If the Music Stopped -- by Dale Coachman, August 2006
It's 12:09am and I have just finished watching When the Levees Broke which was directed by Spike Lee. I guess what shocked me the most was the way that the film unfolded reminded me of the enslavement era.
A part of me does not want to believe that this was the government's intent i.e. FEMA, the Bush administration, Mayor Neagin, and the host of elected officials representing New Orleans, but it seemed more and more like the Atlantic Slave Trade. As a 26 year old I have seen the Eiffel Tower, slave castles in Ghana with doors that were referred to as the point of no return, the Grand Canyon, and the mountains of Austria in all its beauty and rare essence. I have never witnessed such beauty be destroyed by what the film labeled man made mistakes.
What also stayed with me throughout the film, besides the many individuals stories that were told, was the music. How important the music was to the culture of the predominantly Black communities of New Orleans. Their culture is deeply rooted in sound and rhythm, and when Katrina arrived it knocked everything out. I say all this to say what if their was a type of hurricane Katrina that came and wiped out Jay-Z, Nas, the Roots, E-40, Kanye West, Common, Wu-Tang, Redman, A Tribe Called Quest, Boot Camp Clik, De La Soul, Snoop, 50 Cent, Scarface, Outkast, Goodie Mob... and the list could go on and on, and the next morning when you woke up you had no music, no CDs, vinyl, or cassettes to play. What would you do? What would get you through the day? What would wake you up in the morning? What would stop you from killing someone? What would stop you from killing yourself? What would stop you from taking Zanex everyday to stay calm and not over react?
Similar to the levees that broke if hip-hop does not resurrect into a more balanced art form that produces quality music and profits because artists have to pay bills just like engineers and lawyers, hip-hop will have no face, and listeners and fans of true hip-hop will fade away with the spirit of where hip-hop came from, as did the spirit of New Orleans.
Hip-hop culture and rap music are truly in a state of an identity crisis. I apologize but in a time of need my stunna shades, a Grammy, a chain, how my shoulder leans, or what city I'm from will not mean anything. When I look at the hip-hop artists, this has to be the first generation of music that has created a sound and has written or free-styled lyrics that has nothing to do with the current issues that the communities of color are facing. No-one wants to discuss Katrina, Bush, the fact that there are still liquor stores on all the corner of every ghetto Ville nationwide, and why 65% of all prisoners are people of color, or the failing education system. I understand that every artist's has their lane and they drive full steam but why does it seem like more lanes in hip-hop are being made for the same redundant themes. As a result there is only room for a Dead Prez, Common and maybe the Roots, but there is plenty of room for D4L, Lil Jon, Paul Wall, E-40, Lil' Scrappy, Three 6 Mafia, Young Jeezy, and Young Joc, whom if you put on a compilation album all would say and sound the same.
My point is Katrina in hip-hop is at a category 2 but when real artists call it quits, what will hip-hop sound like? A lot of these "artists" that sound like Young Joc are getting deals left and right but the artist that sounds like the next Public Enemy or Dead Prez has to kick down the door to make their presence felt.
Hip-hop lacks reality and talks with a sense of escapism, it's like artists don't want to deal with the issues, and please just because an artist can paint a picture of what their hood looks like does not mean they are dealing with the issues, the reality they are glorifying the issues. So when videos are shown like Busta Rhymes' current, In the Ghetto, people of color are seen as if they are enjoying their current state when the reality is they are surviving and a lot of people today smile to keep from crying.
So you tell me if hip-hop lost Black Thought, Nas, the Procussions, M-1, Common, De La Soul, Mos Def, AZ, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, Little Brother and producers like DJ Premier, Madlib, and Pete Rock, and of course already losing possibly the greatest hip-hop producer of all time in James Yancey aka J. Dilla, what will Hip-hop look, sound, and feel like? Will it look like Katrina just came through or will it look like Krush Groove?
The importance of hip-hop music to our generation, my generation has become more relevant and made more of an impact on our youth than any other mass media outlet period. So before another artist gets in a booth or on a tour bus, ask yourself what are you saying and who is it affecting? Just because you finally got that Range Rover and brought your mother out the hood, is your life and community that much better for it?