“Blame it on hip-hop” has become the common refrain of many older African Americans, especially those in the Civil Rights generation.
Apparently, hip-hop is singularly responsible for all that is wrong with the Black community. Misogyny just didn’t exist before hip-hop. Neither did materialism. All fathers took care of their children before hip-hop. All mothers were great mothers before hip-hop.
If it’s wrong, the hip-hop generation is responsible for it. Does hip-hop, the music and its supporters, have problems? You betcha. Is it solely responsible for all that ails the Black community? No.
Earlier this year, I attended the Trumpet Awards, which is generally an inspiring and uplifting event. Two of the honorees, one a successful businessman who rose from poverty to become a multi-millionaire and the other, a successful surgeon who has a passion for jazz, accepted their awards noting that young people need not look to just athletes and rappers as beacons of success.
I’m all for expanding the realm of possibilities to our youth but, often times, when we mention athletes and rappers, the underlying implication is somehow successful athletes and rappers got lucky. That’s the tone that both honorees projected to thunderous applause from the many older attendees in the audience. It’s problematic because we miss the real key ingredient to success, which is hard work. No amount of God-given talent is solely responsible for anyone’s success. Luck does play a role but hard work is what ensures longevity.
Hip-hop and its celebration of bling are also blamed for the rampant materialism in our community. Speaking on a local panel a few years back, I noted that DeKalb County in the Atlanta metro area was the second richest Black county in the United States but it had a fifty percent high school drop-out rate. To me, if you are driving a Benz or Beamer instead of a Camry, Taurus or Civic at the expense of spending time with your children, then Jay-Z and Diddy aren’t teaching your children materialism, you are. We’re not looking at those things, though. It’s much easier to blame it on hip-hop.
In a heated discussion a couple of weeks ago, a gentleman in his fifties noted that it’s a problem when mothers and daughters are dressing alike and you can’t tell them apart. He blamed this on hip-hop and the style it promoted. The real culprit, however, is we live in an age where getting older is a crime. There was a time when a person in their 20s didn’t reel at being addressed as ma’am or sir by a teenager so hip-hop is not the culprit. Our undying need to stay forever young is.
Hip-hop is constantly blamed for misogyny in our community. We’re bombarded with the video vixen as the quintessential hip-hop woman. In actuality, there have probably been more women employed behind-the-scenes in the hip-hop industry than in any other genre of music.
Without hip-hop, would June Ambrose be a top stylist? Universal Motown Records Executive Vice President Shanti Das spent many of her early industry days on the road with OutKast. Catherine Brewton, who deals heavily with the urban music industry, serves as VP of writer/publisher relations for BMI. There are also countless female entrepreneurs in this industry that are never acknowledged. Could there be more? Of course. Are there still barriers to other aspects of the industry? Yes.
Should the music be toned down? Absolutely but so should television and other forms of entertainment. We need to turn our attention to core problems and move away from attacking the manifestations of the problem. Let’s clear the smokescreens that cloud the real issues.
At the end of the day, many rap songs revolve around getting money because Black men are still underemployed and underpaid. If it were not for hip-hop dress, where would our attacks against racial profiling be? Hip-hop dress made it harder to discern the so-called good Black man from the so-called bad Black man so men with legitimate careers who had the resources and knowledge to combat this inequity were able to bring greater attention to the problem.
At the end of the day, the hip-hop blame game serves as a diversion from the real problems that still ail our community. Before hip-hop, Black people were treated unfairly by the law. That hasn’t changed. Before hip-hop, the average Black household made less than the average white household. That hasn’t changed. Black people, on average, paid more for goods and services than other Americans and that hasn’t changed.
Ending hip-hop tomorrow won’t solve these problems. Identifying the core problems and attacking them will. Until then, the “blame it on hip-hop” tactic is just another song out of the same old book of divide and conquer.