Open Letter RE: Ignorance in Hip Hop Culture

Published On April 17, 2006 | By Greg | Culture

by “Old School G” Greg Schick

To anyone who reads this and cares:

I read a letter to the editor in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution that pissed me off. Now, I read the letters and opinion page every day to stay current with the continued downfall of our country (as I see it) and usually I laugh or blow off the crazy stuff people write. But part of this particular letter (addressing the stereotype of poor black men being lazy) seriously offended me. Check it:

“Glorify ignorance and this is result

The young black culture has devalued education and work in favor of hustling for a quick buck. Just a few generations ago, blacks would face angry mobs and march for the right to get into schools. Now young black men have lost the desire to educate themselves and are facing the consequences of a life of ignorance and irresponsibility.

Ignorance is glorified in almost every aspect of hiphop culture. You can’t lament ghetto culture by day and glorify it by night through music and films depicting the thugs and drug dealers as heroes.


Here’s the link if you care about that:

I won’t discuss the merits of his letter pertaining to who devalues education in black communities, but I will discuss his statement “Ignorance is glorified in almost every aspect of hiphop culture” because I believe it to be false and misleading.

Hip hop’s original four elements were b-boying, graf writing, DJing and MCing. Of those four elements, b-boying promotes dancing (!) not ignorance. Maybe it could be argued that battles promote confrontation, egotism, or even dangerous acrobatics, but never ignorance. Graf writing promotes a style of art through pieces, or even perhaps territorial dominion through tagging, and maybe it could be argued that it promotes vandalism, but not ignorance. DJing is spinning music, for goodness sake! I mean, most good DJs that I know are so steeped in music they could teach college courses on 20th century music history. No ignorance there. MCs…well, depends on who you are talking about. MCs with no ignorance: Common, Black Thought, M-1 and Sticman, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jean Grae…the list goes on. Ignorant MCs: take your pick, I don’t have time to waste listing them all. Are there more ignorant MCs than intelligent MCs? Maybe. So we’re looking at 3 (or 3 1/2) elements do not promote ignorance.

(One of hip hop’s founding fathers, Afrika Bambaataa, often says that the fifth element is “doing the knowledge”, by which he meant the exact OPPOSITE of promoting ignorance.)

Let’s expand our definition of hip hop culture. Elements of the culture that do not promote ignorance: beatboxing, fashion (materialism, maybe, but not ignorance), style, worldview, body language, books (see writings of Bakari Kitwana for discussion on some of these).

Elements of hip hop culture that do promote ignorance: language (the ever-evolving slang of hip hop runs counter to proper grammar; know them both and you conquer the world), television (not a hip hop element, per se, but hip hop is frequently pimped by this medium; it’s hard to find anything good to say about television), movies (I can see an argument being made here: does Boyz In The Hood promote ignorance while it exposes a messed up situation to mainstream America?), magazines (a few hip hop/music magazines exploit the worst kind of ignorant hip hop for their own gain), record companies (hell yes! the culture’s biggest pimps who serve up ignorance like some latter day minstrel show), radio (pretty much, mainly in cahoots with the record companies).

Author and scholar Bakari Kitwana contends that hip hop culture has been intermixed with street culture and prison culture, lending to the rise of gangsta rap, and many of the more negative things now associated with hip hop. I would also contend that through the commercialization of rap music by the major record labels, MTV (who run all video stations now) and radio conglomerates seeks to serve us (or mainly youth) the most base for of entertainment they can make, supposedly to appeal to the largest audience. So now I cannot listen to the radio or turn on a video show anymore without being overwhelmed by bling, pimped rides, hoes, partying, heavy drinking, drug use, and materialism with no bounds. None of those things in moderation make me cringe. Hey, I liked The 2 Live Crew, Tha Alkaholiks and Cypress Hill. But I also liked Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Ultramagnetic MCs, Run-D.M.C., Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Gang Starr, Black Star…a healthy balance is good for hip hop. But I digress.

My final point, when someone makes a statement that “all elements of hip hop promote ignorance” they better know what the elements of hip hop actually are and not just assume radio, television, some movies and magazines, and the ignorant rappers they try to stuff down our throats constitute this culture. Maybe he would have been better off to say, “The entertainment industry targets youth culture with a rap product called Ignorance Is Cool wrapped in a nice shiny little box.”

Glad that’s off my chest.


  1. Not that I am some authority to speak up here , but I do believe the whole hip hop society to come from being neglected by the authorities ..and socalled descent ones.. It was because of ignorance that we are now pleased with the sounds of the hip hop scene. I think we should not pay tomuch attention to the ones who never had a life of their own. It might be hard and it might be rough living sometimes but hip hop is ours and alive and kicking 🙂

    Great discussion,

  2. Bill Brant says:

    I agree with you 100% allthough I can see where some people may not understand or see it.

    Where people that are into true hip hop know and listen to to a variety of artists, and realize that most are of the non ignorant type.

    However most people are never exposed to true hip hop understand the culture or its background.

    Main stream america’s radio stations and MTV are over run by ignorant rap.

    I was forunate to grow up where I was exposed to true hip hop but as I travel the country I actually have to hunt for it. It is not readily available for the masses and the masses dont know to go looking for it.

    All that is ever played is about drinking smoking or slinging. So yes the report was way off the mark and just show how ignorant the writter was to hip hop but I can see where he and many others would get the impression.

  3. Warren says:

    That seems about right…. But the culture creation industry has always planned this stuff out, rap, rock, jazz, reggae, folk, pretty much all of it was created in corporate boardrooms at one time…. Because they knew (going back into the 60’s, the launching of the counter culture movement) that the youth would be somewhat rebellious… Therefore they gave them an “alternative” standard, “alternative” idols and leaders to follow (enter Beatlemania)…. In fact when the Beatles first arrived in America, the CIA had paid off lots of young girls to chase them down through the airports, and they caught this on film to launch the whole counter culture objective in America…. Of coarse the Beatles were mere puppets at first, however, the only one who as far as I know, never sold out, was John Lennon. All the rest got knighted into royalty eventually…..

    Point being though, they needed to use rock to rebel against the old norms to bring in the new norms for the “new age.” (This whole new age stuff would require me to go into a whole separate discussion about religion, the business plan)…. They merely gave the youth something else predictable to conform too, and then told them that they were “rebels.” Rock has served it’s purpose and is on it’s way out, now rap is the big thing, it’s being used as a tool for the military industrial complex, to breed soldiers for the NWO…. I am not against any form of music, I am only against the industry, centralized power structures which run at various compartmentalized levels on a “need to know” basis…. And the messages they use these forms of music to send to people (most especially the youth)…

    I could even take you back to the days when classical composers like Beethoven, Mozart, etc were making music, many of them belonged to secret orders and shit….. Hell, even back in the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato writes in “The Republic” how music can be used as a tool to condition people. There are a few musicians here and there whom I think sincerely have good intentions, such as John Lennon, Kurt Kobaine, Tupac and Easy E (they took the oath, reluctantly, when they were put on the spot, but then they went speaking out about it and they got popped– today DMX seems to be like this generation’s Tupac)…. But most of those people in the public eye are screened long before being put into the spotlight, most of them are merely good actors/actresses with crooked smiles.