Leave the hip hop to the hip hop heads
The other day I was sitting with a couple of friends of mine, on some bougie eat-out-at-a-restaurant dinner. We had some nice conversation going, when something came up about hip hop.
Now if you know me, you know that I’m a hip hop head to the core. Back in high school, I spent hours digging through the crates for classics: The Score to Critical Breakdown (ok lets be real, the crates were Limewire). Stiiiiill! But let’s not leave it at the music — hip hop shaped all aspects of my identity: from how I dressed, to how I spoke, to how I was perceived by others. Honestly, hip hop was my politics before I knew what my politics were.
My environment was also hip hop — there’s no question what culture dominated trends at school and in the neighborhood. If you weren’t there… how can I transport you? Picture it like this: you’ve got girls in the black phat farm sneakers with the gold glitter P. That was the gold standard right there. On the mans you have ball jerseys and fresh white tees underneath. I didn’t even have a legit ball jersey but I came through with the EXCO knock off. And everyone who was anyone had the string bag rocawear. Let’s talk about the commodification of social status, structuring of gender norms, and stratification of our childhood society by corporate name brands soon k? At the time, it was all hip hop to us.
Now with this picture you might overstand why no matter how I grow, who I am will always pay homage to hip hop’s influence during my formative years. It’s incredibly important to me to do this. For example, I made a deliberate effort to keep my slang when I entered university and graduated social classes to middle class academia, despite the pushback from people who couldn’t handle that. Generally, these people only associated my slang and my posture with what they perceived of hip hop — violence, ignorance, machismo, and poverty (but not the kind you take voluntour trips to). They couldn’t understand why I would bring hip hop into a space like that (unless it was Juicy by BIG). And to be honest, neither did I. So now with that context, lets rewind it back.
The other day I was sitting with a couple of friends of mine, on some bougie eat-out-at-a-restaurant dinner. We had some nice conversation going, when something came up about hip hop. The conversation turned to my relationship with hip hop, and somewhere in there I said, “I love all of hip hop. I am hip hop!” To this, one of my friends responded something like:
Gaurav, why would you say that? You’re so much more than hip hop. Are you saying you’re sexism, violence and misogyny? Really?
“No!” I was immediately on the defensive and fumbling for words. Even though I’d heard that sentiment plenty of times by then, basically all I could muster in response was something like this: that’s not what hip hop is. Hip hop is more than just the music, its also the culture. It’s the four elements. Weak.
So I came home and thought about it. And the more I reflected on it, the more I wished I had responded differently. I wish I had said, “Yes, I am those things”.
I’ll unpack that quicktime through rhyme, lap the track call it backpack rap :)
I wish I said “Yes, I am those things” because first and foremost — its real. Let’s talk about hip hop the culture, but not the boring stuff you heard on FOX news too. It doesn’t take a sociology major to tell you that hip hop can be sexist, violent and misogynistic. I’ll take it a step further — hip hop is often also xenophobic (I’ve heard tons of anti-immigrant lyrics, including against Indians specifically). With that in mind, why would I say I am something that actively discriminates against me?
It’s cause I feel like hip hop represents part of me. It goes back to what it did for me as a teen, when I felt like I belonged. There’s no greater joy than feeling represented. Lets say there’s another music culture out there that’s not xenophobic. I dunno if there is one, but lets say indie rock isn’t, just as an example. Even if its friendly, or respectful to me, I don’t care, I don’t FEEL represented by indie rock. No matter how nice the people in indie rock culture are, I could never feel like I belong.
You know what else I feel represents me? Indian culture. When I say, “I am Indian” where are the people who come up to me and be like, “Why would you say that? Do you really wanna be associated with sexism, religious violence and nationalist imperialism?”
Let’s take it back to the music. How about jazz? Does modern day jazz not have a disgusting racial history of stolen and miscredited music and culture? How about classical? How about its function as a cultural symbol in maintaining class-based and race-based social boundaries? Where are the judgments of people who listen to this music? Why aren’t these people ostracized and forced to defend and explain their memberships to these cultures constantly?
The question it keeps coming back to is this: Why is it ok to attack and single out hip hop?
Hip hop’s misogynistic themes are an easy target because it’s in your face, just how gender violence in India is an easy target because it’s in your face. Why is it in your face? Because hip hop and India are not as good at hiding the intricacies of their oppressive structures. These cultures, while both oppressive, have roots born out of oppression themselves.
Yes, we know it’s still wrong. And by listening to certain hip hop songs for example, I understand that I’m complicit in the propagation of sexist themes. But by understanding this, by being critical of this, I can impact my own culture from the inside. For example, I can support dope female rappers (hit me up for recommendations, still), I can purposefully omit certain words when I recite lyrics, and I can talk about these issues with other hip hop heads.
Check out this dope rapper right here.
I have a personal incentive to do this because it’s MY culture. I WANT it to improve and change with the times. It is a part of me and it always will be. I will take the good with the bad, and yes, I will love it, and still be critical of it.
I’m sure there are parts of you that you would like to improve, but does it help when other people come up to you and make you feel like shit for being those things? Nah.
If everyone just took a minute to focus on the improvements their own cultural identities have to make, there wouldn’t be so much shaming and outgrouping combined with some funky ass power dynamics. What’s more? People who belong to cultures that are better at hiding their oppressive nature (I’m talking to yall classical music listeners and upper-middle class), can put some effort towards being critical of their own damn social memberships and make some difficult change instead of pointing fingers and calling out what’s easy.
You wanna make the world a better place? Self-improvement is a surefire way to contribute to that isn’t it?
Leave the hip hop to the hip hop heads.
Originally published at gsharm8.tumblr.com.