Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Hip and the Hop

Right from the beginning, I never liked hip-hop: the breakdancing, the clothing, the graffiti "art," the music and its "poetry," the sideways ball cap attitude. It seemed vain and meaningless to me, rebellion for the sake of rebellion.Before I could let things settle in my mind, the music and song became nothing but (to me) shouts and epithets about crime, sex, violence, and gangsterism. What's more, the practitioners seemed to live it out in the media.

My attitude and acceptance are changing.

It began with an East Coast artist who calls himself Buck 65. I heard him on the radio one day and his lyrics, though delivered in true rap style, made sense in a way the rap and hip-hop thing never had before. But, I figured, that's just an abberation. Then at the Skydragon Mayday celebration a group calling themselves "Rhyme Travellers" performed on the stage and I got the whole thing live and in my face.
Four guys swapping rhymes among each other on stage, an easily discernable line of protest running through their words and their actions. Movement, language, attitude, all carefully orchestrated into an almost flawless presentation over a prerecorded rhythm track. It was more than enough to send me to find out what hip hop, rap, etc. was really all about.
A little research: hip hop as develloped among black urban youth has much of the same basis as Dub poetry from Jamaica; that began when DJs would rhyme their own words (dub) over the B sides, usually instrumental versions, of popular reggae songs. Take away the music but leave the rhythm and rhyme, especially when it has been taken away from extemporaneous and become finely honed set pieces. You have an accepted and understandable form of poetry that is immediate and vernacular.

So American black youth appropriated rhythm and rhyme for their own use, their own manner of expression, and built a culture around it. Sometimes money and ego cary it too far and produce that over-evident "gangsta" facade. But I believe in the poetry. I believe in the protest. I believe that hip hop is in some way a part of every artist in any medium.
With the beat in my blood and the rhymes in my mouth and the cry for justice in my heart, I too am a part of hip hop.

No comments: