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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Failure of Hip Hop Journalism

The Failure of Hip Hop Journalism:
Rewritin' Hip Hop History

Paul Scott

To hear some Hip Hop journalists tell it, there was a time when Hip Hop
magazines were the vanguard of the Revolution. Not since David Walker's
"Appeal" were there such powerful writings that shook the foundations
of the system. Some believe that if it wasn't for Hip Hop journalists ,
slavery would have been back in effect after the Reagan administration.

However, contrary to popular belief, the Source was never "The Negro
World" nor was XXL ever the "The Messenger."

This is not to say that Hip Hop magazines have not had their shining moments.
XXL's first couple of issues showed promise that something new might have
been on the horizon and the Source did give the early conscious rappers a voice
in its early years. But that had more to do with the fact that Hip Hop, itself,
was going through a brief conscious era more so than the Source shaping the
direction of Hip Hop. The writers were merely reporting what was happening in
Hip Hop not plotting a new "vanglorious" course.

Today the Source does have a few interesting articles especially in its
"Ear to the Street" section, however, this is an exception to the
rule. For the most part Hip Hop journalists give the same rehashed stories over
and over again regarding beefs, street credibility and the obligatory paragraph
about a rappers love for weed.

The goal of Hip Hop magazines has and always will be to sell subscriptions, not
to lead black folks to the promised land. For the most part, the mission of Hip
Hop journalists has been to give pseudo black culture to mainstream America in
small doses at a time.

In other words, the cat who buys a Hip Hop magazine in 2009, is the same dude
who bought that Alfonso Ribeiro "Learn How to Breakdance" book back
in the day.

This is not to say that the writers of 20 years ago were any different than
most Hip Hop artists whose end game strategy was to gain acceptance by the
mainstream and to prove once and for all that rappers were people, too.

To suggest that there was ever a period when Hip Hop journalists/artists ever
consistently put fighting the power before fighting for profit is a myth that
has been repeated so much that it has become part of the official Hip Hop canon.
Of course, there were some writers who used their skills as tools to empower
the masses. Even today a few still exist such as Davey D and Rosa Clemente,
however they have found ways to move the crowd , mostly, outside of mainstream
avenues. Also, there are a few Hip Hop artists who have used the art to deliver
political commentary to the streets such as Pittsburgh's Jasiri X.

While some would write about "The Poor Righteous Teachers," back in
tha day, few wanted to be one, as assimilation into the mainstream was more
lucrative. This is the true side of Hip Hop journalism that few want to discuss,
therefore we become victims of historical amnesia.

Hip Hop history becomes problematic when, like the rest of American history it
becomes revisionist. Those who are entrusted to record historical events tend to
give themselves or their causes greater roles than they actually deserve.
Therefore, many who see as their crusade to return Hip Hop back to a
"Golden Age" are trying to time travel back to an age that never
really existed to that degree.

If we are ,truly, trying to move Hip Hop forward, we must first dispel the
myths of the past.

First of all, Hip Hop journalism has never been revolutionary in and of itself.
We must remember, as much as we try to extend the time period, out of the almost
30 years since Hip Hop was first put on wax, the period of "conscious Hip
Hop" was relatively short, barely lasting four years. What ever conscious
Hip Hop of that era was, it was not able to engage itself in a protracted
struggle against the powers that be. At best the writers did the best they could
to enlighten the masses within the narrow confines imposed on them by those who
had a vested interest in keeping young urban America in the dark.

While some writers consider themselves "underground Hip Hop
journalists" they face the same contradictions as underground Hip Hop
artists. As Huey P Newton said "movements are driven underground"
through some form of political repression. The writings of true revolutionaries
are quickly labeled as contraband by the oppressors, therefore you would not be
able to buy them for $4.99 at your local grocery store.

We must also remember that conscious Hip Hop began to lose it's
"pro-blackness," as soon as it began to gain acceptance by the
mainstream. What could have been a force to teach unadulterated black
history/culture to the youth soon became just another way for white kids to live
the hood life vicariously through Hip Hop. They could drink of the rivers of
blackness without experiencing the after taste. Although, we may wax nostalgic
about the pro-blackness of the Hip Hop journalists during '88-92, just like
the writers of the Harlem Renaissance , they were never allowed to reach their
full potentials because of the influences of outside forces. (Read "Crisis
of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse.)

Despite all the new prognostications of Hip Hop journalism's sudden growth
spurt into collective maturity since the last election, it still is well below
the intellectual level that it should have reached during its 20 years of
existence . While some refer to the shallowness of today's Soulja Boy -esque
Hip Hop as ring tone music, today's Hip Hop writings can be best described
as "text message journalism." Thus, it has not evolved much from where
it was two decades ago,

Out of all the things Hip Hop magazines coulda/shoulda done to advance the
culture, their crowning achievement was promoting the East Coast/West Coast

If Hip Hop is to move forward the scribes must see the past as its was and not
through rose colored Gazelles

As the saying goes, "those who don't learn their history are bound to
repeat it."