Hip Hop Is Free
For as long as I can remember, I've loved Hip Hop. All manifestations of the culture. From the graffiti on walls, trains, trailers, to you name it. To the flattened out cardboard boxes that made the makeshift dance floors of break dancers. To the beats and rhymes of DJ's and emcees that took over my eardrums. I love Hip Hop. My favorite aspect of this is, while I grew up, all of what I described was around me. I was surrounded by it all. On my way to school, or the store, or the park, I'd see the vibrant colors left by spray paint cans. I'd hear the beats the dancers were getting down to. That the rappers were rhyming to. All of it first hand. I never had to go far to soak any of this in. It was all a few steps away. I was inspired. I learned to dance, and when I figured out what words could do, I started to write. I was taken by the culture. Lived in it. Breathed it in. So, if Hip Hop is a "house" as some folks put it, it's one I grew up in.
Which brings me here and now, and to my point... I've been watching a ton of videos lately. As much of a rabbit hole YouTube can be, if I focus, there are some treasures there. I'm not completely sold on the idea that VladTV is a treasure yet, but I find it provides enough thought-provoking interviews to start and continue conversations on many Hip Hop related issues. So there's that. With this said, like many people, I've seen the number of interviews with Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian. There's no way I'll argue that Hip Hop had its start anywhere but in the South Bronx. That it wasn't created by black people. That would be stupid. The Teacher KRS-One taught me that. Like Kurtis Blow says, "those are the breaks." Or more accurately, the facts. That's Hip Hop History. No argument from me against all of that. But, that doesn't mean I don't have some thoughts on some other things Lord Jamar has said that started with his comment that, "white people are guests in the house of Hip Hop."
If that comment stayed right there, I would have moved on and probably wouldn't have much to say. But, Lord Jamar goes further into it. It's my understanding that the conversation started around Macklemore's song, "Same Love" and branched out from there. In my YouTubing, I viewed many videos to make sure I have what was said straight. From the smallest of comments about Eminem rapping about pills not being relevant to black people, to the larger issue that racists claiming they love Hip Hop being beyond an oxymoron. With the Em/pills comments, Lord Jamar may want to listen to some Pharoahe Monch lyrics referencing "percs" to name just one source of disagreement. Also, the idea of addiction is universal. Substitute pills for any number of things, and it's relateable. As far as racists claiming they're down with Hip Hop though, not a chance. There is no way for both there. Not a chance of it. I wholeheartedly agree with Lord Jamar on that part. No racist can legitimately love Hip Hop. Back to the initial issue... Macklemore's "Same Love." Though the content of the song is part of Lord Jamar's beef, I won't start any debate on that specifically. There's a catch in it all though, artistic statement. A person doesn't have to agree with an artistic statement at all. That's the right of anyone that views it, or hears it. But when Lord Jamar says Macklemore, "overstepped his bounds, as a white rapper, by trying to promote homosexuality" I take issue. He further states, "don't come in the house and start redecorating without talking to the motherfuckers that own the house." Further yet, "We are the makers and owners of this. As far as the intellectual property of it." Again, I'll never, even jokingly, take up a fight on who created Hip Hop, but this isn't about that. This is about an artist's rights to say whatever he/she wants to. This is about artistic expression. The owner of that expression? The person that paints the painting, makes the film, or in this case, writes the song.
An artist should always respect the architects. The history of the art. I firmly believe that. But, should an artist stay in a lane just because that's the way it's always been done? Shy away from taking on issues that haven't been talked about before? No and no. So when Lord Jamar talks about bounds being "overstepped," or "talking to the motherfuckers that own the house," or the "...owners of this," he's talking about censorship. Since when has any artist in Hip Hop ever asked for permission to do what they do? To rap about what they rap about? Any and all subjects are fair game. Even if some people don't want to hear it. Hip Hop is not run by a committee of elders like the Jedi Council. KRS-One & BDP or Public Enemy never asked for permission to bring world politics into the mix. N.W.A. never asked to do anything they did. Point being, Hip Hop is, as Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) says, a folk music. With that, folks will write and rap about what they see in the world. The things that matter to them and those that they know. The lives they know. It's as simple and as complicated as that. No matter what though, Hip Hop never had a cap on its subject matter. And it never should. It doesn't matter if it makes anyone uneasy. Art isn't always easy. Hip Hop is artistic expression and is no exception to that. Let's not forget that Hip Hop itself, as a whole, was once considered taboo by many people.
With love for Hip Hop,
Links to the videos cited (in no particular order):