By: Deric Muhammad
(This opinion editorial appeared in a recent edition of The Final Call Newspaper) http://www.finalcall.com/
Hip-hop culture has officially gotten its passport. In every foreign country I have traveled to, I have seen the influence of hip-hop on its youth. I have seen break dancing in Japan, oversized fitted-caps in China, gold-toothed “grills” in Belize and graffiti in Thailand. No matter where you go on this planet, hip-hop will follow you. Hip-hop’s global impact is so strong that the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine adopted a hip-hop national anthem in protest to mass corruption, voter intimidation and electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential election. When I saw millions of Ukrainians singing a hip-hop fight song as a sign of their revolution, I knew that a serious responsibility came along with that.
I was very disappointed to hear about the recent death of a London up-and-coming rap artist, Ikye Nmezu, who was beaten with a brick by a rival artist over a back-and-forth exchange of lyrics via YouTube. The victim, only 16 years old, was poorly treated by two hospitals and died two weeks later due to a brain abscess. One cannot help but speculate that these two young brothers were emulating what they see in American hip-hop culture, called BEEF. Just as hip-hop’s musical, cultural and fashionable influence has penetrated the borders of foreign countries, so has its shortcomings.
As a product of the hip-hop generation I, along with the rest of us, have enjoyed the competitive lyrical battles between rival artists. Competition fueled creativity and great music was made. When LL Cool J battled Kool Moe Dee, it was a watershed moment in hip-hop. Unfortunately rappers began to bring issues of a more personal nature into the art form. This type of beef helped create the East Coast vs. West Coast beef and the atmosphere that led to the deaths of Tupac and Biggie.
A historic meeting at The Honorable Minister Farrakhan’s home in Chicago squashed the East Coast vs. West Coast beef bringing artists from both coasts to a table of reconciliation. Artists started traveling bi-coastal again and things seemed to normalize. After a brief lull, hip hop beefs returned more commercialized than ever. New rap artist looking to become famous felt they needed to attack another rapper in order to make a name for themselves. Beef, now, has become a part of the promotional aspect of the business of hip-hop. It is supported by record labels and executives whose main concern is their bottom line.
It is impossible to work hard to attain a certain measure of success in the rap industry without becoming the target of others that are not as successful. But, when R&B singers began crooning against one another, I knew that it was time for BEEF to have a dignified funeral. It has become another way of exploiting the gifts and talents of our performers and facilitating the division that has historically led to our subjugation. Beef creates controversies that are good for record sales creating capital that the artist hardly sees. It is White-owned record labels who have profited the most while the artists must ride in bullet-proof cars.
Violent episodes at hip-hop award shows perpetuates the savage image of the young Black male that has been peddled through the mass media. Earlier this year Houston rapper Trae says he physically attacked rapper Mike Jones, because he was tired of him “fronting” like he was the mayor of Houston. More recently the entourages of rappers T.I. and Shawty Lo squared off at the Dirty Awards in Atlanta. Images of these brothers being whisked away in handcuffs went worldwide. What is sad is that someone could possibly end up hurt or dead. He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.
I brought up the aforementioned incident in London to accentuate a point. Black youth in America are in a global position of leadership whether we like it or not. Youth all across the world want to walk, talk, dress, rap and act like young brothers and sisters in America. Rap artists in America have more influence than the government over the youth in some countries. Hip-hop is potentially one of the most powerful cultural art forms in the history of man. But if we continue to allow buffoonery like so-called beef to make a mockery of our culture, we will lose our opportunity to use it as a global force for serious change.
The meteoric rise of President-elect Barack Obama has placed the Black man and woman in America in the seat of leadership in the eyes of the world. Last month I traveled to China and people kept calling me “Obama.” Through his election, they were given a different image of the Black man in America. Their hope in him represents their hope in us all. The hip-hop community must now grow into this responsibility. But in order for us to grow up, we must put away childish things. Beefing with one another over who rhymes the best or over who is really from a certain neighborhood is a childish thing that hip-hop has gotten too old for. Will somebody please write a eulogy for hip-hop beef? It has outlived its usefulness and become a destructive force.
If there is any beef among artists, it should be with the record execs who craft the draconian recording contracts that keep great artists in debt. Who beefs publicly with Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records or Lyor Cohen of Warner Music Group and others who control the artist’s purse strings? Rappers can’t allow themselves to be like slaves divided and pitted against one another for the benefit of the slave-master. An artist who beefs with his brother for the sake of the furtherance of his career is no better than those who we criticized as sell-outs in the generations before us. Hip-hop artists must unify or die. The world is watching.