Sunday, February 16, 2014

JCUF VOL 1 NO 1 (2014) - "What I Learned From Hip Hop That They Didn't Teach in School" by General, Mr. Born Hungry

Children growing up in North America have access to many forms of education, such as: school, books, TV, the newspaper, magazines, family and friends.

The formal school system during the 1980’s offered little to no education about Black History or a perspective that was relatable to a young, black youth.  However, there was a tool that many educators, parents and other leaders overlooked that provided a limitless amount of knowledge, black history related, and otherwise. That tool was HIP HOP MUSIC.

While it is argued that hip hop had a negative impact on the development of the youth it actually had an immense capability to educate and uplift.  It is hip hop that educated a large number of black youth and gave them a sense of relevance and a relatable culture in a world structured to keep them down.

During the “golden age” of hip hop, the internet didn’t exist, nor was hip hop played on commercial radio.  In order to hear a song/album from your favourite artist, you would have to wait for it to be released on one of the 52 Tuesdays in the year.

Another alternative to gain access to hip hop would be to listen to one of the few college radio shows that existed in Toronto (The Fantastic Voyage/ Power Move Show or The Masterplan Show, for example). This limited access heightened the experience and made hearing a new record and talking about it more special.

Songs were perceived as more personal and listeners internalized the messages. Although some songs had gang, criminal, or violent connotations, the message wasn’t to follow in these footsteps. The messages were grounded in consciousness, a perspective expressing the struggle of young black youth in America.

Hip hop writing during this time was often political and had the ability to educate listeners about information not taught in school books.  Stetasonic (A.F.R.I.C.A. and Hip Hop against Apartheid) spoke about Apartheid and the oppression of the black majority in South Africa.  They brought to light Nelson Mandela and the “Free Mandela” campaign.

The teacher, KRS-ONE talked about black inventors who are not taught in school (“You Must Learn”).  Public Enemy (“Fight the Power” and “Burn Hollywood Burn”) preached that Black History didn’t start with slavery.  They outlined how black people were (and still are) Kings and Queens in Africa and other parts of the world.

X-Clan rapped about the continent of Africa and the concept of freedom or death. In the song “Illegal Business,” KRS-ONE rapped about how major corporations commit crimes everyday by selling drugs (coffee, prescriptions, pop/soda, cigarettes) and pushing products they know are not good for humans, all to make money. The song also highlighted the role that the government played in the importation of drugs into the United States (i.e. the Iran Contra Scandal).

What is legal versus Illegal is simply based on who benefits monetarily from the labels put on products, was a message taken from KRS ONE. This content and different perspective of the world was what hip hop was about.

Racism and the systemic process of keeping the black race down was also a prominent topic in hip hop music.

A group of east coast emcees famously rapped about the ills of “Self Destruction”.  N.W.A. song (“F*** the Police”) rapped about police brutality, corruption and racism which targeted young black males.

Ice-T spoke about the effect of drugs and gang violence on young black males.  Ice Cube (“AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”) outlined how the mass media’s covert negative portrayal of young black males seeps into the minds sub-conscious.

In the song “Sound of the Police,” KRS_ONE provided insight into the negative role of the police force in the hood.  His song “Why is that” discussed how the education system played an important role in the systemic racism that prevails in society and how the machine tries to erase all the good and highlight all the negativity in the black community.

Tupac Shakur (“Trapped”), Gangstarr (“Just to Get a Rep”) and D Nice (“25 to Life”) all described the pitfalls of living the street life and the most likely outcome of a young black male was death or jail.  Although often it was a depiction of the present state of black youth, emcees also ensured they expressed how to combat the negativity.

LL Cool J talked about the “The Power of God” and Big Daddy Kane reminded us that “Children are the Future”. Big Daddy Kane also preached about the importance of education (“Lean on Me”) and Kool G Rap expressed how important it was to “Erase Racism.”

With the state of hip hop music in 2014 it would be hard to imagine that hip hop was an instrument providing information about social commentary, racism and race relations, politics and government.

Unfortunately, there is only one type of music being pushed to the masses and most (not all) lacks any substance.  The ills of society back in 1980 still exist today but instead of hip hop bringing these to light, one can say that hip hop has become a negative reinforcement, keeping young black youth from achieving a better life.

Beyond urban literature and film, hip hop music is one of the most powerful forces in the world.  It is up to the individual to decide if they will let music influence them in a positive or negative manner.

Hip hop should return to the roots that made it so successful.  Every contemporary hip hop artist should be required to listen to songs from the past that enable hip hop to be the force that it is now. Hip Hop is a culture and there should be required “listening” just as other professions have required readings, certificates, diplomas, and degrees.

With this urban education, hip hop will hopefully return to when it was (to quote Keith Murray) “the most beautifulest thing in the world.”

Please check out the KRS-ONE movie on HIP HOP, “40 Years of Hip Hop.”

GENERAL is a hip hop artist, performer and motivational speaker.  He has performed in front of thousands of people and shared the stage with notable artists including Rita Marley, Wayne Wonder, Jadakiss, Joe Buddens, Royce 5'9, D12 and more.  His music is available on iTunes and his videos can be seen on YouTube. Contact General at:

No comments:

Post a Comment