By Rahsaan Thomas
Hip-hop went from having a positive voice to being dominated by images of drug dealers, pimps and gangsters by 1996.
The Yard Talk panel discussed the materialization of rap in this segment of Is Rap Your Daddy?
Hip-hop music started with the Old School era, (1979 to 1987). “In the late 1980s, political content and Afrocentric musings were the most popular forms of rap music. And by the early 1990s, gangsta rap took center stage,” wrote James Peterson in Dead Prezence: Money and Mortal Themes in Hip Hop Culture.
“Eventually the recording industry contemplated rap music as a potential billion-dollar opportunity, directly as a result of the popularity of gangsta rap. Mass mediated rap music and hip hop videos displaced the intimate, insulated urban development of the culture,” wrote Peterson. (p. 907).
John “Yahya” Johnson: “The music of today isn’t re- fl ecting police abuse; it refl ects drug use and materialism. You never heard Public Enemy talk about driving around in a Bentley. They spoke on real issues.”
Demond Lewis: “Our morals and ethics fly out the window when it comes to money.”
David Jassy: “A lot of MCs today wouldn’t have survived in the rap game back in ‘93. I remember people said that they didn’t understand rap. It had a language you had to be initiated to. Now it’s dumbed down so more people can understand it.”
Jassy’s thought echoes JayZ’s lyrics, “I dumb down for my audience to double my dollars,” in his song Moment of Clarity, on the Black Album.
Lewis: “Those who run hip hop say that they are helping young black men make money, without saying they are exploiting them. KRS1 spoke against selling out; now it’s okay to sell out and be trash for the money.”
Marcus Henderson: “We aren’t a community no more. It’s all about I — I-Phone, MySpace and taking selfies.”
Antwan Williams: “The road I wanted to take was urban. All I spoke about was pistols, killing, degrading women, balling out of control – just harming people. It didn’t refl ect the life that I wanted or would wish for other people. Yet I felt it was something I needed to write because I felt I would get further writing like that.”
Williams didn’t think the industry would accept him if he stuck to positive themes. Now he is Christian and delivers his truths in a sincere and aggressive way that gives praise to God and is accepted by everyone in San Quentin.
Underground artists aren’t making gangster-rap money, however. Must rap artists compromise their lyrics to survive?
Jay-Z rapped, “If skills sold… I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Qweli …I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them,” in Moment of Clarity. Qweli raps about conscious social themes.
Jassy: “Even the most underground rapper, offered a deal that will change his life, it’s hard to turn that kind of money down if he’s experienced poverty. As a listener, you want it to stay underground.”
J. “Killa Clown” Medvin: “I’d have to turn down a deal that involved only rapping about pimping and gangsters. I can’t be censored. I don’t knock the hustle, but I myself can’t do it. What I have to say is more important than money.”
The panel concluded that poverty and the desire for wealth make inner city youth susceptible to being used by the industry to turn profits. Instead of talking about real issues that impact their communities, they rap about vapid topics and material possessions they don’t actually have.
In part five of six of Is Rap Your Daddy?, the topic of whether rap can be turned back into a positive force will be discussed.
-Trenise Ferreira contributed to this story