COLUMN: Hip-Hop and homeland security: The divide of anger

By George Ploss

Two worlds exist in America, one of the well-to-do and another of the struggling. There may be a middle class but there is no middle ground. In America, more than any other place on Earth, wealth seems so widespread and so bountiful hence what would pass for the upper class in many other nations passes for the middle class here in America.

Then there is the lower class, the struggling, and if ever there were an absence in homeland security, it is seen in the struggling; it is seen in the gritty roots of hip hop.

The music comes from a generation who feels betrayed by those who came before them. At best, they feel tolerated in schools, feared on the streets and destined to go the hell holes of prison. They grew up hungry, hated and unloved, which turns into the psychic fuel that generates the anger that is endemic in much of their music and poetry.

As heard in the violent and graphic lyrics of 2Pac and Biggie, they, along with countless others, are talented, intelligent musicians that represent an aspect of American life the country would rather ignore – the poor and the suffering. And in that aspect they sense very little hope above the personal goals of wealth to climb above the structural pit of poverty, an aspect that is often exploited, and in turn, the music’s original power and message get lost in the amalgam of capitalism which is why a common theme in hip-hop is money.

Then there is the broader society in which the exact opposite is true. The abundance of opulent wealth that is spread across the economic line makes the vast majority of well-to-do Americans insecure. Homeland security and color codes are a welcome calm to those who have everything to lose. Telling them to buy duct tape and plastic wrap creates the idea that the government is doing everything it can to protect the spine of the nation.

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To the hip-hop generation, homeland security is just a word that is as oxymoronic to them as The U.S. Department of Justice, military intelligence or government efficiency and these words have very little relationship to the reality that they reside.

Hip hop was born out of this divide. When you listen to the angry rhymes about death, drugs, police and prison, you see it. I’m not talking about the majority of what is shown on television, with popular rappers who plug into formulas that record execs push for three-comma sales. I’m digging beneath the surface to show people why the root this culture is violent. Poverty breeds violence and vice versa.

There is no homeland security on the streets of East St. Louis, 67th and Wolcott or 103rd street and Paxton in Chicago. And the music that is grown out of this culture is angry and violent. What should their goals be when living under the constant threat of death or jail? Unfortunately not everyone can pick themselves up by their bootstraps, a clich‚ that is as common as the idea that everyone in America can be rich and own a nice car.

These ideas have no truth to those who reside under the poverty line, which is why homeland security is a laughable phrase. Terrorism exists on a daily basis in these trenches of America, whether it is from the police, a neighbor or a crew holding down a corner. Color codes don’t matter when the world is gray. When someone rhymes about shooting, you don’t have to like it, there is a lot that I don’t like, but understand before you criticize that they are talking about the America we live in.

To those students here at the U of I who drove Land Rovers to New Trier Township High School, which I graduated from in 2002, your peers took three buses and a train to get to Julian High School, which my parents live around the corner from. And now we are all in the melting pot of higher learning. Understand where we come from and our outlook on the system that you depend on, on the system that has historically and continually disenfranchised us.

For every one of us who made it out, there are at least two who didn’t. One Love.