It Was All Good Just a Week Ago
Words By Drew Ricketts
This my open letter to Hip Hop and both its newfound critics and old-stock haters now surfacing to place a moratorium on originality and freedom. Ironically, among the vituperating critics are some surprising hypocrites like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby. Of course, no one in his right mind would accept either of these figures as arbiters of mass media or entertainment. Bill Cosby had some lewd Uptown Saturday Nights if I recall correctly. And Oprah enjoyed indecent forays with Middle America (her only true concern) in her quest for empire. My letter is not necessarily meant to designate Hip Hop culture's place in the public imagination. In fact, that designation happened well before I was conceived and will transmogrify long after I've gone.
This missive is meant to express the growing disdain among reasonable art commentators about how quickly Hip Hop has assumed the blame for the degeneration of American society and now, defends itself as if it could be the shepherd of perversity in a society going downhill all the while. I admit to laughing heartily when an old crotchety mainstay of media was represented as a victim of Rap's Cultural Degradation because he said the word 'ho.' I chuckled more still when Ludacris lost his lucrative Pepsi contract at the prodding of a divisive separatist television host from a divisive separatist news network. (Hi Mr. O'Reilly!) Here's another laugher: Russell Simmons and Common on Oprah bowing to the needs of the culture wars saying that they would "personally see to it that" etc etc...kowtowing bullshit ensues. Let's kill the messenger, in other words.
But then again, Hip Hop has been taking flack since Tupac had it out with C. Dolores Tucker over censorship or since N.W.A.'s exigent cop-killing message had Tipper Gore's panties in a bunch. The argument among the moderates reads something like this: y'all niggas got some money and power now so best be careful. I don't believe in tip-toeing with language or mincing words for soothing effect. Hip Hop is the only music form by Black people perhaps more grounded in language than all the others preceding it. Where jazz and the blues offended with their colorful lyrical deviance, Hip Hop thrives on being vocal to the utmost, wringing out every possible positive and negative meaning with direct words and rhythmic chiming. There's no room to hide behind the rhymes. But instead of dispatching with the New Money brazenness that's gotten us here, we should continue with our heads cocked high, saying nigger like we mean it and -- yes -- criticizing others for misusing it. Lay claim to our place like never before.
Hip Hop has possibly reached its cultural zenith. Those gangster rap days necessarily bemoaned the state of the crack-torn urban ghettoes and violent police response; and even Nas's notes from his windowsill were like the poetical adolescent salve for our collective wounds. Now that it is older, it is supposed to be wiser. But, we scarcely acknowledge that in our youth-driven zeitgeist, there is little room for maturity -- for better or worse. Where J Dilla and Big L are revered martyrs for their untimely deaths, where Grown and Sexy becomes part of an aged rapper's ploy to remain hip, where the young eat the young, there cannot be a shift to the comfortably reasonable bourgeois principles of Larger America. In fact, such a transition might be as placating as the absurd demand for censorship of lyrics.
My challenge is simply this: we will only turn the mirror on ourselves when everyone else does. Being immature enough to say, "You started it..." may give us enough latitude to finish the debate with identity intact. Russell Simmons has been saying Nigger since before he cared that it might be a bad thing to say. Does he fear not being admitted to Oprah's world? Has he forgotten that his world of influence has grown a wider wingspan than hers? When KRS-One decries Sean Hannity for confounding his quotations, has he somehow forgotten how little Sean Hannity and his cronies have to do with the music Chris has issued straight from his core? We still have the luxury of being naively blind to the ways of the world if it means depicting our realities more succinctly.
I was given this world; I didn't make it. F*ck the world, don't ask me for sh*t. These statements define the ethos of Hip Hop even as it awkwardly grows out of its sneakers. I'd rather always feel uncomfortable in a cravat than regretfully spend time adjusting my fine noose for the boardroom buffoons. Stop the Cosby-fication and the Winfrey-ization of hip hop immediately because it will damage things tenfold more than commercialization ever could.
Time to make people remember why they respect our fresh.
You can catch Drew addressing his hometown's musical and sports heroes "With Home Team Woes, Why Bring NY Back?" You can also read where Cool, one half of the superproducer duo, let's us know that "Miami is a troublemaker's paradise" in his Smoking Session.