“We have, I’m happy to say, a lot of voices out there ...”
— Sen. John McCain, when asked who’s running the Republican Party
Call me crazy, but lately I’ve been thinking that Hip Hop has more in common with the Republican Party — more specifically, the much discussed “Far Right” — than we might ever have imagined.
Here’s what I mean: For years, what Hip Hop is and isn’t has been the topic of intense debate.
Mainstream media outlets are dominated by simplistic, hook-driven Rap music while guest appearances, collaborations, mash-ups and remixes are so common that it’s difficult to know whether you’re listening to Rap, Pop, Folk, Electronica or some confluence of all the above.
And more recently, the emerging Hipster (or Blipster, for Black Hipster) sub-culture has been generating interest among Hip Hop observers and critics. Apparently, those who are assigned (yet often reject) the Hipster label gravitate toward obscure music, skateboards, form-fitting jeans, Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, quirky novelty T-shirts (like with Sonic the Hedgehog) and Mohawk haircuts.
In other words, the cultural offspring of producer/rapper/fashion designer Kanye West.
The Far Right is suffering a similar identity crisis. According to a recent USA Today/Gallop poll, about 52 percent of Americans could not identify who officially spoke for the Republican Party. And according to the same pollsters, even fewer said they held a favorable view of their own party.
But the similarities don’t end there.
In Hip Hop, there’s constant saber-rattling, bickering and infighting — some of it lethal. In urban parlance, we call this beef.
Though I don’t imagine we’ll ever see an official East Coast vs. West Coast feud within the GOP, there are palpable tensions and power plays between Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and … well, you get the picture.
Hip Hop, in recent years, is largely, if not inaccurately, defined by what gets played on the radio. The majority of urban radio-friendly music consists of mindless chatter about who did what to whom and how well they did it. This oversaturation of triteness and negative messages has a potentially dumbing-down effect on fans who continually subject themselves to the music. Many critics now argue that presentday urban radio programming contains little to contribute to intelligent, meaningful discourse.
The Far Right, some would argue, is also defined solely by what is heard on the airwaves. A scan across the AM dial is proof that conservative talking points are handed down from the nationally-syndicated shows to the local talking heads. It would take little more than five minutes before the words “socialist” or “appeaser” — or worse — are cast about, referring, of course, to the current administration. You guessed it: little to contribute to intelligent, meaningful discourse.
And finally, Hip Hop is often associated with lots of bouncing and jiggling. For years, lyrical content has taken a back seat (pun intended) to the gyrations of shapely, barely-clothed models in BET and MTV Hip Hop videos.
Where The Far Right is concerned, those who saw the GOP’s de facto leader Rush Limbaugh (of “I hope Obama fails” fame) deliver his keynote address in early 2009 at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) might have noticed lots of, well, bouncing and jiggling. (For the record, the video models look much better.)
But most importantly, advocates and constituents of Hip Hop and The Far Right would agree that both camps are struggling to redefine themselves, as well as who (or what) they represent.
The continued mainstreaming of Hip Hop has become so prevalent that for many purists, only the music performed by the outliers (think: Tanya Morgan, Lupe Fiasco, The Cool Kids, Jay Electronica, Guilty Simpson) has that sound we associate with “true and authentic” Hip Hop culture. This polarizing effect means that what’s left over — simplistic, hook-driven music — becomes comfortably interwoven into the fabric of popular culture.
With The Far Right, many of those once considered conservative have moved toward the middle, leaving only fear mongering pundits, extremists and advocates of the failure of our new president as the most visible and vocal representatives of the Post-Obama ultraconservative movement.
The good news is that for Hip Hop, there’s always room for a new leader to emerge. With the right combination of lyrical prowess, production, image and marketing, the successor to Hip Hop’s seemingly vacant throne will be perfectly positioned to take the culture to the next level.
However, I’m not so sure the formula is that simple for The Far Right, and it’s going to take much more than a pretty face. Good luck. We’ll be watching … and waiting.