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Is Hip Hop Black Privilege?

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For the last few months, the US has been in the midst of a racially charged storm of events. Disorder and poor training within police departments and the justice system as a whole is being exposed and the handling of these many conflicts has brought attention to the disparities in resolution depending on skin color. With such a (much needed) uproar, nearly every conversation can spiral into debate and/or outright arguing about race relations. One specific entertainment medium has become a field of landmines when centered on race: Hip Hop.

Black Privilege

Writing on this topic was initially sparked right before the Grammy Awards this year and the Hip-Hop/Rap award debacle. Macklemore went on a tear and took Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (The Heist), Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance (“Thrift Shop”).  In a bit of extreme naivety, I engaged into a heated debate on Twitter concerning The Source naming Macklemore Man of the Year about a month before the award show. I’d listened to The Heist and thought it was a decent project, thus jumping in to defend while a few argued against the decision. I thought we were just talking Hip Hop but it quickly turned into a race issue.

A young black woman in the conversation, who refused to even listen to The Heist, felt there were many black artists that were more qualified and that Macklemore shouldn’t even be a part of the conversation. My immediate reaction to her being anti-white within Hip Hop was anger. We have been seeking equality in all facets of existence for a long time and it’s counter productive to try to stifle the voices of others. It’s hypocritical to acknowledge our own privilege and not want to embrace diversity, but expect to be embraced otherwise.

Considering Kendrick Lamar had dropped one of the best projects of the last decade, it’s entirely understandable that people felt slighted. None of the award ceremonies hold much weight with me in nearly any medium of entertainment, but this event definitely rubbed many the wrong way.

Hip HopAnother tense moment in Hip Hop in late 2013/early 2014 was Lord Jamar’s attack on the status quo. Regardless of some truth in his words, many were put off by how abrasively the message was delivered and him essentially tagging white artists as “guests in the house of Hip Hop”. I was one of the people put off by the declaration considering my affinity for so many different types of Hip Hop regardless of skin color. From Atmosphere to Shing02, my concern has always been with the individual artist’s character within the art form. It took the insight of a few other black artists for me to gain a bit more of an understanding.

Above, Talib Kweli said something to put things into perspective for me: “The only way that you can truly appreciate a book is to know the history of its author…If you don’t respect the origins, then you’re being disrespectful of it“. Kweli extrapolated the substance of what Jamar wanted to say in a simple statement, but also pointed out that Lord Jamar may not have done his homework on Macklemore as well. He declared there are white artists who openly recognize their white privilege, Mack being one of them, and they deal with that.

Fast forward to present day and we have another racial conflict at the forefront of Hip Hop.

#NewBlackFace

It’s been an ongoing thing since the birth of both artist’s careers but, once again, Azalea Banks and Iggy Azalea are at each other’s neck. If “art appropriation” is emulating without regard to the art’s history, Iggy is the popular definition of this in 2014. Not only is she emulating, she’s mocking the art form by employing a style and accent based on stereotypes and Azalea Banks has been calling her out since she debuted. Unfortunately, her message has been muddled within all her self promotion and name calling. Like Lord Jamar, there’s truth in her words that are easily missed/ignored but this time she’s got some support.

In probably one of the most incredible moments on Twitter, Hip Hop veteran Q-Tip decided to give Iggy a history lesson after she and Action Bronson got into a heated debate with Azalea Banks and Solange. Here’s an excerpt from the series of tweets as he starts by speaking on Hip Hop as an infectious energy that Iggy now thrives off of and understanding what Hip Hop means to an entire people:


Q-tip delved into Black existence and expresses what (I hope) Azalea Banks was trying to articulate, but in a respectful manner. I learned a good bit from the exchange myself and it reinforced the perspective I began to understand during Lord Jamar’s tirade.

The Future

Some may consider me hopelessly optimistic that we’ll have a surge of entertaining socially progressive messages from artists at the forefront in the wake of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar‘s recent live performances. There’s never been a shortage of these types of messages in the culture as a whole, but they’ve either been heavily under promoted (many underground artists have been preaching the Hip Hop gospel) or not entirely entertaining (Ex: Lupe Fiasco, though he’s seeing a return to form). Everything has its place when it comes to music, but sadly perception is reality. Popular Hip Hop has been a joke to those on the outside looking in and we should put our money where our mouths are and show what we hold in high regard. Many have pointed out how whitewashed mainstream Hip Hop has become, so it’s time to do something about it.

Just like the #BlackLivesMatters movement being attacked with the naive argument of ” Why not focus on black on black crime?”, some surveyors of the culture will attempt to point out hypocrisy within Black rhymes. It’ll probably be something to the tune of: “While white artists are expected to understand their own privilege to be a part of Hip Hop, black artists and fans should take better care of this ‘Black privilege’.”

Hip Hop is in good hands. It’s moving in the right direction and will be at the forefront of change much like in its roots. Hip Hop Lives.

About The Author
Charles Singletary Managing Editor
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