Hip-hop isn't dead, it's just lost in translation

By Campus Community

Westenley Alcenat
Contemporary popular hip-hop has masked its old-school predecessor with a veil that covers the originality of hip-hop while thwarting its representation. The musical genre that ought to represent hip-hop—rap music—has been appropriated by mass media and has evolved into a marketing tool. Hip-hop is buried underneath debris of filthy messages with no importance to the movement that created it. Hip-hop in the mainstream “is” unconventionally dead, but hip-hop “was” a grassroots movement founded to expose and resist the inequalities imposed on blacks and minorities alike in the inner cities, express anger towards the injustices that were and are still occurring there, and eventually promote solidarity that not only elevates the communities thereof but make their voices audible in the political realm of America. This essence of hip-hop is why it became a supranational art—transcending its birthplace in the New York boroughs—in which the socioeconomic struggles of the working class and the proletariats are united through the lyrical expression of rap music.
My suggestion that hip-hop is dead is rooted in the evidence of its rapid moral decline in the early 21st century. The messages found in hip-hop are sugarcoated under propagandistic messages that are incongruous to the struggle of elevating poor and working class communities. Contemporary lyricists of rap hail female prostitution as a tolerable objectification of women and uphold notions of male subjectivity over women; in other words, sexism is a legitimate form of discrimination by men. Young black men are taught to live and die by the gun, chase money and pussy by any means available, and adapt to the state of ghetto life, wherein they eventually become victim to their own erection. The lyrics are propagated to undervalue women, and their metaphors are brought to life in music videos. Images of gratuitous sex, in which the vision is sculpted by the hands of men, dominate the screens of MTV and BET, exposing and communicating stereotypes of women (black women in particular) as simply body parts, thus denying them individuality and humanity. Moreover, the objectification of women is in itself a message equated to that of material wealth—promoting hyper masculinity through money grabbing, pussy chasing, and big houses and cars. Consider for example rap artist the Game: when asked about his lyric ‘I fuck a different bitch seven days a week’, he replied “I don’t rap about false realities.” In sum, the popular messages of rap are underlined by a broad message that I call its Holy Trinity: Sex, Money, and Power.
The Holy Trinity of rap is the very essence of hip-hop’s death in the mainstream, for it constitutes a problem of mistranslation, and over exposure of wrongful messages. Therefore I imply death not to suggest that hip-hop is forever buried under the messages of popular rap but to indicate the extent to which the hip-hop that was—a manifestation of racial inequality and structural violence—is lost in the translation of popular rap music—sexploitation, money, and power. My logical inference is that the hip-hop movement is misconstrued and concealed under the cloak of misogyny, hyper masculinity, and material wealth. These messages conflict with reality and promote life in the ghetto as endurably normal. This contradicts with the progress of young black men and women whose simulation of these messages have resulted into pervasive societal norms as they kill one another, raise one another as children bear children, and seek to outgrow their youth by chasing power through material wealth. In effect, these messages create a disregard for education, thereby slowing upward mobility and perpetuating more social inequalities in black communities.
There’s a saying that says “men are the products of their surroundings.” It is in this manner that I perceive the internal problems that are forged in the communities of black youths as they internalize the destructive messages of their older peers in the media. Black youths’ disregard of education and participation in crime has largely become endemic as a result of the messages of popular hip-hop. Although there are many forces at play, I hold many rap artists—some of whom are now among the wealthiest Americans—accountable for a great deal of the social problems that are scourging black communities. For example, Fifty-Cent’s message of “hood life” do not reflect the social conditions of his current neighborhood in Connecticut, where he resides in a $4.5 million mansion and where he is removed from the violent poverties of the New York urban areas that he continues to portray as his reality. Such hypocrisy is detrimental to the education of black youths. Blacks like him are partially responsible for the innate problems of social violence in black urban neighborhoods.

Some readers may hold my comments outrageous, but they’re not unfounded. To be brutally honest, I only seek to expose the truth as I see it. Therefore if popular rap “ain’t spitting” lyrical wisdom fit to uplift our youths (black youths in particular) it deserves my reprobation. I am as much a frequent listener of popular rap as I am a critic of it. Therefore, I do not wish to exempt myself from its fan base. My very love for rap music and the struggle attached to it is the essence of my criticism. However, I thirst for something greater within hip-hop other than messages of gratuitous sex, money and power.
In his highly anticipated album Hip-Hop is Dead, Nas challenges his counterparts to “pray [that] hip-hop stays” and lyrically laments its decline by saying “I pray hip-hop lives.” I too lament hip-hop and pray that it lives on. But I contend that it must undergo reincarnation through death of its mainstream media and reemerge from the ashes of its reified form—the Holy Trinity—to reemploy its grassroots nature. Therefore hip-hop may appear to be dead but is only lost in translation. I am highly optimistic that hip-hop will never die so long as we confront those who seek to distort the premise of its foundation.