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Music: Escaping the Hip-Hop Matrix

Hip-Hop artists today can choose their own destiny, but material influence is often overwhelming

By Kevin Britton · May 14th, 2003 · Music

"People think that the American military is our strongest weapon and influence. It's not. It's our media."
-- Spike Lee

The Hip-Hop Matrix is everywhere.

If you're familiar with the 1999 blockbuster feature film The Matrix and its long anticipated sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, then you will undoubtedly recall the deeply philosophical and imaginative premise: a dark, barren world where humans are harvested and enslaved in order to provide energy for their captors (in this case, a race of intelligent machines). This "real world" is veiled by the Matrix -- a computer program manufactured for the purpose of lulling unsuspecting humans into servitude. The film's protagonists (lead by Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne) are a part of a small, underground band of techno-pirates who hack into the Matrix in an attempt to liberate the minds of the human race.

Note my emphasis on the word underground. You probably know where I'm headed with this.

What if there really were a make-believe world created for the express purpose of hiding the truth from the masses? Let's say this make-believe world -- or Matrix -- extended to the world of Hip-Hop music and culture with its ultra-expensive fashions, customized cars, jewels and scantily clad video models? What would happen if a young, intelligent Hip-Hop artist new to the business suspected that something just wasn't quite right about recording song after song about drive-bys (actual or imagined), drug deals or the circumference of the rims on his customized Escalade?

Suppose our artist embarked on a pilgrimage to break bread with a seasoned, old-school Hip-Hop legend and discuss his lingering uneasiness with the state of the business -- despite the millions he could potentially earn from recording mediocre, radio-friendly Rap songs? What if their conversation went something like this?

Old-School Rapper: I know exactly why you're here.

You know something. What you know you can't explain. You sense that there's something wrong with the Hip-Hop industry. Do you know what I'm talking about?

New-School Rapper: I think so. The Hip-Hop Matrix?

Old-School Rapper: True indeed. The Hip-Hop Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television -- especially if it's tuned to BET between 3 and 8 p.m. weekdays. You can feel it when you go to the clubs, when you drive in your car, and when you go to the mall. It is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes and ears to shield you from the truth.

New-School Rapper: What truth?

Old-School Rapper: That you are a slave, New-School Rapper, helping to build a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for the mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Hip-Hop Matrix is. You have to experience it for yourself. (Old-School Rapper produces a box and opens it, revealing a blue microphone and a red microphone.) You take the blue mic and you instantly return to the world of commercial success and the perceived rewards that come with it. Your singles will receive heavy rotation on every major urban radio station across the country. You will receive numerous awards and accolades, as well as product endorsements and movie deals. You might even be granted the opportunity to launch a clothing line. However, if you take the red mic, you will see the light of knowledge, wisdom and overstanding. You will feel compelled to share this knowledge through the power of your words -- the power of the mic. Only then will you truly be free. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more ...

Far-fetched? Perhaps. Yet, consider the fact that the "programmers" of my Hip-Hop Matrix have successfully helped to construct a "pseudo reality" that drives a cross-cultural, global market for the (so-called) urban lifestyle in excess of $5 billion dollars annually. Given the stakes, will new, unsigned Rap artists "get rich or die trying"? Or will they wield the power of the red mic?

Interestingly, much of the appeal of The Matrix series can be found in the spiritual undercurrents complimenting the intense, groundbreaking action sequences. So, to put it Zen-like, Hip-Hop culture -- like all other elements of human existence subject to the laws of the universe -- is comprised of both positive and negative energy. One cannot coexist without the other. Would there be a need for a Common or Talib Kweli without the Cash Money Millionaires? One could even say that Hip Hop corresponds with the ancient principle of yin and yang.

Unfortunately, in recent years, there's been a little too much "yang".

Free your mind ...

KEVIN BRITTON is a freelance writer residing in Cincinnati with his wife and daughter. He is currently compiling a collection about positive Hip Hop culture.


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