How did it come to this? Where did the capacity to separate the good from the bad, the part from the whole, and the beginning from the end get lost. All at once, everything I like is brilliant, beautiful and built to last. Everything that you love is ugly, ungodly and evidence of our undoing. In the space of less than two decades, the baby has been thrown in with the bathwater – and they’re both on their way out.
“It’s worth restating what I’ve said in previous columns: the tattoos, cornrows, sagging pants, hostile attitude, anti-snitching philosophy, down-low sexual lifestyle, rep-your-‘hood mantra and instant-gratification approach to life – the tenets of hip hop culture [my emphasis] — are all taken straight from the penitentiary.”
In this piece, Whitlock puts together a mish mosh of pieces that don’t fit. I will not quote at length to illustrate because it would be piling on – and I’m good at that, but I’m trying to be more gracious and patient. The mish, here, is that Jason never does explain the fullness of hip hop culture. He simply makes a connection to the culture of the penitentiary and moves on as if his proclamation were the equivalent of a logical demonstration. Guilt by association. The mosh is John McWhorter’s latest contribution to the Piss Poor Bullshit Anti-Black Cultural Conflation Award.
I suspect that if Whitlock were born in another era, he might have been the guy who led the posse around to string up folks for all manner of crimes against the townsfolk. Sometimes he’d be right. Sometimes he’d be wrong. And, if an innocent man or three were hanged, it would have been acceptable collateral damage. He is making a pot roast where Americans can gorge themselves on the sins of the sons. Hip-hop music and hip hop culture are the problem. In the Good Old Days before hip-hop when Teddy Pendergrass and Barry White and were exclusively focused on pussy, things were better. The only real rabble rousers then were that blind kid from Saginaw and that damn Rasta in Jamaica.
Never mind that the R&B millionaires of their era largely sat by quietly as the major battles of their generation were lost. Never mind that the cultural imperative of white folk during the 70’s was about pacification and dulling the senses. Thousands of apolitical, nonsensical classics were pressed and there was no cultural conduit for the politics of the 1960’s save for a few artists. It was hip hop culture – not Whitlock’s bullshit recollections of his youth culture – which picked up that mantle and galvanized a generation. Hip hop culture, until recently, was defined by progressive Black nationalism. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t apolitical. It was contextual and it engaged on many levels with the struggles of the time. And it required skills. Break dancing was never easy and it was never for everyone. DJ’s spent hours upon hours digging in the crates of those 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s love songs and other classics to provide the back drop for the music. MC’s used to battle one another in person. Perish the thought. No one has a DJ. No one battles. Everyone is all studio all the time. Artists don’t dance. The dancers dance and some don’t actually dance – they just undress slowly and repeatedly. Not everyone – then or now – knows how to do a live show. But this thing of ours is this thing of ours – and it is solely and exclusively what outsiders say that it is. After all, that first penitentiary connection to hip-hop was not about criminality, it was about incarcerated Black political prisoners…and at the time, it was hip-hop artists (more than any other genre) who invoked the names of Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu-Jamal and others. There weren’t any love songs about JiJaga Pratt coming from RCA or Elektra or Arista or MCA or Sony.
And this was problematic for alot of people. Hip-hop was not passive on the question of police brutality or apartheid or miseducation or excessive incarceration or presidential malfeasance. It wasn’t R&B with a strict, docile, desensitizing, objectifying focus on fucking. It wasn’t the fruit of Whitlock’s loins. Far from it.
Today, the commercial hip-hop that is widely circulated and endorsed is not the full spectrum of the genre. For the sake of argument, let’s say Whitlock was from Philly instead of Nellie-ville and let’s assume he’d actually heard some real hip-hop in his youth – and let’s further assume that he heard the Roots and kicked their beats in his ride…instead of some tired ass love song that reminded of some sexin’ he did back in high school under the bleachers. Let’s imagine that the hip-hop of his youth was actually Public Enemy and X-Clan and KRS-One and Queen Latifah and Paris. He wouldn’t be talking that stoopid shit about hip-hop culture. Nope.
He probably would have said something like,” The punkified, pressed hair R&B culture that I grew up really messed our generation up. We became so caught in these love songs that we forgot about the struggle of our parents – and we worked hard to get jobs, but alot of didn’t get jobs and we never established that community – except we found someone to sing love songs to in the shower – but we didn’t invest in our children’s creativity. We invested in sending them to the same dysfunctional schools that we went to. We didn’t invest in their prowess as creators of culture. We could have locked up hip-hop when it was banned from MTV, but we didn’t do it. Too many love songs. We could have created the cultural and archival support to own and drive this music, but we didn’t. We were too busy singing love songs. Doo-be, doo-be doo.”
And that would be just as false as what he authored today. There are some kernels of truth, but you can’t run with this.
Whitlock won’t write that because it would hit too close to home. And the question of how young Black men and women with a nationalist vision were displaced by Black and white folk within this genre begs for an answer. These people are still around and they didn’t define hip hop as a penitentiary culture. Big Daddy Kane was as much about tapping ass as Teddy P. or Barry (ask Madonna), but he wasn’t about the pen. Neither was Doug E. Fresh or Kurtis Blow or many of the other icons. Ignoring the intrusion of corporate gangsterism into the marketing, distribution and profitability of this genre is not his game. Jason is responding to the symptoms of the disease and he has no cure.
If you want to fix hip-hop, stop calling bullshit that masquerades as authentic “hip-hop.” Just because a performer says a few nonsensical words that sometimes rhyme does not mean this is “hip-hop.” If it were that simple, Karl Rove would be topping the charts after his Al Jolson act a few weeks ago. If you want to draw children away from all the bad things associated with penitentiary culture, create viable economic and cultural opportunities for them to grow – and stop wasting my time with these articles about what’s wrong with hip-hop culture. You do not know what you’re talking about. And as for the damage count between Imus and Cam’ron, I suggest you keep counting.
Finally, that doesn’t mean Cam’ron is correct. Far from it. He’s lost his mind – and that happened years ago. If you’re a Harlem-based artist who wants to keep it real and you are too phukkin lazy to get up off your ass and call the Guardians and Eric Adams to bring some justice to your neighborhood, then fuck you and all your albums. And if you say you don’t know them, you ain’t no real street muhfucka neither. You can’t have it both ways. But that’s just me.