You must learn

I read an article in the New York Times a couple of days ago about government-funded hip-hop programs for inner city youth. (Since the story has a global focus, it got no play in the blogosphere. As usual, but whatever.) The piece details how an arm of the Brazilian government, Culture Points, is now investing in hip-hop programs for youth in the favelas. The organization awards small grants to community groups, hoping “to channel what it sees as the latent creativity of the country’s poor into new forms of expression.” (I am guessing their creativity isn’t so much latent as it is unappreciated, but whatever.) Speaking on the subject of hip-hop culture, Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil had this to say:

These phenomena cannot be regarded negatively, because they encompass huge contingents of the population for whom they are the only connection to the larger world. A government that can’t perceive this won’t have the capacity to formulate policies that are sufficiently inclusive to keep young people from being diverted to criminality or consigned to social isolation.

The fact that many governments are now embracing hip-hop as a social tool to reach at-risk youth is an interesting development. Hip-hop organizations that focus on community development exist all over the world. I have been to slums in Africa and Latin America, and each one that I visited had at least one hip-hop group, usually several. Many had hip-hop schools that taught the four elements, and provided youth with concrete skills such as graphic design. I remember being in Soweto, South Africa (shout out to Black Sunday) for a block party and meeting some of the students of their hip-hop program. One young guy, Siya, was learning how to be a documentary filmmaker. He spent the entire day filming the show on a camcorder. He must have been about 7 years old. 

A lot of these types of programs have a strong independent entrepreneurial thrust, and with good reason. Black Noise in Capetown, for example, sells its own t-shirts, self-produced CDs, and self-published books as sources of income for members of its collective (shout out to Emile). I think these programs are huge assets to their communities, and if governments choose to fund them without any interference, the results can only be good. I couldn’t help but notice this paragraph in the Times story though:

Some important exponents of hip-hop culture in Brazil, like the rapper Manu Brown and the writer Ferréz, remain skeptical and have chosen to keep their distance from the government program. Others are participating but complain of the bureaucracy involved.

Which leads to the question: what if governments want to dictate content? In Vancouver, as part of an elaborate (and expensive) program to combat the graffiti “problem,” the city opened an anti-graffiti office and started to hire graff writers to paint murals. I remember interviewing one of the special anti-graffiti police task force for an article I did, and she mentioned that the mural program would only be useful if the artists painted things that everyone could appreciate, like giant “Welcome to Vancouver” signs, for instance. I’m sure the graff dudes were thrilled by that prospect. 

I’m guessing that in order for any hip-hop outreach program to be even remotely successful, it’s going to have to be run by hip-hop heads—or at least by people who have an understanding of both the art form and the particular issues that face the community as a whole. And let’s be honest, if they want to keep kids on the straight and narrow, they need to provide them with concrete financial opportunities.

While many recognize the link between poverty and criminality, there seems to be an assumption that hip-hop can single-handedly break that link. People are putting too much pressure on hip-hop to cure society’s ills. Hip-hop is an art form, and while it certainly gives youth both joy and hope—it’s not going to help them avoid crime unless it can present viable alternatives for income. Recognizing hip-hop is great and all, but supporting hip-hop heads to find jobs and build lives free of crime and violence is another undertaking entirely. Community-based groups get that, but I’m not convinced that governments do.

  • Crimson

    “While many recognize the link between poverty and criminality, there seems to be an assumption that hip-hop can single-handedly break that link.”

    Word to big bird.

  • John Cochran

    I wish they’d had these type of programs at my school. They had sports, drama, anf all that other foolishness. Meanwhile, me and my homies couldn’t even have ciphas. They would catch us spittin ans suspend us. No wonder we stayed in the back of the building robbing other kids.

  • Hannah Smith

    Anyone actually read any of that? Like, beyond the quotes? Be honest – bet you headed straight over to Bol’s latest missive after “I read an article in…”

  • http://www.myspace.com/brilliance1982 Brilliance

    First time on the comment, love your blogs by the way. It is cool that the other countries look to hip hop to help but trust me, they aren’t putting the pressure on it that’s truely needed or wanted. It may go down like that across seas but looking around the US it’s hard to see hip hop being used as anything except a marketing tool. I applaud the people across the oceans for at least trying to get involved with hip hop although I do believe it’s better for hip hop to naturally progress to the people. In any event, look at how the US treats hip hop (and how our own people abuse it) and it doesn’t look like too much of a bad thing that someone else wants to use it’s positive aspects for a good cause. We can’t get our own people/rappers to use it for good a lot of times, save for a VH1 special. And with ANY government there’s going to be restrictions, that’s what happens, expect it. Otherwise it’s like signing a record deal and ignoring industry rule #4080. Maybe in a few years the good in hip hop over there will shine through and like we always do, we’ll copy their style and something better will come out of it. Peace.

  • http://xxlmag.com Billy X. Sunday

    These programs exist here in the States and they are managed by small independent not-for-profit organizations. The gov’ts budget for these types of programs shrinks because there is a lack in activism to maintain the program’s initiatives.

    Your commenter Hannah Smith highlights the apathy that Hip-Hop fans in States have towards progressivism in their music. To my mind this ultimately points toward the effects of supremacy on a group of people’s desire to learn and achieve.

    The U.S. Gov’t will need these uninformed apathetic young people to replace the cannon fodder that is currently in the deserts of Asia minor. What’s the point in educating them?

  • thoreauly77

    hannah smith. you are a coward. and yeah, like, uh-huh, some people, like totally read beyond the quotes. you see, thats what you do when you want to make a valid critique as opposed to being a vapid little twit with nothing to offer. please borrow a shovel from someone so you can scrape the sand out of your vagina.

  • thoreauly77

    tara- i agree. it is scary though when the government funds something, because then of course they want to dictate how it is executed (of course this is the way it goes in most cases). however, it can work. in many small california communities, we are getting government support to build skateparks, and finally they are letting the skaters dictate how they are designed and built (instead of letting, say, the YMCA).

  • J.R.O.

    Hip Hop and the government = water and oil

  • sATaLyte

    *smh @ Hannah

    You have got to appreciate the dedication.

  • http://poisonousparagraphs.blogspot.com/ Dart_Adams

    Dat Hatin’ Ass Heifer wrote:
    Hannah Smith Says:

    March 16th, 2007 at 1:51 pm
    Anyone actually read any of that? Like, beyond the quotes? Be honest – bet you headed straight over to Bol’s latest missive after “I read an article in…”

    Dart Adams FKA Poisonous Dart reaponded with:

    If you PERSONALLY didn’t have the mental capacity to understand the article or the initiative to read it (or if you just foster an irrational hatred of substance in regards to hip hop journalism), that’s ON YOU. Don’t take away from what was an informative and well written piece about global hip hop. This isn’t the place for your little sixth grade (grade six to Canadians) grudge against Tara. Hate! Hate! Hate! SMH.

    Keep it up, Tara.

    One.

  • Meka Soul

    your posts r boring

  • Meka Soul

    i love clones. seriously, imitation is the gheyest sincerest form of flattery.

    anyways, i’m amazed at that seven year old’s dedication to the arts. that individual is definitely going to change the world for the better.

    billy is right; there are some gov’t-sponsored hip-hop programs & organizations trying to spread the message that the culture is more then bling, bitches & blammers, yet a good portion of the american youth tune the shit out, only to be dictated what’s “true” by the viacom-run evil empire [i guarantee you more people will watch a re-run of "106 & park" than grandmaster flash & the furious 5's induction into the rock & roll hall of fame, although i don't know if that is a sign of the winds of change of simply a "we'll appease these niggers" trophy, but whatever]. i’ve always wanted to do something to showcase the art & beauty in hip-hop culture [aside from my gynormous tattoo that blankets the upper half of my right arm], but even i’ll admit i’ve been pretty apathetic as well.

  • Cuban Mafucking Link

    John Cochran Says:

    March 16th, 2007 at 1:42 pm
    I wish they’d had these type of programs at my school. They had sports, drama, anf all that other foolishness. Meanwhile, me and my homies couldn’t even have ciphas. They would catch us spittin ans suspend us. No wonder we stayed in the back of the building robbing other kids.

    ^^lmao, well u loser join sports then.Lol at my skool the teachers are so fucked about they could give a shit.FUCK ST.PATTYS DAY BEING ON THE WEEKEND THIS YEAR.Lol last year the whole school was bombed drunk by like 9 lol.

  • derfla the hus’la

    the gov. cant go that deep.

  • calimovement

    new website homepage sucks..cant even find what Iam lookng for…

    Good post Tara. If HipHop is to be used as a learning tool rap from the 1970 and early 1980′s could only be used. Rap music now aint positive or worth “teaching” to kids. There are the expection rap artsts like the roots or Taleb..but kids dont care nor relate to there type of music

  • thatdukeSuave

    I love it when you drop knowledge T, even if it doesn’t get as many comments as your favorite hater’s favorite blogger (Hannah/bol). Governments don’t and won’t get it at all. Hip-hop can be powerful beyond imagination, but its too often viewed as a problem rather than a tool that can bring about possibilities of a solution. And until we vote in leaders, locally or nationally, that have the mind-set of focusing on creative answers to perplexing problems, we shall be viewed in the current negatives. Stand up.

  • CONTENT

    Good substance.

  • EReal

    Co-Sign the whole last paragraph Tara-Squad.

    Its like this, if vancouver wants to get rid of graff, MAKE LEGAL WALLS!!!

    Like how do you get rid of skaters? Build a skatepark for them to goto.

    I thot Canadians are just train hitters anyway, I know those Canads love their trains.(Nullus)

    Anyway, its true. Joy and Hope, sure. New skills, sure. But an actual viable way out of the ghet? Not so much, or maybe 1 in a million.

    Hannah Smith’s neck is just like Bol’s non existant. Hannah, you just mad cause you’re always the fat friend that the hot girls took with them to look better. You probably just got booted from your sorority huh?? Eat more chikin, right fatty?

    1 hunned.

  • My Effin’ Opinion

    Good post T .. Keep it up.

    oh yeah, I just figure out why “Tranny Smith” likes Bol so much .. put 2 and 2 together.

    Trannah Smith keeps her hate up like her weight up!

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  • http://uSaHater.getalife.com Me

    good stuff…by the way Tara jus curious..
    but, uhh could you block comments if you wanted to??

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  • http://www.myspace.com/atlnhhpc Steven

    I’d say this, the united states needs to take a stronger look into the diversity of content on television, radio, and internet. i appreciate the brazilian government providing funding for the development of hip-hop. I hope they can promote some progressive artists on national radio.

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