Even With The Pulitzers, Hip-Hop Will Always Remain The Underdog
Doesn't the genre deserve more recognition though?
June 13, 2018 at 3:21 pm
As the boom bap drum pattern signals the beginning of the track, a haunting note is introduced. It creates an eerie atmosphere as it repeats, stalking you, probing menacingly. Just loud enough to hear above the drums. The jazz-infused instrumental offers an almost perfect backdrop. A sample of the Heath Brothers (Smilin Billy Suite) provides the ideal canvas for the young poet, Nasir Jones' song "One Love". The dark, musty beat produced by Q Tip succeeds in capturing New York of the 80s-90’s – in the Ronald Reagan and Rudy Giuliani era. It forces you to picture giant grey concrete monsters reaching for the skies, in what could be any New York housing project. Hallways reeking of urine; train tracks decorated in bold street art. Before a word is even uttered, visualizations of his surroundings are interjected into your head. The intro continues with a man updating his friend on a robbery, which he is likely involved in as the lookout.
The scene progresses swiftly to the subject being passed a letter in prison from Nas as the song truly begins. At face value, the swiftness in the changing of the scenario may seem insignificant but it is representative of the somewhat inevitable reality that he and his peers face. The bleak prospects and overrepresentation of young black men in the justice system are offered to you firsthand. Nas, like many young black men, is forced to grow up quickly in his surroundings. Boroughs such as Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx are plagued by high unemployment, which in turn lead to the flourishing of the drugs market. Wreaking devastation across black working-class neighborhoods.
Forced to compact what could be multiple lives in a compressed period of time. These experiences are used in the formulation of Illmatic; what should not only be regarded as one of the best hip-hop albums ever made, but one of the greatest albums ever created of any genre. Such accolades do not come easily, the sentence somehow does not flow off the tongue with a natural ease, or with the same elegance and formality that describing say, a Beatles or Rolling Stones album as one of the greatest would. For a genre that uses the most amount of words and seemingly best resembles poetry in its purest form while incorporating complicated rhyme schemes and covering important themes from first-hand experiences- hip-hop is still considered a lesser art form.
Race cannot be forgotten here. Higher disposable income means that the largest consumers of music (including hip-hop) are Caucasian, yet the music industry is arguably driven by black culture if not people. As binary lines are disposed of, cultures intertwined and genres merge, racism & social inequality remain as strong as ever. Maybe it is time to go back to the old established belief that appreciating or replicating a culture does not equate to understanding it. The recent incident in which Kendrick Lamar awkwardly stops a performance midway to ask a white fan on stage to stop using the N-word springs to mind. In a genre created to provide a platform for those not allowed one to share pain and triumph, hip hop will always mean something different and something more to black people no matter how it evolves.
Just like those who create and treasure it, hip-hop will probably never get the recognition it deserves. No matter how many Pulitzers we earn.
"Sometimes I sit back with a Buddha sack Mind's in another world, thinkin' How can we exist through the facts? Written in school textbooks, bibles et cetera. F*ck a school lecture, the lies get me vexed-er. So I be ghost from my projects I take my pen and pad for the weekend Hittin' L's while I'm sleepin' A two-day stay, you may say I need the time alone To relax my dome, no phone, left the 9 at home."