represents the creation of an image of the artist that becomes the first means by which the general public becomes familiar with that artist. Consumers buy both the talent and image of any artist that is signed to a record major label and whose music is played on radio and whose videos are played on cable television. The artist gains wealth, if they are successful, from the widespread dissemination and distribution of their talent and image and the commercial activity that is generated by such.
What begins with a gift or talent – singing or rhyming – eventually is married with material goods that do not necessarily enhance the talent of the individual, but which appeal to the nature, desires and ambitions of the artists as well as the potential consumer and fan.
This returns us to our original point about music videos.
Those who style today's most prominent Hip-Hop artists and create and market their image, do so out of a worldview that places great importance on sexual imagery, aggression, violence and material possessions, among other aspects. They recognize that such elements affect those who are watching the video in certain ways. They are confident that many of the onlookers will find the entire imagery to be entertaining.
Why? What makes them so sure that their imagery will resonate with hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of individuals? What do those responsible for the marketing and promotion of Hip-Hop artists know about the mindset and overall mental and emotional condition of those who might watch music videos?
These questions all point us back toward the important consideration of why Hip-Hop is so flooded, at this stage, with visual images that emphasize material possessions, violent acts and language and sexual imagery?
Some say the answer to these questions lies in the fact that Hip-Hop only reflects societal conditions and that Hip-Hop music only symbolizes, dramatizes, and articulates what is going on in everyday life. Others say that Hip-Hop is nothing unique and that the elements that exist within it, prevail, to varying degrees, in various spheres of life. If either of these views are correct, and since human beings make up both the Hip-Hop community and industry and society as a whole, then we must look within the human being for an accurate explanation of why so many are given to the mindset that elevates respect of material possessions over the sanctity of human life. If that explanation is cogent and rooted in a deep understanding of human nature, then it can be used as the platform to lift the quality of the artistic expression and consciousness of Hip-Hop.
The most outstanding explanation and distinction, which I have read in years, between the materialistic state of mind and that which is more inward and spiritual, is contained in the writing of Minister Jabril Muhammad. In his new e-book, A Written Testimony (http://www.writtentestimony.com/), in a section called "More Than A Vision," he explains in lucid details, the characteristics of materialism, how it manifests itself, and what it's effects are on those who are under it's influence. He also explains with great clarity the complimentary and intertwined relationship between the material and the spiritual. In my opinion, it contains essential insight for those of us who are earnestly seeking to lift the quality of the lyrical content and imagery in Hip-Hop.
Next week we will take a look at his words and their direct application to this subject...
Friday, August 24, 2001