Open Letter RE: Ignorance in Hip Hop 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.
BRIAN BUCHANAN, Newna”
Here’s the link if you care about that: http://www.ajc.com/sunday/content/epaper/editions/sunday/opinion_44a42ff8e5aad0140045.html
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.