Honestly, the conversation surrounding who owns Hip-Hop is a conversation that’s been had 1000 times, so I wanted to look at it from an angle that I don’t hear too often, and it’s from the angle of erasure. I remember being a child in the late 80s, early 90s and hearing my cousin, we’ll call him T, talk about this very topic with his friends. In fact, he is the reason I have such a strong passion for Rap music in the first place. He was my first introduction to the genre, and I’ll never forget listening to this cassette tape he had with a compilation of NWA songs on it and falling in love with the sound of the music and how tough the guys sounded before I even really understood what music really was (if that makes sense). I was seven at the time, and I don’t really think I understood music beyond it being entertainment - just sounds that made you feel good - but it was something about what I heard on that cassette tape and just being around him and his friends and hearing their passion for it that really stuck to me and I am forever grateful. Putting a pause on my love for the genre, because we are not here to discuss that, let’s get back to the idea of who owns Hip-Hop and even more importantly Erasure. Since I brought up the years 1989 to roughly 1991, let’s stay there and discuss someone who got his very fair share of scrutiny for took over the genre and somewhat became the face of it on a mainstream level at least and the response to that at the time. That unlucky individual was none other than Rob Van Winkle better known as “Vanilla Ice”. Now, I in no way harbor any ill will towards Vanilla Ice in anyway this is just an example of when guests (and I will discuss that in further detail a little later) hop from wave to wave and simply misuse the genre usually to gain attention and money for themselves. See New York Times article circa 1998.
The concept of Black artistry being erased from the overreaching culture, particularly music, but in most cases a lot of other aspects of life, is certainly not new. It’s happened to us in several genres of music that I’m sure even if you’re not an avid fan of that genre, or just a casual listener, or you don’t know very much about the history and the formations of that type of music, you can see from your own life or just throughout time how Black contribution has been erased entirely to the point where it’s not even seen as music that we ever had any part in creating. Examples range from Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll for sure, R&B, and even Punk Rock. Yes, you heard right. Punk. Rock. See Saint Heron’s “How Punk Rock Has Always Existed Within Black Culture”, and Hip-Hop was the last place that marginalized voices had a place to talk about their lives when no one cared about their well-being. When their communities were written off as “bad places that are full of bad people.” They had this outlet to show off their talents, to be creative, to find some pleasure, some goodness, for some to squeeze some water from a stone and make sense of their thoughts or tribulations. Hip-Hop was birthed in the Bronx in the early 70s and to be exact there’s even a specific address - a physical manifestation of where Hip-Hop was born in New York- 1520 Sedgwick Avenue courtesy of DJ Kool Herc. See History’s “Hip-Hop Was Born at a Birthday Party in the Bronx” article. I wanted to share some really prolific words from two of my favorite rappers and maybe two of yours, too, that show why this isn’t just a commodity, some shirt that you can just put on and then throw away when the style is no longer fashionable.
A snippet from Prodigy’s verse from Mobb Deep’s “Eye For an Eye (Your Beef is Mines)” that also featured Nas and Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan).
Life is a gamble, we scramble for money.
I might crack a smile, but ain’t a damn thing funny.
From a teen from Queensbridge to a young man from Brooklyn. A verse from Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy”.
Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
When I was dead broke, man, I couldn't picture this.
50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur.
Phone bill about two G's flat
No need to worry, my accountant handles that.
And my whole crew is lounging
Celebrating every day, no more public housing.
Thinkin' back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps a Ac' with minks on her back.
And she loves to show me off of course
Smiles every time my face is up in The Source.
We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us
No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us.
Birthdays was the worst days
Now we sip Champagne when we thirsty.
Uh, damn right, I like the life I live
'Cause I went from negative to positive.
If any of you reading this have a home that has been in your family for generations because it is past down to the next of kin perhaps you understand the importance of keeping that home in the family. I mentioned earlier that, to me, Hip-Hop is like a house. A house has a foundation, a foundation was built by the forefathers like the likes of aforementioned DJ Kool Herc. Later the newer generation builds the walls, the insulation, the doors, some rooms, maybe even add some furniture and then the latest generation comes and they add some paintings and so on and so on, but the house is being built by descendants directly or indirectly of the forefathers. Sure you can have guests over but those guests have to abide by certain rules. Whenever my mom and I would visit my grandparents, she had the plastic cover on all of the as she calls it “the good furniture” and you had to take off your shoes before you came in. There is an etiquette. You don’t treat someone’s house however you want or how you would treat your house, you have respect. For as long as Hip-Hop has been mainstream which certainly became true increasingly so since the mid to late 90s some guests understand the rules but then there are others who just don’t care, and I think that lack of respect comes unfortunately when owners of the home allow that disrespect. For the sake of squelching erasure, we have to be better stewards of this language, of this art, of this way of life. We can’t allow individuals to ride waves and do whatever they find to be trendy and use this music as a way to get on and then later distance themselves from it. Luckily, Vanilla Ice (as well as way too many to name here) was a fad hat burned out almost as fast as when the spark first ignited, but eventually that luck will as history has shown us run out.
As I stated before, it’s okay to invite guests over for tea, but at what point are we supporting our own erasure in supporting these guests in the first place. I think that’s where I find myself stuck when searching for solutions. When you look at the two most popular artists in Hip-Hop right now according to the ages of 18 to I’d say 30 maybe even a little older maybe my age maybe 33, are people who are guests and they’ve become the face of the genre and that definitely happened because of our support - black support. I want everyone to succeed but why aren’t the faces of Hip-Hop owners? I can name five rappers right now who have put out excellent bodies of work but get over looked at every turn. Remy Ma put out a collaborative album with long time friend and fellow Terror Squad member, Fat Joe in 2017 called, “Plata O Plomo” which unfortunately suffered poor album sales. She then followed up that effort with some singles the first being “Wake Me Up” featuring Lil Kim and then “Melanin Magic (Pretty Brown)” and although the songs have gotten some traction certainly aren’t outright hits. See Billboard’s chart history for Remy Ma. Dej Loaf has current music out and a feature with Jacquees right now as well as Azealia Banks.
Azealia recently dropped a song called “Anna Wintour” and the lyric video. To be fair, there are many issues that surround why certain artists have a hard time reaching a certain level of success that they want but at the end of the day the music is still there, the consistency is still there, and the music itself is fire. Even after Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj were beefing everybody loved Remy’s “Shether” but that didn’t translate over to her other songs. Thank goodness GoldLink had a break out hit with “Crew”, but they’ve put out several wonderful songs since then. Another example is Vince Staples whose album “Big Fish Theory” came out last summer and is so eclectic and out-of-the-box. The legendary Jean Grae released new music this year as well as Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom. Where’s the support? Is it because people aren’t aware? Is awareness the issue? I understand that being the case in the early years of Hip-Hop because even Black stations would relegate Hip-Hop to late nights and weekends, but is that the case now? Are the current faces of the genre being pushed more? Is there a way to push these artists and number of others into the forefront? How do we ensure that 10, 20, 30+years from now Hip-Hop isn’t like Rock ‘n’ Roll in that people are shocked to learn that we created that art form, too.
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