Yes, Hip Hop Is Dead

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What more proof does anybody need that hip-hop is dead, at least as anything more meaningful than a fashion statement or an attitude. This is sad, since this ‘hood-based genre originally started out as an evocative style of self-expression invented by some rather resourceful kids.

A few of years ago, I conducted an interview with Karrine Steffans, a gangsta’ rap video dancer who was then making her motion picture debut as the wife of Larenz Tate in “A Man Apart,� a picture starring Vin Diesel. I distinctly remember hitting a brick wall when asking this attractive West Indian actress what it was like rubbing shoulders with all the celebrities whose names she kept dropping during our amiable tete-a-tete. Back then, the recently-divorced beauty, who described herself as “a housewife and a mom,� didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody, though she did issue this strong warning for females contemplating show biz: “I wouldn’t want girls, young mothers, especially African-American and Latino to think they can just move to Hollywood, walk into a party, and meet someone who’s going to change their lives. Vulnerability and naïvete will get you lost in L.A.�

Now Karrine has belatedly come clean, writing a best-selling book, half tell-all, half-cautionary tale, in which she recounts a self-destructive path marked by adultery, rape, alcohol, drugs and physical abuse, all by age 25. In this eye-opening memoir, she confesses to exchanging sexual favors for the attention of her adored icons, thus behaving in real life like the same man-pleasing sluts she portrayed in rap videos.

What more proof does anybody need that hip-hop is dead, at least as anything more meaningful than a fashion statement or an attitude. This is sad, since this ‘hood-based genre originally started out as an evocative style of self-expression invented by some rather resourceful kids. They had simply seizing on readily-available tools found around the ghetto exoskeleton to make heartfelt musical statements about the human condition. Whether too poor or just too impatient to learn how to sing or play any instruments, these urban urchins resorted to rapping their rhymes to the accompaniment of samples borrowed from bona fide hit songs. Though they promised their legions of loyal fans to “keep it real,� as their popularity increased, a funny thing happened to hip-hop when show-biz came a calling.

The previously political brand of music succumbed to corporate pressures to eliminate any edgy political overtones in favor of that all too familiar capitalist formula: sex and violence. Odes which addressed socially-significant themes were replaced by others evidencing an insatiable appetite for conspicuous consumerism, the cornerstone of American culture. Soon, the MTV/BET sponsored parade of self-indulgent videos followed, featuring a never-ending celebration of degrading booty calls and senseless slaughter. Granted, gangsta’ rap has proven to be the ticket to wealth and fame for a host of entertainers who have gone on to buy lavish cribs and become household names. And some have also begun to parlay their success into clothing lines or secondary careers in movies or on TV.

But, otherwise, the morally-bankrupt music has done precious little to alleviate the plight of the poor folk it professes to speak for, except to suggest that they are depraved, dangerous and generally deserving of their lousy lot in life. Rap is obviously obsolete, when its purveyors no longer represent the voice of the community but have willingly joined the ranks of the exploiter class. Like, the beatniks of the Fifties and the hippies of the Sixties, the hip-hop generation started out as a counter-cultural rebellion which questioned the status quo. But just like those hopelessly co-opted movements, rap has outlived its relevance, primarily because its most famous proponents have sold out, opting to join rather than continue to challenge the Establishment

Black Star columnist and attorney Kam Williams is a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

 

 

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