“Colonialism is the Lens and Hip-Hop is the Mirror”
by Jared A. Ball Ph.D
The idea of Hip Hop being seen as remotely colonialized, or having a “poor/inaccurate representation” as Ball states, at first seemed inaccurate to me. We are talking about Hip-Hop; this genre of music is heard all over now. My students in EP High certainly listen to it, and my son and his friends from the SCWAAP area of Barrington, listen to the ever popular lyrics. I, too have my favorites. So when reading the article through the perspective of Ball I didn’t quite get it, until I realized how I was, and in some aspect still am, a part of the “Colonialism” of Hip-Hop.
In ever really gave a Hip-Hop a try. I am talking about years ago, before kids, I had a prejudice view of Hip-Hop music. Prejudice is ignorance so I was ignorant. I didn’t really listen to it or its lyrics. Although, in the 80’s when Rap or Hip-hop (please ignore my ignorance here, I know there is a difference) started to become popular I really enjoyed it. It was the days of MC Hammer and The Sugar Hill Gang. I loved the beat and the lyrics. They were fun to listen to and Roller skate to (roller skating was big in the 80’s). So in my early 20’s I did listen to whatever was on the radio and Rap and Hip-Hop were played. Then something happened, I am not sure what it was but I remember Rap and Hip- Hop getting a bad “rap.” The lyrics were no longer fun and enjoyable but they seemed to take on a message that many wanted to ignore. Parents didn’t want their kids listening to it and the offensive words and messages were too strong. I also felt like I didn’t want to listen to words about jail, and guns, and drugs, and poverty. Rappers were getting shot and I think this is when the “Colonialism” may have started. Again, this is my prejudice view because I know there were some very inspirational and wonderful lyrics from the music, but no one was hearing it. Who do we blame for that? I can go back to the text here with Ball’s words;” “the people,” “the artists,” “radio stations,” or “record labels.””
As a high school teacher and a parent of teenagers I have had no choice but to listen to Hip-Hop and Rap. My inaccurate view of this music and its artists has changed dramatically. I think about Ball’s frustration at the inability for many to be exposed to this genre. Although I do believe that the venues may be scarce, the availability is not. Nowadays, our ability to listen to anything, and being exposed to all genres of music is astounding.(I am still shocked that some of my students didn’t know who John Lennon was) The radio is something entirely different from when I was a kid; there is satellite radio, I tunes, computers, and the numerous channels on digital TV. Hip-hop is here and it can be heard. I often find myself in the car hitting one of the pre set stations that my son set and listening to some Hip-Hop. Exposure is the key to understanding.
To me, Hip-Hop seems to be ruling the airwaves. Maybe it is because that is what is around me. Recently I have had a bigger revelation and respect for this genre of music. I realize that words are words. Some words hit harder than others. When I say hit harder I mean they make the listener feel emotion. I recently started listening to Slam Poetry. This opened up my eyes to words; the spoken word. Without the music, all songs are words, saying something about society, life, love, or feelings. They make us feel; they make us cry or laugh. They make us angry or melancholy. John Lennon, Eminem, and Daniel Beaty all have something to say. They just all say it with a different tune. We as a society need to have a diversity of words in our vocabulary.
To Think about: How can we expose people to all types of music?
I have included Daniel Beaty’s “Knock Knock” slam. If you have never heard it then take a look. It is very powerful.