This week, we learned via the New York Times that hip-hop culture is largely misunderstood. Columbia University assistant professor Miguel Munoz-Laboy told the Times that, after three years spent “studying” how people dance in hip-hop clubs, he now believes:“We need to try to see how youth understand their own culture without imposing our own adult judgments.”
Bakari Kitwana — according to the Times, the author of the “leading scholarly work” on rap’s ideological underpinnings — agrees with Munoz-Laboy: “Hip-hop is a generational phenomenon that has united young people. If that’s not understood, you’re going to miss a lot.” But perhaps Kitwana is the one missing a lot. Hip-hop may be a music variety that appeals to millions of young Americans’ tastes, but it surely doesn’t unite youth communities as much as it divides them.
Hip-hop does not, for instance, play a big role in the lives of most affluent kids, who may just listen to rap while traveling to and from school, or at weekend parties, or while playing sports. This group of young Americans does not see truth in hip-hop’s messages nor strive to emulate its “lifestyle” of (as the rap group N.W.A. once defined it) “nothin’ but bitches and money.”
Sadly, the same cannot be said of lots of poor, black kids. For these young Americans, hip-hop’s lyrics are too often real reflections of life; too often they come to embody goals, and aspirations. The public, to its immense discredit, is less honest than it should be about rap’s pernicious influence. Those who foist upon hip-hop a legitimacy it doesn’t deserve, act carelessly at best, and insidiously at worst.
Paeans to hip-hop’s supposed noble origins and message of black empowerment notwithstanding, the sensible person would be hard-pressed to find anything but discouragement in most rap libretto.