Text: Night Palms
Image: Tom Sodoge
I guess the difference between my relationship with Hip Hop and those predominantly around me,
relatable to anyone else who finds themselves in a post-tertiary-educated world where social mobility has awarded them middle-class colleagues and friends… (or maybe this post-golden-era has bred a colony of consumers who have not felt the struggles required to authentically resonate with certain lyrics..?) Whatever the case may be, you don’t need a degree in sociology to see how this variance is worthy to factor in. So much that the music has changed. Great! Not hating. Love it. If you can’t tell by now, this is my attempt at a disclaimer, for this piece is not about Hip Hop as a musical genre, but what it used to commonly be referred to as; a lifestyle.
I won’t bore you with the typical rhetoric of how it came from the streets. The struggle was in fact, real. And the Bronx wasn’t an isolated event. This was happening everywhere. Injustices of marginalised and minority peoples were happening the world-over. The proliferation of its core message spread like wildfire, and it didn’t take long for the ‘hoods’ of the world to follow suit and empower themselves from low-socioeconomic oppression.
They did this because Hip Hop taught them to. The US spearheaded the revolution in more ways than one. I mean, how many elements are there again? The one I want to draw your attention to, is Knowledge.
Hip Hop as a Teacher
Knowledge, in Hip Hop isn’t about how many tracks you can lip sync. Hip Hop doesn’t give a shit about whether you know the history or the cats who made it possible. No, not even that. I mean really, that shit is just ego-driven and wouldn’t be any different from the arbitrary butchered sub culture of hipstordom where knowing some shit that others don’t, apparently gave you more hairs on your chin to out-stroke would-be alpha bros. Point is, I think there’s very little known about the role Hip Hop played in society as a TEACHER.
I was lucky enough to grow up in one of these ‘hoods’. End of the train line type anxiety where you wouldn’t know if you’d run into a crackhead or a rival gang. Odds were usually against you. Hip Hop taught me how to deal with it. There’s a code of conduct in Hip Hop, if you listen to the lyrics close enough, its all in there. And the lessons ranged from money matters, maintaining friendships and how to treat your mother. Fair to say that Hip Hop knowledge was all about exercising respect and dignity to your fellow brothers and sisters.
“Necessity is the mother of invention and Hip Hop knowledge was essential AF at a time where the hood was faced with a growing generation of fatherless bastards.”
Many moons ago I filmed a short doco on my dear friend, LXXX, one of Australia’s finest selectors. It started out as a piece about the love of it, and we typically diverged into what Hip Hop meant to him. What it did for him, because its not enough to just talk about what you can see. All good docos take you under the surface. And underneath LXXX’s positive demeanour, was someone who freely expressed what Hip Hop provided him during his formative years without a father.
In my usual thirst to find universal truths, I found some literature about Masculinity in Hip Hop. For the life of me I can’t find it and have since forgotten the author and name (could be this… don’t think it is but damn what an interesting read: Examining Black Masculinity in Hip Hop Culture), but I had pulled it into my research and found great correlations that suggested Hip Hop was pivotal in teaching masculinity to hordes of fatherless children. Whether for bad or worse, I think we can all agree that, bar the odd flex here and there, for the most part, Hip Hop was extremely positive music for many young men who may have needed more guidance and support.
Some may argue that Hip Hop’s ‘teachings’ are antiquated by today’s standards, particularly in the realm of sexual identities. But doing that wouldn’t be much different from going back in time and giving a caveman shit for not having a lighter.
I’m not proposing we bring this Hip Hop back. I’m not calling anything to action. This is just an interesting observation I had recently when faced with the many options when dealing with a problem. See, where I’m from, not only were there lots of boys growing up without dads, but we all agreed on this code for the streets. And if anyone broke it, you couldn’t get mad when their crew rocks up at a party, drag that motherfucker out onto the streets and set an example for all to see.
On the surface, outsiders are quick to label this as barbaric and anti-social. But if you grew up where I did… it was just some troubled and disadvantaged youths trying their best with what little they had, resource and support-wise, to sort their beef out. Don’t judge.
Here is where the fundamental issue remains. Some of these kids from the hood made it out, some didn’t. Those who did, from my observations in the real world, became or are on their way to be the fathers they didn’t have. And that’s saying a lot, when someone came from a place without a lot.
Today, there is a different Hip Hop. A Hip Hop where the majority of its fan base are relatively better adjusted, or at least have access to more resources. They still have problems… just different types of problems. Which, as evolution would have us believe, will and has given birth to new concepts, ideologies and of course, art. But in my opinion… some lessons in respect wouldn’t go astray.
So what’s right? What’s wrong? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Well Hip Hop had the answer. If you’ve been listening to Hip Hop long enough and ‘right’ enough. Even if you assess a situation after the fact, you’ll know what integrity and respect commands of you. You’ll know what lines you can and can’t cross less you be faced with a machete to your skull. Why? Because Hip Hop taught you better.