A critical eye on hip-hop from a critical hip-hop fan

By George Ploss

There seems to be a monopoly of ignorance when it comes to the poignant structure of mainstream hip-hop.

Hip-hop, an African-American culture that has grown from an ignored genre of fluid urban expression to an overexposed display of African-American joviality, misogyny, ignorance and materialism with an absence of musicianship, or so we think. This is the problem with the mainstream; it doesn’t represent the eclectic beauty that such a deep genre has. And in turn, the mainstream is often used to view the current climate of young Africa-America. Bad music then becomes a worldview of African-Americans, which is then used to reinforce negative stereotypes that is perpetuated in songs like Lil’ Scrappy’s “Money in the Bank” and Jim Jones’ “Ballin.”

Not to be confused with an attempt to gain white acceptance of African-American culture, this critique is an effort to explain how the music that saturates the airwaves is mere coonery and that it doesn’t deserve to be defended, just understood.

It’s a form of racial capitalism, capitalizing of the internal exploitation and bastardization of the depth of hip-hop, which is, unfortunately in this case, key in representing a generation.

These songs are undeniably stupid and they have their place: The club. We know the club isn’t the most socially conscious of venues and when people hear these songs, me included, they just bob their heads and dance. People say they don’t listen to the lyrics, and that may very well be the case for those who stake that claim. But those who don’t make this claim incorporate these popular songs into their understanding of what hip-hop is and their view is then molded to what this music represents: African-Americans. I get tired when white people, some jokingly, ask me “Why do black people like ‘spinners’ so much?” I tell them “I don’t know, I don’t have spinners on my Jetta, and I’m black.”

The four foundational elements of hip-hop are the DJ, break-dancing, graffiti and the MC – not spinners, champagne, grills or strippers. And only two of these foundational elements are evident in the mainstream.

“I learned very quickly that one can become obsolete as a DJ if you completely ignore the new for the comfort of the old … or ignore the commercial for the non-commercial. The key is to mix it up. My goal is to make folks dance and have fun in the space where I am currently playing music,” said DJ Delaney, the quintessential DJ of the Champaign-Urbana hip hop community.

“Let’s face it; a lot of musically immature tracks are just plain fun. Even the hardcore music-heads and haters of all things commercial, which I can often be, find ourselves in a club and unconsciously bouncing at the first drop of some commercial beat that we try so hard to dislike. Then when the conscious kicks in its like ‘Hey hey hey … I can’t move to this … I must stop now’!” said Delaney.

As Delaney said, with fluent succinctness, he walks the line of loving the music itself and being frustrated with the permeating hip-hop worldview albeit still making people move, and charging a premium price at the door. From the rapper’s perspective, it dwells more so on the idea of racial capitalism.

Former album critic for the Pulse Newspaper at SIUC and former critic for PSI Radio.com, Jonathan Gandy stated, “Everybody is looking for a formula, and no one wants to invent a new formula. It’s maximum effort with minimum thought, all you have to do is put effort into following the stereotype, similar to stereotypes and TV. Stereotypes are a formula, a shortcut into reality. There is a negative stigmatism of black people and people don’t want to go outside that box. Amos & Andy were minstrel acts, and at that time it was believable that all black people were like them, and the same thing has manifested in mainstream hip-hop. Everyone is following this new minstrel formula and so mainstream hip-hop is the new minstrel show.”

Mainstream hip-hop is exactly that, a minstrel show. The effects of that will continue and grow, along with the lack of negritude for the majority of black people who listen to it. Even with artists like Little Brother dropping their second album, “The Minstrel Show” in an attempt to combat this powerful imagery, it seems like this ignorance in the form of rap comes a dime a dozen. One Love.