Black Like He:
Will Obama Change Hip Hop?
by Paul Scott
Hate it or love it, the one good thing that can be said about commercialized
Hip Hop of the thuggish variety (gangsta rap) is its resilience.
The day after a nuclear holocaust, the only things that will be left on the
planet will be roaches, Spam and Snoop Dog.
Since its "official" coming out party in the form of NWA's "Straight Outta
Compton, a generation ago, the longevity of lyrics spoutin' tales of drug
slangin, gang bangin' and bling blingin' boggles the mind. While other forms
of music have come and gone over the years, "gangsta rap" remains as strong
as ever with the original members of NWA and its immediate offspring still
crankin' out cds like they did almost 20 years ago.
Although, the early fathers of conscious Hip Hop warned the gangsta's about
the legacy they were leaving for the future generations of black youth, the
thugs had the last laugh as their words have been immortalized while the
lyrics of the conscious have faded into obscurity.
Commercial Hip Hop has survived two Bushes, two wars and 9/11. Even when the
winds of change were blowin' like Hurricane Katrina, Hip Hop stood firm in
its policy of socio-political apathy. I still can't figure out, for the life
of me, how the rappers got past the Million Million Man March's Day of
Atonement without atoning back in '95.
But the question facing Hip Hop in 2009, is "can it survive four years of
Since, its inception, "gangsta-ism" has promoted itself as being a reflection
of what was going on in economically depressed communities. The gangstas have
always prided themselves as being more realistic than their alter egos such
as Public Enemy with their Utopian ideas of a pro black paradise. Even their
harshest hata's had their criticisms betrayed by their own statistics of the
drugs, crime and unemployment that plagued "da hood."
It was assumed at the genesis of the gangsta that the societal problems
disproportionately affecting the black community would force even the
hardest, grimace faced rapper to, in time, become a reluctant revolutionary.
But actions ranging from the Rodney King beating to the shooting of unarmed
black men like Sean Bell failed to produce anything more than the one
obligatory F*** the Police cut on a fews CD's.
Even the benign neglect that black and Latino communities suffered over the
last decade only seemed to feed into the escapist fantasy world of the ballas
who preached that if you dropped out of high school to slang rock or hustle a
demo, you too could live the life of the hood rich and ghetto fabulous.
Even though time has gone by, are the masses of black people, collectively
better off than they were 20 years ago?
Maybe, Hip Hop hasn't changed because black life hasn't changed measurably
since 1989. The oppressed are still oppressed and the condition of the
permanent underclass is still permanent.
It has been the job of the media giants of Capitalism to cram the collective
suffering of black folks into a bottle and sell it to mainstream America for
But with the election of Barack Obama, the forecast for black folks has gone
from gloomy to sunny. Now whether, this is a crack pipe dream or reality
remains to be seen. But like the old Sprite commercial used to claim "image
Can the thugs, playa's and ballas answer the challenge of the "spirit of the
new black man" that is embodied in Obama, a spirit that has the audacity to
make change instead of just writing lyrics complaining about how bad things
For the most part, the view of black men by America has been myopic. Hip Hop
has capitalized off of the idea of the average black man being a somewhat
uneducated victim of society "doin' what he's gotta do to survive."
But now here comes a Harvard educated black man with just enough swagga to
captivate the imagination of America and enough of a community activist
background to give him street cred. He may even puff on a Newport every now
and then to appease a Hip Hop generation trying to come to grips with its own
How will the anti-intellectual nature of Hip Hop adapt when Knowledge really
reigns supreme over everybody to a degree that the Blastmaster ,himself,
never thought possible.
Forget Cool J, ladies love Obama. I remember watching the election night
coverage, last November and seeing black women in a state of ecstasy like
they were at an Usher concert. Suppose, instead of wanting some thug luvin'
from 50, sistas started givin' some love to the educated rapper? Instead of
wanting to hear some nasty lyrics whispered in their ears in the back of the
club, black women in '09 will be in the back of the library begging a
bookworm to, "Quote something from the Harvard Law Review to me, Daddy."
Economically speaking, we are approaching a time when throwin' C-Notes at
strippers and spending hundreds of dollars poppin' Champagne while black
children, globally, go to bed hungry, will no longer be in vogue. We are
entering an age when the Marxist philosophy of "from each according to his
ability, to each according to his need" will become the flava of the month.
As the formerly indestructible wall of Capitalism continues to shatter into a
thousand pieces and the new president leads America into something closely
resembling Socialism, one dreads to think about the fate of those who once
proudly touted their bling in front of their poverty stricken fans even
during the height of a recession. In the very near future, the snatching of
gold chains will become less about dissin' and more about making a political
statement over the evils of materialism.
The one thing that the changing political climate will do is force rappers to
leave Never Never Land and finally grow up. In, 2009 we will be facing grown
man decisions that only grown men and women can make. Hip Hop must either
roll with the coming tide or get swept away by it.
Like a song writer once said, eventually, "everything must change."
Even Hip Hop.
Paul Scott, the Hip Hop TRUTH Minista, writes for No Warning ShotsFired.com
Paul Scott may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org