Cultures have always grown organically. The result of personal urges, yearnings, and youthful ingenuity writ large is what give the world its movements. Movements are never planned, contrived, masterminded by capitalist overlords; they are organic and they GROW.
What we’ve seen many a times in America, and ‘the West’ in general is seeds in the soil, placed there either delicately or with aggressive purpose, by individuals or small bands of them, sprouted and tended to by their believers, made into a grand crop, and then ruthlessly harvested for profit by those too powerful or seductive to stop.
When it comes to hip-hop music, this benchmark of the beautiful struggle proved to be way more than the sum of its parts, much more than the communities that tended to its sprout, much more than what the overlords would have appraised it at in the mid 70’s to early 80’s. To put things simply, nobody, except maybe those who were there, saw it coming.
Maybe the attitude of the day was ‘nothing to see here’, because what makes culture, culture, is its non-all-inclusiveness. Everything isn’t for everyone. For those that weren’t included in the Dream, the ones trapped in the ghetto, the ones not considered Americans, or contributors to society, they weren’t given a choice; they had to have SOMETHING and it had to make you feel GOOD.
It’s funny how we cherish the little moments in time where we can forget that society wants us forgotten, swept under the rug or at least demonized beyond ever a consideration of saintliness. Hip-hop was for feeling good, that’s it. Hip-hop wasn’t a product, a commodity, not even a tradition yet. The shit was just real; nobody was faking the funk. There was no reason to front.
Robert Frost said ‘nothing gold can stay’; experience will teach us that. In fact, nothing gold can have its soul sucked out of it, its body dissected and desecrated, then repackaged and sold back as ‘the real fucking deal’, and stay. So, within the modern day ‘mainstream’ we have the decaying corpse of hip-hop propped up against capital, still trying to convince us it’s a living breathing entity. Ok, sure. Hip-hop is on life support, even though it’s already dead.
Now, anyone who’s been paying attention knows this declaration is nothing new; it’s been apart of the conversation for nearly 20 years now, but beneath the thin, glossy sheer of the commercial world, there was at least always a vibrant, thriving underground ready to break the glass in case of emergency.
Eventually, the voyeuristic tendencies of the Internet Age begat shining light into dark corners, exposing the private parts belonging to the underground, and it was realized then that there was money to be made here too. Yes. There’s nothing we’ve made sacred that can’t be sold.
So now here we are, nearly a decade in where independent is made commercial, and commercial is disguised as independent, where the lines have been blurred so that no one can tell the difference. Hip-hop could run but it couldn’t hide. 40 something years into its development, long gone from its beginnings in the parks of the Bronx, ripped from its roots in Jamaican culture and the African diaspora at large, it can’t be said that there’s really much left to reap. I guess there’s only one option left for those who still believe in our own Dream: wait for the new crop and hope for a better harvest.
Text submited by Dennis Jamal Morgan. He is a 28 years old painter, music producer and writer who has been connected to American subcultures for the last 15 years.
Main photo: Joe Conzo/Museum Of The City Of New York