A Reflection on Hip Hop Past and Future -- by Dru Hepkins, October 2006
The spirit of Hip hop was definitely present at the Power House Arena for the "No Sleep 'till Brooklyn" Retrospective. There were pictures of old school rap artists, old Hip hop culture and street life adorned all over the high walls from top to bottom.
There were graffiti and legendary graffiti artists in attendance. There were break dancers doing their thing right in front of the DJ platform. And the DJ---that just happened to be the Legendary DJ Red Alert with Just Blaze.
The place was totally packed with a very diverse crowd for the entire duration. In fact, it might have been a predominantly Caucasian crowd. The place served beer, water and wine as the art lovers and Hip hop fans paced and mingled as old school Hip hop played in the background. The crowd was funky, eccentric and for lack of a better term, "artsy".
Walking through the gallery there were compelling pictures, including a 1988 picture of female emcees including MC Lyte and Ms. Melody. It was very interesting to a look at a time capsule gathering of female rap artists then, in comparison to what the equivalent would be today. In the 1988 picture, everyone was fully clothed with not too much make up. A lot of the rappers were heavy and some were a little rugged looking. Nowadays you can expect to see the opposite: a lot of make up, glam and a lot less clothes.
There were also a lot of pictures of stores, people and artists from the 70's and early 80's, when Hip hop was young and for the most part---broke.
The high point of the night for me was talking to Power 105's Kool DJ Red Alert and to one of the pioneers of the Grafitti art; a man by the name of Straight Man aka Lava 1&2. I could see and feel the pride emanating from a man who saw a childhood misdemeanor and recreation once seen as vandalism now acclaimed internationally as an art form.
Straight Man started writing in 1969 and stopped in 1976. "I still tag to this day, but now I mostly do murals. I stopped writing on the trains in '76.", recalls the Pioneer. Straight Man has work at 5 Points in Long Island City, Queens, The Hall of Fame Wall at 106 and Park, and many more famous spots in the boroughs of NYC. When asked about the evolution of grafitti from vandalism to a respected art form with international significance he stated, "…Back then they thought of it as vandalism which it was. But they looked at it like we were, you know---just fucking shit up. But now its looked at as an art form. And that's when it started to blend into Hip hop. I started to do layouts for albums and flyers for Hip hop events and stuff like that."
As Hip hop culture continues to explode into mainstream reception, there are still underlying issues with Hip hop itself. The spirit of Hip hop is dying by the hand of its own popularity and mainstream appeal. Unlike a lot of the artists, DJ's and performers I saw on the walls of The Powerhouse Arena, cats nowadays are trying to get into the game primarily for the paper chase. I noticed that a lot of the pioneering rap artists looked cool for their time, but not in a way that they were flashing money. They had a B boy street look that somehow evolved into wearing overly baggy designer clothes and sometimes suits while wearing a million dollars around your neck, ears and teeth. Hip hop is full of gimmicks, ghetto redundancies, stupid catchy hooks over generic beats designed to make you dance, among a million other music atrocities. Hip hop is uninspired and so image oriented that it's losing its magic at a fast rate. To borrow the words of one of our esteemed Hip hop "poets" of today Young Joc, "It's going down…best believe it's going down."
In addition to all the foolishness, deficiency of real talent, and industry corruption, rap artists now aren't just battling lyrically, there are more rumors of gun play than battle records. I'm not even sure if we should be calling a lot of the riffraff coming through the gates these days "artists". Some are simply gangsters, some are business men, some are clowns selling a personality, and some opportunists, but probably not artists at all.
Events like the "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn" retrospective at The Power House Arena definitely put things in focus for a moment. People who love Hip hop create ways to honor it. In doing so, we're forced to look at what it was and where its going. As for the future of Hip hop, who knows for sure. I think it's more than appropriate to end this recap of a Hip hop themed event with a message from one of the pioneers in the game. After a very motivating conversation, DJ Red Alert left me with a message to all up and coming artists in the game: "Stay true to yourself. Do not do it for the money, do it for the talent and do it from the heart." DJ Red Alert's powerful advice would definitely reward an adherent with things money alone can't give someone. If nothing else, the "No Sleep 'till Brooklyn" retrospective showed that there are so many people still holding on to the best and purest things about real Hip hop.