November 14 – Volume 15, # 11
“Hip-Hop and Chimichangas”
At its core, Illanoyze is a hip-hop company.
For many, even passionate fans of hip-hop, this would mean that we are inspired by rap music.
And it is without doubt that our vision has been inspired by rap music. How could it not be when you grew up listening to the likes of Tribe, De La, Common, Too Short, The Wu, Black Moon, CMW, NWA, the Geto Boys, Monie Love, Outkast, Special Ed, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, EPMD and Gang Starr?
Most rap music (even bad rap music) is derived from hip-hop culture. But hip-hop culture is so much more than rap. When I say that Illanoyze is a hip-hop company, this means that our vision is rooted in the culture of hip-hop, not just the wonderful music that it yields.
Most of the mediums that we in the general public use to gain access to the four elements of hip-hop culture; rap music most specifically, are controlled almost exclusively by people who have little love and comprehension of hip-hop culture. For them it is a way to make a buck. And for most consumers, hip-hop is something used for entertainment and amusement, but isn’t given much consideration beyond that.
On these pages, I have always attempted to write in a hip-hop voice. “Attempt” is an inaccurate description. At this stage of my life it would be far more difficult for me to try not to be hip-hop than attempt to be. Still, in over a decade of essays I have largely been derelict in that I have taken for granted that there was a consistent and wide-ranging understanding of what principles are at the foundation of hip-hop culture. To be sure, I have spoken on matters of rap, but I have not directly addressed: what is hip-hop exactly? Moreover, does hip-hop even matter enough to define it? Why can’t it just be? And if we are to define hip-hop, that begs the inevitable question of exactly who is and who isn’t hip-hop? And what behaviors, ideas and products are synonymous with hip-hop culture and which ones are not? It wasn’t hard to tell who was really down back in 1988. It’s a lot more difficult today. Is that good, bad or indifferent? Hip-hop has come a long way since 1988. It’s come a long way since 2008. In 2009 Common hosted inauguration festivities while presidential fundraiser, Jay-Z, had a front row seat for the historic transfer of power. Who would have guessed that could have occurred back when Bill Clinton was disparaging Sista Souljah to curry the votes of middle class white people? No question, hip-hop started at the bottom but now it’s here. But where is here exactly? We’re a long way from home, but do we know where we’re at? And maybe even more importantly, where is hip-hop going from here?
I am uncertain that we will be any more clear on these matters going forward. And as cocky as I am, I certainly am not arrogant enough to surmise that I’ll have magically come up with all the answers at this time next year. The primary goal of this series of essays is to promote dialogue and hopefully enhance some level of understanding about this culture of hip-hop that is loved by many but understood by a precious few.
Most of this is because hip-hop is mainly viewed as a commodity that can be purchased at a store or online along with Apple Jacks, Dove, a cell phone charger and margarita mix. There can be no doubt that hip-hop has become a commodity for sure. And that’s not all bad. But I want to use this as a space to explore hip-hop’s function beyond the marketplace.
The first thing that I think is vital in facilitating a proper comprehension of hip-hop is to understand the concept of culture. I’ll dig into this more deeply next month, as well as scrutinize whether or not hip-hop meets the criteria for a culture.
I’ll follow this up by exploring the process of how culture becomes commercialized. Not just hip-hop. (If it is a culture) Most all cultures experience their transformation from something that is lived and breathed to something that is bought and sold. You can drink Irish culture by chugging a bottle of Guinness while you’re wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. The real Guinness, not this wack ass Blonde Lager they’re trying to trick people into buying. But no matter how drunk you get, your black ass ain’t Irish. You can have a hefty helping of Japanese culture when you order some sake to chase down your sushi. You can even use chop sticks and leave your shoes at the door. But when you leave out of that restaurant you’re going to still be a white dude from Kansas. You’d think you’d be eating Mexican culture when you’re eating a chimichanga but you’d be wrong. Chimichangas are an American creation and you might have trouble locating some when traveling through Central America.
Much like chimichangas, sometimes products that pose as hip-hop in the marketplace are totally detached from their true cultural roots. I hope to give readers a more clear comprehension of which commodities are rooted in hip-hop and which are not. In other words, which are chimichangas and which are huevos divorciados.
Some people may feel like who gives a fuck where they originate from? Chimichangas taste good. That’s all that matters. So I also want to explore why it’s important to make the distinction between expressive forms that are derived from hip-hop and which ones are not.
Most significantly, I want to analyze why this distinction is important to you. Yes you. And what role you (and me) play in the process of blurring this distinction.
Throughout this discussion -which will go on for the next calendar year- I will explore where hip-hop came from in order to get a more full understanding of how it got to where it stands in 2014-15.
And hip-hop isn’t static. It’s a living, breathing, steadily evolving culture and art form. So where appropriate, I will also sound off on major shifts and new developments in hip-hop as they transpire over the next 11 months.
And this colloquy will conclude with an honest and thorough examination of where hip-hop is going. Throughout, I highly encourage readers to submit their thoughts and questions as well in an effort to push the dialogue forward.
We’ve all heard the notion that hip-hop is dead and of course this is ridiculous. Nas didn’t believe that either, he was merely trying to provoke a sense of urgency for the culture that he and I love so dearly. The writings here are crafted in that spirit. There should be a sense of urgency as it relates to hip-hop. The extent to which it needs to be saved is up for debate and I hope to provoke a healthy dose of that here.
What is not up for debate, however, is that hip-hop’s continued worldwide vitality cannot be sustained without grassroots action. I hope I can do my part to illuminate what we are moving for, where we are moving to and exactly who is and who is not moving with us. And most importantly, I want to show why hip-hop remains worthy of taking action for.
Peace and God bless,