In the 1980s, when Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were equally in the mainstream conscious of the ghettos across America, we didn't dare speak of who was better. We just didn't go there; too much respect for both MCs and for the platform of art they stood on. We attended horrible schools, lived in neighborhoods of squalor but now we had a voice, and we lived to nurture it and support those who spoke on our behalf.
Then Biggie and Pac were killed and all bets were off. Hip-Hop suddenly became part of the gloom and doom of the streets we had so briskly tried to escape from. We turned to Nelly and Chingy for relief. Sure there was still Jay Z and Nas but they became keepers of the old guard. We were in collective mourning, so we decided to dance our way to bliss in order to heal from the deaths of our older brothers Biggie and Pac.
When we gave ourselves permission to dance, then came silly rappers with their silly dances and minstrel-like behavior reminiscent of the early 20th century artists who had to shuck and jive in order to make a living.
This type of party pattern gave way to the archetype we see today; the seasoned rapper who claims to be authentic and yet has time to engage in the most trivial rivalries with actresses, sports players, and other rappers about...nothing. These rappers use Instagram to minstrel-post.
They bully their way into our hearts through comedy-memes that make us shake our heads while we laugh; sad and confused at it all.
Hip-Hop is really a lifestyle that consists of more than just music; there's graffiti, there's dancing, there's social justice and there's personal style and agency. You don't have to be from the hood to be Hip-Hop but you do have to be authentic and you must have respect for the past.
After the period in American history known as Reconstruction which gave shape to what it means to be African American there was a massive shift in power over night that had never been seen before. African Americans were now free. We then faced the challenge of struggling for political and social equality; a challenge we still face today in many ways.
We persevered through thousands of incidents of lynching in the 19th and 20th centuries. We lived through the Black Codes and Jim Crow which gave way to the modern Civil Rights Movement; the platform which gave life to our deepest aspirations. It was an organized outcry of black angst, but it was anchored by legislative revolution; the civil rights act, the immigration act, the voting rights act.
That movement gave way to the Black Power platform of the 70s; a more aggressive, less legislatively-focused paradigm shift. The Black Power generation gave voice to a frustrated generation of young African Americans who didn't feel the need to give in to mainstream idealism about what it means to be black in America.
Ten years into that collective mental shift gave way to the Hip-Hop generation; a generation of cool, politically aware, poverty stricken black boys who turned poverty into creative agency.
We couldn't reproduce Frederick Douglas but we had KRS1. We didn't try to imitate MLK but we had Chuck D. We remembered Harriet Tubman when we looked at Lauryn Hill. We didn't need the Queen of Sheba, we had our own Queen...Latifah.
Men. Women. Educators. Leaders. But they too have been assassinated like those before them, if not by gun, by corporate claw. A claw that dug its hooks into our beloved movement and corrupted it until today it is only a whimpering child sitting in the corner; knees to chest, face in lap.
Today Hip-Hop has been molested and perverted by both the Fortune 500 companies who've encouraged a reckless approach to the culture, and the young delinquents who are paid to do it. It's no longer about setting trends and being socially conscious, it's about introducing new dances, shock-worthy tactics and cooking up trivial rivalries.
America without the soul of Blackfolk easily becomes gray and dull. Pick any gray and dull country in our contemporary world and that's America without us. However what will history say about our generation's contribution to the arts, the sciences and social justice in 100 years? We could dance well? I pray not.
Sure Black Lives Matter, but so do the white laws that control them. If we don't start to use our voice, the voice of Hip-Hop, the child of Civil Rights to push mass incarceration reform, police community-sensitivity training, economic equity and equal educational opportunities, then we'll be shucking and jiving all the way back to Jim Crow.