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The geography gap in hip-hop

I was reading an interview yesterday with Monie Love about her recent radio flap with Young Jeezy, and she had some interesting things to say about the generation gap within hip-hop.

I thought it was particularly telling, though, that neither her nor her interviewer raised the issue of nationality. For those that didn’t hear the clip, during the argument with Jeezy, he asked Monie: “Where you from, anyway? London? OK, so we not even going to get into that.” The notion that Monie—who is twenty years deep in the game, a member of Native Tongues, Grammy-nominated, a protégé of Queen Latifah, and a respected radio host—should be discounted because she was born in another country is a baffling one.

This perspective is prevalent in America, despite the fact that hip-hop is listened to and loved all over the planet now. Hip-hop music made in other countries is pretty much roundly ignored in the mainstream—save a very boring book and a few token media stories. (Always the same tired angle: hip-hop in the States has sold out to crass consumerism, but in other countries, it’s all about political struggle.) Few hip-hop writers from other countries have had any success in New York media—which is the hub for the global hip-hop press. Even the Internet hasn’t done much to upturn this dynamic. Most of the influential hip-hop bloggers are from the U.S.

Some of you know that I was awarded a grant to write a book on global hip-hop last year and I traveled to Africa, Asia and Latin America to check out what hip-hop looks like around the world. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, but it’s been difficult to capture it all in a book that people will actually want to read. (It started out as a nonfiction book, then it became a memoir. Right now, it’s a novel. Talk to me next month, it might be a cookbook. Ha!) See, the thing is, people in North America don’t seem all that interested in what’s going on with hip-hop in other parts of the world. 

And nobody is talking about this geography gap. So let me put it to you c-boys. Do you need to be American to really get hip-hop? Do you need to be black? Or, at least, not white? Do you need to be young? Do you need to be male? Do you need to be poor? What if you are some of the above, but not all? Are you still missing vital pieces of the culture—pieces that you will never fully understand and appreciate? Is a universal, global vision for hip-hop naïve?

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