In 1990, KRS-ONE (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone), of Boogie Down Productions fame, offered a major theoretical building block to hip-hop culture by titling his most recent album Edutainment. Although the album was spectacular in its own right, the true genius of referring to Rap Music as Edutainment — meaning Education and Entertainment — has grown more profound with Hip-Hop Culture’s growth, if not necessarily its maturation, over the twenty-plus years since that particular recording debuted.
The insinuation that rap music is actually Edutainment is not only profoundly powerful, but also keenly insightful. Those who understand the art of emceeing can attest to the fact that lyricism is at its best when it is both entertaining and educating listeners. There is no more efficient means of shaping the worldview, hopes, dreams, and priorities of the listening audience. Make no mistake about it, a young African-American male or female holding a mic holds the potential to be exponentially more influential over their listening audience than a teacher, coach, politician, and oftentimes a parent. A cursory glance around the globe verifies that it is no stretch to term Hip-Hop Culture the cultural equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
The B-Boy is found in Moscow, graffiti adorns buildings in Amsterdam, Brazilian women dance in hip-hop videos, white girls drape themselves over black rappers, even Happy Feet, the lovable penguin of cinematic fame, dances to infectious rap beats. Those who speak only English need a linguist to listen to the BET cipher as emcees have sprouted from the soil of every continent, and even Percy Miller, of No Limit Records fame, molds the minds of our children via his wildly successful Yo! Gabba Gabba show. It is a gross understatement to maintain that Hip-Hop culture has arrived, truth is the culture has been the main course in the global cultural diet for over three decades.
Hip-Hop culture’s migration to a centrist position in the global cultural diet has rendered it indispensable to successive generations of youth. It is this increased visibility and influence of Hip-Hop culture that has heightened the importance of KRS-ONE’s Edutainment construct for the following reasons:
- Hip-Hop culture has become an ambassador that not only introduces persons around the globe to African-American culture, but also, in the minds of consumers, projects that population’s values, morals, hopes, and dreams.
- Rap Music is certainly entertaining via infectious beats and mesmerizing lyrics as well as serving as an “educational” tool for populations, regardless of their racial identity or ethnicity, who have no real connection to urban Black America; including African-American youth raised in suburban America.
Therein lies the danger of a negative message and image. While African-Americans who have been raised in urban America, recognize the tomfoolery that many rap artists are undertaking, those who are absent of such cultural intelligence — awareness, familiarity, and norms — naively ingratiate what amounts to absurd verging on caricatures as authentic representation of black life, culture, traditions, and norms. In time, as with all stories told and retold those images that were originally created either in the simplified minds of artists or some record executives dry-erase board are considered an apt representation of African-Americans. Ironically, this unfortunate method of manufacturing consent regarding authentic African-American culture forces future artists who are naturally desirous of fame and fortune to fit themselves into the aforementioned buffonery. Leaving one to deduce that quite possibly it is time to alter KRS-ONE’s construct to a more apt title Mis-Edutainment, because the images that I see being portrayed do little other than betray the African-American community and destroy their image around the globe.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III