HIP HOP EDUCATION:
MANIFESTO FOR AN UPGRADE IN HIP HOP CULTURE
Hip Hop education is about the need to revive the principles hip hop was founded on, in formats and media that fit today’s culture.
Hip hop emerged in New York City in the 1970s as a solution for rival gangs who engaged in drug wars and violence. Its founders, notably Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, drew up its principles “Peace, Love, Unity, Having Fun” as a slogan by which rival gangs could come together, and instead of violence, enjoy music, art, dance and the promotion of ideas we could mutually enjoy: a peaceful alternative to bridge differences between rivals.
In hip hop’s first two decades, some artists upheld its founding principles, promoting a culture of non-violence, unity, peace and love, while other artists went in the other direction: capitalizing on hip hop culture by appealing to base desires. The image of a respected status in society would show itself again and again to this day: expensive cars and thick gold chains as symbols of wealth, flaunting guns and women as symbols of power, and respect for individuals who could fight and compete their way up society’s ranks for wealth, respect and power. The more this development continued, the more the genre of hip hop would portray violence, drugs and sex as a means to capitalize on a mass market that gets easily triggered by these phenomena.
Gangster rap emerged in the late 1980s, seemingly with good intentions, i.e. it showed the world the wrongs that were happening in order to raise awareness of these wrongs. Back then, there was no Internet, no smartphones, no Twitter and Instagram, no constantly-running commentary of what was going on in the world. Gangster rap emerged as disruptive media to promote issues that mainstream media tried to keep under its covers, like police brutality, and its controversial buzz sliced through mainstream media.
Hip hop was gradually split into different sub-genres. The original purpose of hip hop became archived under names like “Conscious Hip Hop” and “Political Hip Hop,” phrases that continue losing interest to this day – see this Google Trends graph:
Hip hop’s unifying message became buried under a noise of hip hop proliferating as a cultural symbol for violence, drugs, sex and materialistic status.
Hip hop as a genre endured the era of the 2008 financial crash, the 2011 global protests, and the exponentially increasing gun violence, racism, drug abuse, suicides, terrorism and natural disasters, by doing what? Mostly, by promoting drug use, gun violence and the desire for respectable materialistic status that gives rise to the fears and problems in the world.
But 2019 represents an interesting turning point toward the revival of hip hop’s core values.
As tragedies increase, people become softer and more prepared to absorb unifying messages. Just as hip hop’s inception came when rival gangs had enough of the violence among themselves in a city setting, today in a national and international setting, there is a growing need to step up and inspire a culture of unity, peace and love, in a way that makes sense for today’s world. Unfortunately, one of the things that will help make sense of this need are more and more tragic events.
Nature acts on us in a way where if we fail to connect positively, then it sends us blows to wake us up to unite.
Recently, we’re seeing more and more popular, young, up-and-coming rappers dying. Lil Peep dying at 21 of a Xanax overdose in November 2017, XXXtentacion getting shot and killed at 20 in a robbery in May 2018, and Mac Miller’s sudden death at age 26 of a drug overdose, as well as many other rappers getting shot and killed in 2018 alone: A1 Lil Tony, Louis Robinson, Jr., Lil Lonnie, Brandon Denson (Billion Dollar BD), William Tesley III, Billy Ray Robles, Christopher Polk, Monte Wayne, Phanelli Deblasio, Smoke Dawg, Lil Buzz and Jimmy Wopo. In addition to the rapper deaths, the increasing amounts of mass shootings in public gathering places like schools, universities, churches, game tournaments and music festivals, keep prodding at us while we try to enjoy our lives. The problem is that if we keep trying to enjoy our lives by upholding competitive values of each individual’s materialistic status on the account of others, and keep approving of an entertainment industry that glorifies violence and drugs more than peace, unity and love, then we will keep experiencing more and more pains and crises.
A video published in August 2018 by DMC (from Run DMC) highlights the battle for your mind underlying hip hop today:
“My fight isn’t with the dude that shot Jam Master Jay in the head. I have no personal beef with him. My fight is against the mentality that would cause him to do it.” – DMC, pointing out the problem with glorifying gun violence and drugs in today’s popular hip hop music.
Hip hop at its core is about fighting the mentality that causes violence, drug abuse and other negative effects in society. It aims to raise awareness in a fun, peaceful, unifying and loving cultural atmosphere of music, art and dance.
Hip hop—not “Conscious Hip Hop” or “Political Hip Hop”—but Hip Hop per se, in its foundation and essence, is about bridging divisions. It was born for that purpose. It’s just a matter of how much we’re aware of that fact, and how much we can awaken it and use it to society’s benefit.
Evolutionary biologists describe how nature evolves through a process of crisis, cooperation and then a new entity emerges based on a higher quality of unity. For example, there’s a story about how competitive ancient micro-bacteria first encountered crisis when they competed for scarce resources that were running out, then faced with a life-threatening situation, they cooperated in order to survive, and by doing so, they evolved into a new, more complex life form—the nucleated cell—and if this process wouldn’t have happened, then the micro-bacteria would’ve become extinct and we wouldn’t be alive today.
Therefore, by understanding that today’s world is interdependent, that our problems are globally interconnected, and that the threats from our division also show themselves clearly on a global scale—intensifying politically-based social division, the resurfacing of Nazi, fascist and xenophobic tendencies, and increasing anxiety about guns and violence in schools and other public places—we need to revive hip hop’s original intention—unity above division—to help us adapt positively to the world’s increasing connectedness.
That’s what my music project #CHANGE2019 is about. Below is the first single from this project. Press the play button to listen to it…
Music and lyrics by Wystelands.
Artwork by Germán Varona (a.k.a. Wallok).