Notes on Hip Hop Conservatism
-- by General Baker, September 2006  

  We are not in the mid-90s anymore. We are in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s; ten years later. Popular music again reflects the ideas and conditions which make up the American people. The existence of the Dirty South, Crunk, Snap, etc. are new varieties of hip-hop which are representations of a collective will and a collective experience. It is not as simple as saying consent is manufactured, that folks are brainwashed, and that materialism and misogyny killed hip-hop.

I do not want to imply that I think independent hip-hop is invalid, but that the conservative values which coexists with the so-called "true" school, yet white underground is a hindrance to the progression of hip-hop.

If one critically attempts to examine the differences between a rapper like Los Angeles-based Murs and one like Keak Da Sneak, a Bay Area underground rapper, the only disparities are purely external; meaning Murs has a different social base of listeners as opposed to Keak, i.e. he is plugged into a medium of circulation; a constituency; a market which exists largely outside of Keak's.

Murs' medium of circulation is mostly white students of liberal arts and children of professionals, while Keak's is almost unanimously poor, black, unemployed or working-class. This is the irony of many hip-hop conservatives considering their Lefty politics. Another ironic factor is that both artists are underground; neither is contracted to large music monopolies. It is their social base which is different.

There are subtle nuances between Murs and Keak and between the black underground and the white underground of hip-hop music, but when one endeavors to elaborate fundamental differences, one is limited to making partial and superficial distinctions, e.g. Murs' beats are better, Murs does not wear gaudy jewelry or platinum grills, etc. So much of the hip-hop conservatism is based in the dubious content of lyrics, yet, as seen above, when urged to show that the white underground is not misogynistic, violent, drug-addicted, alcoholic, materialistic, they many times cannot.

Murs is just as misogynistic, just as gangsta as Keak. Madlib, an Oxnard, CA area producer/rapper has a song called "Money Hungry Bitches". Kool G Rap, a rapper from Queens, NY has an album body count which might constitute an entire city, which makes one hard-pressed to ascribe a real difference.

The difference many times is entrenched in a cloaked racism. The constituency of white hip-hoppers is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, guilt-ridden, and defensive when it comes to independent or popular black music. They do not understand it; they are not shaped by its social conditions, so they condemn it. They are haters. They have never spoken for the majority of white participants within hip-hop.

It is important here that we understand generalizing as a point of building a basis for dialogue. We cannot speak of absolutes because if we do, we have an inaccurate measure and arrive at a disingenuous conclusion. Murs has black listeners (I know several) just as Keak has white listeners (including the author of this piece), but it is important for us to investigate the general tendency among the folks who listen to the music so we can get a better grip on what is taking place in the minds of people and in the economic, political, and ideological forces which are determining their reality.

I am not dismissive of underground music, white or black, Atmosphere, a white rapper from the Midwest, or Brotha Lynch, Sacramento's death rap pioneer. I am critical of any idea which, while it may have a historical relevancy, efforts to dismiss any autonomous movement of creative expression, however ugly or violent it is.

We have the unique opportunity to explore hip-hop from a revolutionary framework. We have had enough maturity, enough regional manifestations, etc. to write the history of hip-hop as an indicator of where people are, how they think about themselves, and their vision for the world. We cannot do this with a set of ideas which consigns movements of hip-hop which are followed en masse to ignorance and stupidity. As a visionary hip-hop writer once said, we lack the ability to accept hip-hop on its own terms.

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