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Hip Hop 50


Paris on how contemporary hip-hop has given up the ghost, sadly, and sold out
Paris (Credit: Courtesy of Paris)

Chuck D once famously called hip-hop the CNN of the Black community, the way people got the news. Is it still? If so, what is the news coming across, who is telling it most profoundly?

At the time Chuck said that, he was probably right. But that was a different era. Now people get most of their information from the internet and social media. Hip-hop no longer operates as an informative medium. More often than not, it is a lifestyle promotion vehicle, and the lifestyles highlighted are either detrimental or unattainable to and by the communities it speaks to. 

Gone are the days of hip-hop being a tool that elicits change and rational thought. For the most part, hip-hop, as it is promoted by the corporations that encourage and disseminate it, amplifies the worst in us. The burden is, and always has been, on independent labels and artists to keep the torch of balance burning to embrace revolutionary messages in our craft.

Fifty years ago hip-hop started a revolution, not just in music but in fashion, film, TV, art. Is another revolution possible now? 

Fifty years ago, hip-hop started a cultural revolution that revolved around music and tangentially touched other elements of our culture. But since its inception, it has been co-opted and bastardized by those seeking to commodify it to the point that artistry is no longer the focus. People used to avoid the perception of “selling out“ with a passion, and now, the exact opposite is true. 

So no, there will not be any revolution brought about by hip-hop moving forward. Some other untainted catalyst will emerge that will once again excite people and provide a voice to the voiceless, but hip-hop won’t be it.

Fifty years from now, in 2073, who will people still be talking about from hip-hop 2023? Who will have a lasting impact?

In 2073, people won’t be talking about hip-hop from 2023, that’s for sure. Maybe from the ‘90s. You can stick a fork in this shit nowadays. Ever heard of the adage, “You can’t love your job more than your boss?“ That’s how I feel about hip-hop today. If people making the music treat it as disposable and nothing more than a stepping stone to other things, how can listeners value it? 

Looking back over the last 50 years, who is an unsung hero, someone who made a big impact on hip-hop who doesn’t get credit? 

I don’t know if that is a trick question or not! I have to say – entirely without pride or egotistical influence – that my answer would be me. I am someone who has unapologetically kept the torch of political and social awareness burning in hip-hop, who has never wavered on my principles, shown the importance of maintaining business independence by example, who has sold millions of records, launched careers, and produced many of hip-hop’s favorites — only to be consistently relegated to the genre’s sidelines. That is one of the many pitfalls of “correctly doing the work,” I suppose. Wishing well to all, though. Peace to those who deserve it.

Interview by Kyle Eustice