Is it just me, or does the present day seem both familiar and unprecedented?
From politics to pop culture, I look around and see trends that resemble paths weathered by the trials of the past and paths that lead into the vague unknown. Under this specific political and social climate, I’m rattled by the question: “Where are we headed?”
In facing my disquiet for the times to come, I find the most comfort when I look to hip-hop.
At its core, hip-hop is an all-encompassing celebration of unity, prosperity, and life; a way to expose the chasms that define us as humans and shed light onto the humanity of a community that has been dehumanized, monsterized, isolated, and murdered mentally, spiritually, and physically by the man for generations. Hip-hop is a realm that allows artists of color to show their emotional facility and philosophical beliefs through lenses that have never typically aligned with the conventions of our seemingly Eurocentric society. Hip-hop was born out of his own absence.
You can’t analyze hip-hop credibly without understanding the circumstances and implications it came from; like poverty in the black community, systemic and institutionalized racism and classism, mass incarceration towards citizens of color, and isolation from & oppression by typical, white American society. In a sense, hip-hop arose from a desire to break from those inhibiting factors and subsequently became an autonomous voice. The creation of hip-hop and all of its different facets related to and augmented black culture specifically.
And we all know that black culture has always dictated pop culture.
So it’s no wonder why in 2017 black culture (through Black Twitter primarily) has had its thumb over the zeitgeist by way of hip-hop. Its independence as a culture and a way of life have made it a compass for the masses.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen throwbacks and durags turn to snapbacks and skinny jeans turn to pink dreads and whatever Lil Uzi is wearing today, and these trends/waves/crazes, while acting as an independent source of expression of a community, have inadvertently shaped generations of the global set: from box braids on Kylie Jenner to grills, durags, and literal blackface on white frat boys for Halloween. Whether this appropriation comes out of respect or malice, I believe it ultimately stems from the majority’s desire to obtain a mystic cool which this culture inherently has.
Word to bell hooks.
Although this culture becomes more and more commodified, its essence of an autonomous mystic coolness has not gone away. Despite all the commercial flops, the hyped-up fads, and incessant appropriation, hip-hop remains a device for unity, specifically amongst black people. That unity, whether it be manifested in a barbershop debate over who’s the greatest MC alive or the whole crowd in a party swaying to “Swag Surfin’,” is a testament to hip-hop living in the people; hip-hop being the people. So, again, where are we headed?
Our new political climate has added nothing but fuel to the fire in our country’s divide. As we start this journey, I wonder what we will see for hip-hop. Mos Def told us that whatever is happening with hip-hop is what’s happening with us, so we hold the future in our hands, right? Will we, hip-hop, thrive through the vague unknown, or will we meet a familiar fate like those of Rock ‘n’ Roll or Disco? Will the core, the essence, live on?
No, Hip-hop isn’t a giant in a hillside, but it holds the history of my people in America, it holds the keys for artists everywhere to make it out of the confines of a world that never held them dear, it holds the principles of our humanity; waves that any and everyone can vibrate to. Will its nature be preserved?
I guess that’s for hip-hop to know and us to find out.