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Back Off! - Occupy Hiphop: “Be Inspired”
Occupy Hiphop: "Be Inspired"
By Professor Marcyliena Morgan
This is the final column of the year and it has been a notable year for Hiphop. Hiphop has been a presence in nearly every major event in the world. Over the past 11 months, cutting edge scholarship, educational initiatives, social justice activities and artistic events have rocked the nation and planet. I want to take a page from the life of Heavy D, one of Hiphop's unforgettable artists, entrepreneurs and cultural critics - "Be Inspired."
Hiphop has been an inspiration for so many for so long, that we often take for granted that it feeds us and inspires us. The energy and fire we get from it is only possible when we critique it, enjoy it, reminisce over it, talk about how we use to love it and when we have those moments when we hear an old beat, lyric voice and smile at the memory of how hiphop helped make our lives worth living. It is the season of "Be Inspired." Occupy Hiphop. As Michael Franti of Spearhead says "But it ain't about who you love, see it's all about do you love."
In order to "occupy" hiphop as a participant in the culture, we interpret it in ways that both challenge and protect our integrity. Hiphop can be demanding as we move from underground skill building hiphop to party hiphop to serious hiphop to humorous hiphop and business hiphop and back to social justice hiphop. Think about it. Hiphop has taken the - "You'll never amount to anything" story that is evident in biographies from Malcolm X to the latest young wannabe rapper - and turned it into believe in yourself, stay strong, "represent and keep moving forward story". Those who are attacking hiphop and are against us are often our own country, schools, leaders, etc. In that sense, they are larger than life foes because we see their attack on us as a betrayal that feels isolating. The hiphop response is to find others who may understand how hard our situation may be and join in to critique, analyze, play and back again. It is life to the fullest and never stopping. It is more Winston Churchill in the battle against Hitler during World War II when in his 1941 speech he insists: "...never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force..." But this is not an occasion where one's life is literally at stake; it is one that asks who we are and whether we will stand for something and where will we stand.
Hiphop lyrics and rhymes are not folktales, but early Hiphop rhymes are remembered within the context of a cultural happening. Every major performance of a rhyme is accompanied by the story of when someone heard it or saw it performed. It was like when old men in my Chicago neighborhood use to recite the folk poems and toasts of the Signifyin' Monkey and Shine. They would say: "This is the way it really goes" as they launched into tales of the jungle and the only Black man on the Titanic. When the rhymes were finally written and distributed in academia, it was also met with concern over whether it really represented the true rhymes. I'll never forget when I saw the lyrics from Everything's Gonna Be Alright (Ghetto Bastard) from Naughty by Nature. "My third year to adulthood, still a knucklehead I'm better off dead, huh, that's what my neighbor said." But in spite of that "Everything's going to be alright."
Hiphop represents everybody and everything as long as one is willing to be inclusive according to principles of excellence, skill, truth and irony. You can't be 100% Hiphop and say something like "I rep Atlanta hiphop but not all Hiphop." It doesn't even sound right. Hiphop does not need one version of the world. It thrives on working through the truth. That is why it is surprising that hiphop is not a theme of the Occupy movement. Yes, there are songs that artists are producing. What I'm talking about is the spirit of hiphop that united the Arab Spring. We are not shouting out to each other with pumped fists of Fight the Power. We are not even channeling the Beastie Boys with a chant of another perspective of "No sleep ‘till Brooklyn." Russell Simons, Kanye, Questlove, Boots Riley, MC Hammer and many artists show their support. As the Occupy Movement continues to ‘occupy' some parts of the country, I am struck by the absence of a nationwide hiphop beat or rhyme that captures the political positions that the protesters represent.
When Occupy Wall Street demands that their MCs link the country with a beat and lyric that represents us all I will know that there will is a movement that won't stop, can't stop and that will never give in. We need it to be100% Hiphop. Be Inspired.
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