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Posted Aug 11th, 2015 (6:43 pm) by Lucy Xiong
Image by Derek Duoba

Hip hop's re-invigoration is not only adding fuel to the game, but to today's civil rights movement.

The late and inarguably great A$AP Yams called 2014 the worst year in hip-hop. Fans have been going on for years about how great the 90s were, and how hip-hop has been dead ever since. It's been so dead, we let Iggy Azalea happen. However, ever since Drake dropped Thank Me Later and Kendrick Lamar dropped good Kid, m.A.A.d city, hip-hop seemed to start breathing again. Just as 2014 started to feel like a relapse into dry crap, J. Cole dropped 2014 Forest Hills Drive and Run the Jewels came with Run The Jewels 2 right as Ferguson was rising up. Then 2015 opened with Joey Bada$$' B4.DA.$$ followed by Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late, which just went platinum. Then, To Pimp A Butterfly dropped and brought hip-hop's heartbeat and soul back with it's bass line and poetry. This re-invigoration has only continued to be confirmed by game-changing albums like At.Long.Last.A$AP, Summertime '06, and the litany of quality albums being dropped by hip-hop veterans like Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Raekwon, and so many more.

Tricia Rose articulated the heartache hip-hop disciples have been feeling since it was taken out of the streets and made into a multi-billion dollar commercial industry with the first lines of her 2008 book, "Hip Hop Wars," by saying, “Hip Hop is not dead, but it is gravely ill. The beauty and life force of hip hop have been squeezed out, wrung nearly dry by the compounding factors of commercialism, distorted racial and sexual fantasy, oppression, and alienation." What had once been a community-based expressive outlet for marginalized black youth was molded into an entertainment industry focused on exploiting the art form’s popularity for profit. The hip-hop world, born from resistance, love, creativity, and affirmation, became a large-scale advertising campaign for glorifying violence, worshiping material wealth, and objectifying women.

Today, artists like Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Azealia Banks, Joey Bada$$, Rapsody, Chance The Rapper, and many more, are making music about resistance, love, affirmation, and creativity again. Hip hop is finally walking out of the clubs and back into the streets just in time for the growing BlackLIvesMatter movement. Just a few weeks ago, activists chanted Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” at a BlackLivesMatter conference in response to police harassment:

Artists like Joey Bada$$ and Wale are not only speaking out on issues of racialized violence and disenfranchisement in their music, but also showing their support by being present at marches.

However, what might be the most hopeful element is that artists are really carrying forth the BlackLoveMatters movement by providing creative soul food that helps people heal, endure burnout, and keep the momentum necessary for trans-formative change going. For example, J.Cole’s “Be Free” during the Mike Brown and Eric Garner non-indictments:

After marching on streets for hours, being eternally plugged into the violence against people of color, and facing the immensity of the struggle for the recognition of POC humanity — moments like this remind us that we are not alone in the fight; we are supported, loved, and seen. Hip-hop’s politicization has and is spreading throughout music, and we are seeing its effects throughout national and global conversations.

Still, it is crucial when talking about the strides hip-hop has made forward to also talk about the areas it’s stayed static. Hip-hop still has a huge misogyny problem that is both violent and most often directed at black women. There are not enough MCs talking about Black Women's Lives like Rapsody in “Hard To Choose”:

“When you look in the crowd the minority's never white
I appreciate y'all, but I'm lying if it don't bite
Cause I love all races but we gotta raise 'em
Cause I know the scale tipped ain't in no black girl's favor”

Over and over again, the labor of black women and women of color everywhere gets erased alongside their humanity. The Black Lives Matters movement was lead by black women. The hashtag was started by Alicia Garza, the Millions March in NYC was organized by Synead Nichols and Umaara Iynaas Elliott, and yet we seem to be significantly less concerned with the lives of women of color, especially trans WOMEN of color. If hip-hop really speaks for anti-racist movements, then it needs to remember to Say Her Name and stop overlooking violence against women in order to commend efforts in reasserting the humanity of black men.

Hip-hop is breaking out of the entertainment box and re-politicizing itself in a way that is expanding the influence of the cultural sphere and we should definitely be paying attention. There was a time before binding record label contracts and monopolies on music distribution where hip-hop artists were very much a part of the momentum of social movements and public discourse — 2015 is proving itself to be a substantial return and evolution of that energy. We can all hold off on writing hip-hop's obituary— it is very much alive and thriving.

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