It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

The Black CNN: Breaking News from the frontline

Public Enemy’s Chuck D once remarked that Hip-Hop culture is Black America’s CNN. Although many considered this keen observation little more than a flippant comment by a rapper seeking attention and increased record sales, when viewed through an appropriate prism, Chuck D’s observation is quite profound. When Chuck D made this statement during what we now term the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Black America, particularly its youth, was being led through phenomenal changes by a relatively knew youth culture; today it is called Hip-Hop. Above and beyond anything else, Hip-Hop Culture, particularly Rap Music, allowed for these young African-American men and women to define who they were and thereby forced the world to deal with them and their vision of how the world should be.

Larger society was predictably against this change that they did not generate and could neither understand nor control. The politicized youth of the day apparently believed that they had something to say and created a vehicle from which it would be heard. They were pointing their race, and by extension the entire world, in a new direction. It was against the backdrop of voluminous criticism against rap music, the musical arm of Hip-Hop culture, that Chuck D posited that the musical genre was Black America’s CNN.

Chuck D., Public Enemy’s lead emcee, explained that if you wanted to know what was going on in South Central, Los Angeles, all you needed to do was listen to N.W.A. If you wanted to know what was occurring in Houston, Texas, one only needed to listen to the Geto Boys, or if the urban environs of New York piqued your interest, Rakim and Brand Nubian were more than capable of sharing contemporary occurrences; this list goes on and on. The emcee is analogous to a news reporter issuing dispatches regarding African-Americans and a fortune teller accurately depicting, or quite possibly shaping, the future.

During the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Rap Music, despite its exponentially increasing, seemingly inherent, lyrical and visual contradictions, was painting a picture, one that was not always beautiful nor in focus, for the world to see. However, one could never deny that it was simultaneously bold and politicized. Although there was much to criticize about that generation of emcees’ and those adherents that followed their lead with a nearly cult-like obsession; there was little doubt that they were proud and determined youth supported by an unending political consciousness and esteem level that facilitated their ascension to the vanguard position of American, and global, popular culture.

‘Oh, to long for the days of yesterday.’ Little did we know that a mere twenty-years after Public Enemy advised African-Americans to Fight The Power! and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan detailed to the Black nation their duties as a righteous people and their duty to teach to others what they do not know, that Hip-Hop Culture would not only transform into the most powerful cultural force the world has ever known, but also even greater ability to offer vivid, high definition, portraits. Portraits that depict the contemporary state of African-Americans. It is not the clarity of the picture that is causing unprecedented consternation, it is the grotesque and disfigured portrait of Black youth that frightens previous generations of African-Americans .

Considering that Chuck D’s construct that Hip-Hop Culture is Black America’s CNN has stood the test of time, let’s take a quick look at one of the most recent news dispatches flowing from the front line of Hip-Hop culture offered by Rich Homie Quan. This report is particularly meaningful for what it conveys regarding the terms by which young African-Americans are defining themselves. One must remember that an individual’s personal reflection reveals so much about how they view themselves, others, and the world around them. For instance, emcees from New York during the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, particularly those who were members of the 5% Nation of Gods and Earths, referred to themselves as God’s. Although we can contest the basis for such a designation, one is hard pressed to charge such individuals with anything less than an overabundance of self-esteem and love for their people.

Quite possibly the most succinct articulation of contemporary emcee’s and their cult-like followers who allow contemporary lyrics to disproportionately influence their thoughts, dreams, and goals in much the same way as my generation did, is Rich Homie Quan’s ode to ‘bromance’ — meaning an unusual romance between at least two men —My Nigga; an articulation of pervasive ignorance that became even more disturbing when it was revisited with a remixed version involving the female emcee Nicki Minaj.

Although many wish to excuse away such recordings as being merely for entertainment purposes, such individuals are in error. Human beings are social beings, meaning that they have learned everything that they know. It is the culmination of these external stimuli that provides human’s with an understanding of their environment. It is not strange, it is actually predictable that individuals from my generation who had Black Nationalist messages drilled in their heads by rap emcees’ often adopted some variant of Black Nationalist politics. Considering such, it is likewise reasonable that African-American youth after hearing recordings like Rich Homie Quan’s My Nigga, over an extended period of time will begin to integrate its tenets into their lives and thereby become for lack of a better term, Niggers.

Unfortunately, it appears that the current state of Hip-Hop culture, if we are to believe the Black CNN, has turned into a manufacturing plant for the production of socially unacceptable, morally deficient, low self-esteem having, materialistic, ends-justify-the-means avaricious Capitalists, hyper-sexual, drug abusing, illiterate, and inarticulate beings. If that is too difficult to remember, just call them Niggers, that is what everyone, including themselves, calls them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘My Brother’s Keeper’: A Call for Social Responsibility

In the wake of President Barack H. Obama’s unveiling his ‘My Brother’s Keeper‘ initiative, he remarked that “we shouldn’t care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program or a faith-based program or — if it works, we should support it… recognizing that my neighbor’s child is my child, that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.” President Obama’s initiative should be championed, and supported, by all Americans regardless of geographic, identity, political, or religious differences or peculiarities. Unfortunately, there are a few irrational individuals, primarily situated along the far-Right,  who will continue their blind hatred of any and all things Obama; if only they had the ability to lay down their vitriolic racially based hatred for even an instant, I believe that they would have been pleasantly surprised by the call for social responsibility supporting President Obama’s latest initiative.

It is this call for ‘socially responsible individualism’ that has polarized racial groups and caused much intra-racial discord amongst African-Americans throughout the past fifty years. Put simply, whites, regardless of their socioeconomic status or political leanings, tend to assume that African-Americans assume no responsibility for their marginal socioeconomic status. Incredibly, this perspective that African-Americans lag behind due to their own shortcomings not racial obstacles and impediments found throughout society has been parroted by many prominent African-Americans. One would expect successful Blacks to have a more nuanced understanding of the reality that hard work has not routinely translated into material success.

However, this contentious issues raises a pernicious subject; that being, what responsibilities do the beneficiaries of the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ have to themselves and the society that is seeking to aid them? President Obama glances the issue when he states he is attempting “…to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient and overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.” In the minds of many African-Americans, President Obama is walking a fine line by calling for African-American males to take responsibility for their lot in life. Unbeknownst to many, this championing of socially responsible individualism, although routinely vilified by a vocal minority, is the favored position of most African-Americans.

The President, along with a multiracial and politically diverse contingency of Americans, prods these young men, who are often overlooked as an untapped national resource, to move forward with the confidence of knowing that this society promises to provide them with two priceless commodities: opportunity and choice. In a tone reminiscent of a doting parent, demanding athletic/academic coach, or concerned mentor, President Obama admonished the nation’s Black and Brown males with the following assertion.

“But you have got responsibilities too. And I know you can meet the challenge… if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.

It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals, and you’re going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.

The world is tough out there, and there’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions. And everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed.”

Mr. President, on behalf of myself and the nation, I must say that we support your vision and words of encouragement toward this next generation of young men.  However, I pray that these young men heard you and realize that the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative not only provides an increased opportunity for success, but also lays the final outcome for success or failure in their hands, I pray that they chose the former and never the latter.

    

No Fairy Tales?

Fairy Tales

 

 

I can remember stories, those things my mother said. She told me fairy tales, before I went to bed. She spoke of a happy-ending, then tucked me in real tight, she turned my nightlight on and kissed my face goodnight. My mind would fill with visions of a perfect paradise. she told me everything, she said he’d be so nice. He’d ride up on his horse and take me away one night, I’d be so happy with him, we’d ride ‘til out of sight. She never said that we would curse, cry, and scream and lie. She never said that maybe someday he’d say goodbye. The story ends as stories do reality steps into view. No longer living lies in paradise. No fairy tales.

Anita Baker “Fairy Tales”

During a recent social occasion, a colleague quipped that I was fortunate to have a son, instead of a daughter. My peculiar facial expression gave him permission to continue his commentary. I would have never imagined that his daughters, whom he loved unconditionally, could ever be the catalyst behind any worry. It did not take him long to reach the focal point of his concern; he feared that none of his daughters would marry a black man. This concern did not flow from his daughters displaying an affinity or preference for non-Black men, rather, the lack of marriageable African-American men.

Unfortunately, the above issue is a familiar refrain expressed by African-American women during seminars, conferences, and  private discussions. I responded by telling my colleague that he was not alone in this concern. Meaning, that although I was not blessed with a biological daughter, I had a plethora of nieces, cousins, a sister, and a host of fictive kin daughters whom I adopted during my years as a professor, who had not wed. Their loyalty to the race made an inter-racial liaison an unconscionable betrayal to their race. Put simply, they loved the brothers and  chose the single life instead of what many still consider a social taboo.

Unfortunately, the decision to honor societal customs, has left droves of intelligent, articulate, beautiful, accomplished, professional, and ambitious African-American women hopelessly single. One of the more popular ‘solutions’ to this issue is for African-American women to marry outside of their race. Unfortunately, such a simplistic solution fails to not only address the root cause behind why so many African-American women never walk down the aisle, but also sidesteps a critical discussion that needs to occur within the Black community; that being, why is the pool of marriageable African-American males so small. For the sake of clarity I am going to explicitly relate what I mean by marriageable African-American males.

  1. A man who is gainfully employed
  2. A man who is socially adjusted and raised to view the institution of marriage as sacred and the destination for adult men.
  3. Hetero-sexual
  4. Desiring monogamy
  5. Absent any on-going, meaning active, addictions
  6. Clearly understands that the role of household is not a bully pulpit, yet positions one to take responsibility for familial missteps.
  7. Honest
  8. Faithful
  9. Has an active relationship with God
  10. Possessing a modicum of intelligence that extends beyond athletic contests
  11. Neither currently incarcerated nor under the supervision of a penal institution — probation or parole

After reflecting upon this crisis within my community, my mind reverted to Anita Baker’s Fairy Tales; a song that relates the hopes, dreams, and desires of untold numbers of African-American women who wait the arrival of their “tall, dark, and handsome” knight in shining armor.  As with most matters, the problem is obvious, it is the solution that causes angst and consternation. It is my desperate attempt to not be counted in the legion of thinkers who point out the problem, yet fail to offer a single solution, that I offer the following advice to young African-American males, steps that I hope could serve as a springboard toward saving my brethren and thereby rebuilding the African-American community, one family at a time.

  1. Avoid the criminal justice system by any means necessary.
  2. Engage the educational process as a location to develop your innate brilliance and scholastic interests.
  3. Avoid counter-productive cultural fads that have neither short-term nor long-term benefits.
  4. Always take the high road of respect and dignity in all of your interactions.
  5. Avoid having children out-of-wedlock.
  6. Make the pursuit of higher education or technical skill a prerequisite to marriage.
  7.  Use your power to chose your life path and never relinquish that power to any institution, circumstance, or individual.

It is my contention that such steps not only guarantee success, but also start the process of reversing the socioeconomic downward spiral that has afflicted our race. Such courageous activity will pave a glorious future that will include your one day mounting a horse, riding up to a home and sweeping some lucky young lady off of her feet. Believe me when I say to you, that it will be the beginning of a fairy tale life for both of you.

 

Committed to investigating, examining, and representing the African-American male, men, and manhood by offering commentary regarding the status of Black Men and Black Manhood as it relates to African-American Manhood, Race, Class, Politics, and Culture from an educated and authentic African-American perspective aimed at improving the plight of African-American men and African-American Manhood in regards to Politics, Culture, Education, and Social Matters.

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