Mainstream hip-hop missing potential

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Jan. 24, 2006 


It is no secret the world of hip-hop is invading mainstream pop culture. What once started on the streets as a culturally derived art form has now commercialized into one of the most recognizable influences in today's society. It is prevalent in all forms of media -- music television, commercial ads and most recognizably on the radio.

You know that hip-hop has hit the big time when you turn on your radio to the enjoyable beats of a hip-hop song, only to discover seconds later that what you thought was the "newest jam" was in fact a McDonald's commercial.

I know I couldn't have been the only fool who fell for such marketing schemes, but even through my embarrassment I can see hip-hop is an attention-getting platform.

With the popularity of hip-hop in mind, sophomore CommUNITY Educator Laura Patton thought an event based on hip-hop might attract and educate students.

Fellow CUEs agreed with Patton, so they teamed up with the Hip Hop Congress and created an event called "Hip-Hop and the Resistance to Struggles", held Sunday night at the Willkie Auditorium. The event consisted of a discussion based on the roots of hip-hop and how the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced hip-hop culture.

The CUEs asked three IU professors knowledgable in hip-hop to sit on the discussion panel: Ana Owusu Tyo, Fernando Orejuela, and Mark Miyake.

The Chapter Head of the Hip Hop Congress, Alex Pyatetsky, moderated the event, questioning the panelists on the connection between the civil rights movement and hip-hop.

"They weren't directly tied, but soul music was the bridge to hip-hop," Orejuela said. "They were related as far as social power."

Miyake added today's hip-hop artists had parents during the time of the movement, offering Tupac Shakur, whose mother was a member of the Black Panther's organization, as an example.

As the commentary progressed, the idea of hip-hop as politically conscious music was introduced as a relevant similarity to the civil rights movement. Panelists used examples such as Public Enemy and NWA to illustrate hip-hop artists who spoke out against the government.

However, it was acknowledged that the aggressive way these groups voiced their concerns was different than King's peaceful followers in the movement.

"Who do we have in today's music that speaks out in the social and political way that these old-school icons did?" asked an audience member.

"Kanye West would be an example of a message rapper today," Orejuela said. "Most other message rappers went underground when the 'studio gangstas' took over."

Owusu-Tyo agreed.

"Kanye West is the most commercially politically aware person," she said. "However, he will write a song about diamonds in Sierra Leone and turn around and get a diamond watch from Jacob the Jeweler -- he's not advocating a boycott on diamonds."

Some may ask, 'what's the big deal if hip-hop music doesn't have a political message?' Many attending the forum believed that hip-hop has become so popular that it is in the ears of too many to go without being used for positive expression.

One audience member said he knew young children who could recite lyrics from all the latest hip-hop songs. "Younger generations learn from Sesame Street and they learn from BET," he said. This is a truly interesting comment to consider. If that is the case, what type of things would they be learning -- is it what they should be learning?

As the event came to a close, my mind was racing, as were the minds of many others still highly engaged with questions and comments. To me, that signified the importance of such an event and furthered the need for more of its kind.


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