The hip-hop-has-lost-its-heart-and-soul routine is old news, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. It remains the preferred stance of the psuedo-liberals and radicals—also known as The Positivity Police—who get a kick out of scolding rappers for rhyming about frivolous things like grills and strippers when there’s more important things going on, gotdammit. All this self-righteous hoopla is rehashed in the press time and time again, and manages to filter down to everyone from university professors (who fancy themselves experts on hip-hop), to aging hippie music critics, to everyman cab drivers. (a) It gets on my last nerve.
This premise popped up yet again in an MTV news article on protest music today, from the mouth of seasoned activist/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello no less.(b) Morello argues that hip-hip has been an “enormous letdown” when it comes to protest music.
“It’s like Public Enemy and N.W.A were warring for the heart of the hip-hop nation, and a gentrified, blingy version of N.W.A. won out,” he said. “You listen to [Public Enemy’s] ‘Fight the Power’ and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and you can hear America changing. Now it’s just the relentless booty shake of hollow bling.”
In my view, this is a tad extreme. Morello misses the fact that hip-hop has pretty consistently spoken out against the war and the Bush administration. Granted, there’s nothing like a coherent movement. There have been many different approaches and many different agendas—from Diddy, to Russell Simmons, to dead prez, to Kanye, to the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. But as a whole, hip-hop has been almost unanimous in its distain for the president and his policies. (c) Hip-hop hasn’t managed to kick Bush out of office, it’s true, but then neither has anyone else.
Here are some of top hip-hop protest tracks from the last few years:
K-Otix “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”
“Makin’ a killin’ off the price of gas/ He would have been up in Connecticut twice as fast”
“Cause everybody wants a shot in this land of opportunity/Look at what this country’s got/There shouldn’t be nobody homeless/How can the president fix other problems when he ain’t fixed home yet?”
“It ain’t right them cops and them firemen died/That shit is real tragic, but it damn sure ain’t magic/It won’t make the brutality disappear/It won’t pull equality from behind your ear/It won’t make a difference in a two-party country/If the president cheats to win another four years”
dead prez “Know Your Enemy”
“You wanna stop terrorists?/Start with the U.S. imperialists/Ain’t no track record like America’s/See Bin Laden was trained by the CIA/But I guess if you a terrorist for the U.S. then it’s okay”
“Someone’s trying to tell us something/Maybe this is God just sayin’ we’re responsible/ For this monster, this coward/That we have empowered”
Talib Kweli “The Proud”
“The President is Bush, the Vice President’s a Dick/So a whole lot of fuckin’ is what we gon’ get”
Mr. Lif “Home of the Brave”
“But when he realized we don’t support their attacks/They needed something to distract, hmm, anthrax/This further demonizes Afghanis/So Americans cheer while we kill their innocent families/And what better place to start a war/To build a pipeline to get the oil that they had wanted before”
Mos Def “The Katrina Klap”
“You better off on crack, dead or in jail, or with a gun in Iraq/And it’s as simple as that”
(a) The new variation on this theme is that international hip-hop captures the spirit of ‘true hip-hop,’ whereas American hip-hop is all about ‘bling.’ As I’ve said before, reducing global hip-hop to one catch-all tag line is both ridiculous and insulting to the individuality of everyone involved in the thousands of scenes around the world. Also, as an aside, it would be a giant relief if people actually stopped using the word bling. For real.
(b) Not trying to suggest that Morello, who I respect, gets a kick out of scolding rappers. Just that his comments will surely be used as ammo by those who do.
(c) The exception being 50 Cent.