I recently read an interesting article written by seasoned veteran journalist Touré, a much needed voice representing Hip Hop culture at an intellectual level. It’s definitely a though provoking editorial highlighting the intimate connection between the war on drugs in America and Hip Hop.
In the piece, he takes to task the role that Hip Hop has played in perpetuating its own stereotypes. His focus is mainly on how drug culture in America and Hip Hop grew to become seemingly intrinsic to each other as the popularity of the music grew, with the omnipresent narrative of the ’street hustler turned rapper‘ dominating almost the entire commercial aspect of mainstream Hip Hop. Many of the rappers considered to be the marquee artists of the genre maintain that storyline, with the stories differing only in the locale in which their own experiences took place (or in some cases, not even their own experiences).
In my opinion, measuring the damage that drugs have wreaked on America in relation to the war on drugs and its connection to Hip Hop is very difficult to calculate. One of the main reasons I feel that way is because on one side of the issue you find those who are firmly rooted in the opinion that it is Hip Hop is a merely a reflection of society and therefore can’t be held responsible nor accountable for any of society’s ills, be they the proliferation of drug selling/use, violence, or exploiting women. On the other side you have people, many of whom work on the front lines in the country’s poorer communities, who have seen first hand the influence that Hip Hop has over the choices young people make. Depending on which side of the fence you prefer to be on, your view on the impact of Hip Hop on the black community will affect how the damage is to be calculated.
Personally, I don’t believe the responsibility for Hip Hop being led astray from its social consciousness can be squarely placed on the drug influence. At best, I would call it an indirect factor, especially in light of how the drug dealer was personified throughout so much of Hip Hop’s infancy, just as Touré’s article indicates. While his article does raise an important issue that the purveyors of Hip Hop culture need to take heed of, I guess because of its main theme it overlooks other factors that are important to acknowledge. The fact is, once Hip Hop became a music industry cash cow during the golden age of record sales, major labels had a stranglehold on being able to determine what aspects of the music was being exploited to the masses.
I firmly believe that if Hip Hop culture was able to be master of its own destiny during its prime by having the infrastructure to market, promote, and release what was determined by its leaders to be a proper reflection of the entire culture, the hustler/gangster/drug dealer image would almost certainly have not been anywhere near the top of the list for being the ambassadors of the culture.
The capitalist system that Hip Hop came of age in also played a huge part in being able to dictate what aspect of Hip Hop that rappers would aspire to imitate in order to gain fame and wealth. To underestimate the power of the ‘American Dream’ and its packaged concept designed to influence the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and ambition would be a mistake. Factor that together with labels offering young black kids from the projects an opportunity for success through
promoting rapping about their violent and drug infested neighbourhoods, it’s a recipe most anyone would find in the very least tempting, even if that wasn’t your personal experience at all.
Overall though, I’m pleased and thankful to have someone like Touré to be able to contextualize Hip Hop’s place in society in an intelligent and responsible manner. His articles are always a great read.
As you were.