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Birth of a Nation

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

By Kevin Britton · November 29th, 2006 · The Ledge
C. Matthew Hamby

"Nation: A people who share common customs, origins, history, and frequently language"

-- American Heritage Dictionary

Though DJ/producer Eric B. was never really elected president, imagine for a moment that Public Enemy frontman/lyricist Chuck D had launched a campaign to become the first duly elected Chief Executive of the Hip Hop Nation.

He'd certainly have my vote. And, before you ask, Flav would not be tapped as Mistachuck's running mate.

But based on the threat that a President Chuck D would pose to the media and music industry infrastructure, I would imagine that such an election process within the Hip Hop community would be as ferocious as what we just witnessed across the nation leading up to the midterm elections earlier this month.

Talk about drive-by advertising.

But within the ranks of the Hip Hop nation, there are interest groups that compete for national attention (in the form of record sales and media share). To equate these factions to the larger body politic's traditional conservative- and liberal-leaning factions would prove cumbersome, although there are similar distinctions based upon varying degrees of community activism vs. big business interests.

For instance, it would not be surprising to find that progressive-leaning pundits Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, and Jean Grae would align themselves with Chuck D's "It Takes a Nation of Millions" agenda.

The Blastmaster KRS-One could serve as Chuck's spiritual advisor while dead prez and Immortal Technique -- perceived by some as a tad too outspoken for even this campaign -- might serve as powerful political consultants and grassroots organizers.

Meanwhile, Fitty, Cam'ron, Rick Ross and Jeezy -- part of the Hip Hop nation's testosterone-fueled, economically motivated (yet hardly conservative) "Mo Money" party -- aggressively campaign for the man they'd like to represent their camp: the charismatic and wealthy Sean Combs.

But the true balance of power exists with independent, moderate Senatorial candidates (and former enemies) Nasir Jones and Sean Carter -- powerful swing voters who are able to balance the hardcore interests of the streets with the quest for substance and authenticity within the culture.

And let's not forget about Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Red Man who, known for their fascination with horticulture, remain staunch supporters of the, er, Green Party.

The parallels between the politics of this Hip Hop nation and America's political landscape are not that farfetched. Over the last several months, numerous political candidates peppered their campaign speeches with grandiose, cautionary tales about how far we have drifted from the aims of "our founding fathers."

Similarly, the same could be said for Hip Hop culture. How far have we detoured from the original sound, feel and spirit of early Hip Hop culture?

Now, most mainstream Rap artists continue to operate under the convenient "I'm not a role model" paradigm, contending that their music is no more than a vehicle of entertainment. Somehow, they've missed the fact that underage sexual activity, violence and drug use continue to be recurring themes in our communities. "Stick up kids, crooked cops and crack rocks" reign supreme as low-slung chains and ring tones become the new symbols of the movement.

Meanwhile Hip Hop's progressives -- who recognize a much deeper connection between a generation's music and its values -- struggle to bring soul, substance and meaning back to the art form.

Even bright-eyed newcomers like Chicago's Lupe Fiasco (Hip Hop's Barack Obama?) somehow manage to hack through the nearly impenetrable system; yet his message of redemption and self-awareness is lost on those who need it the most.

The difference between this marginally plausible scene and the actual politics of our nation is that all of us -- irrespective of age, income or the ability to find the correct voting precinct -- can effortlessly cast our votes for the Hip Hop nation at the record stores and on the radio dial by making responsible, intelligent and informed media decisions.

However, just like society at large, enough is apparently not enough. At least not yet.

When we grow tired of the fact that 80 percent of our Rap videos look more like LDN (The Lap Dance Network) infomercials, we'll begin to think critically about which corporate entities control the majority of media outlets that continue to numb the minds of our children. After all, in the end, is it really about the music?

As current history has shown us, nationhood is not something that occurs overnight. A Chuck D or similarly politically-minded Hip Hop artist would face a vicious, uphill battle trying to dismantle the stranglehold that big business holds while trying to unify a fragmented Hip Hop nation.

But without a true balance of power and opportunity for all voices to be heard, any nation is bound to fall. Just turn on the nightly news or video countdown and you'll see what I mean.

I'm Kevin Britton and I approve this message.

5 on theledge
"The Rapeover" by Mos Def Dante Smith's blistering indictment of the backroom dealings within the record industry is a must-hear track from his A New Danger LP.

"Peruvian Cocaine" by Immortal Technique Ever wondered how technology enables us to do just about anything under the sun except stop the importation of drugs into the U.S.? Immortal Tech might have the answer.

"Blak Iz Blak" by the Mau Maus Mos Def, Canibus, MC Serch, Charlie Baltimore and others bring the noise in this Pan-African anthem from Spike Lee's Bamboozled soundtrack.

"Memorial Day" by The Perceptionists This under-the-radar trio from Boston challenges the status quo about weapons of mass destruction and other important issues facing Americans today.

"Brothers Gonna Work It Out" by Public Enemy Back in '95, Chuck was already promising to "teach a man how to be a father, to never tell a woman he can't bother." Is anyone listening?



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