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By Bill Banfield |with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)


Wednesday, June 18, 2014.


I've been a musician all my life, and studied every kind. I've personally watched with tears in my eyes and blood in my ears the slow decline of excellence and artistic focus and commitment in the fields of music. I have never seen a time when, Black music, in particular, is being constructed outside of the ideas, needs and life-focus and the will of Black people. In American history it has never happened like this before. So what does that tell you? Get mad at me if you want; I have never seen a generation and community of music makers that have zero value or identity about who it is. In culture, that's like being a zombie nation.


Mainstream commercial Hip-Hop song, style and imagery, and most Black popular music today has little or no interest, in telling the people who they are, where they are and who they can become.


"…We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who…"


If Hip-Hop had not been born, I wonder if we would have better Black popular music?  Would there have been a more concrete value system? Due to Hip-Hop and too much of contemporary projections, aspirational notions of music saving the souls, propelling ahead and building and cementing community are gone. I'm not sure the people have a music they can call on, be with, and stand on. A less sustainable and substantive identity is blown up on media hype and false fame and flame is now what exists for people to emulate. Horrible. 


You know what I despise most about mainstream Hip-Hop?  Its "aspirational values goal" are  focused on stupidity and being crude.  So much of the language is deplorable.


Let me say for the bleeding hearts and "Hip-Hop bandwagon heads" again, I'm only talking about mainstream, radio (non)friendly, commercial Hip-Hop; what most kids listen to. Of course the cultural form of Hip-Hop, underground and politically astute and "value griot–based," spoken word and creative progressive music forms, are completely outside of my attack here. Most of our kids today don't listen to the " value based" music, where cultural form, message, art and heritages are fully in tact.


The overall generational value represented in far too many of  the most commercial songs—not all—will only depreciate the long range advancement of young people, particularly young people of color. The music promises nothing to work forward to except carnal excess, and being  young forever. Silly ideas.


Hip-Hop alone simply will never save nor secure the new Black music aesthetic. Yet, there is sooooo much invested in this  badly broken aesthetic form.


Most of the codes for contemporary Blackness have been tossed or are market reconstructions, like "ghetto fabulous” or “keeping it real,” or “Ghetto” or “hood." The thing that saddens me and maddens me is, "most of the narratives" we commonly hear and see around Black people and their culture are all bad; broken, busted and below market expectations. The only narrative that's sold is, the popular  Hip-Hop culture narratives where all the subjects  are constructed as young, "hood-bound-frowned" or "glamour-fantastic-plastic-TV-get-rich.” A very sad picture indeed.


And yet, young people of all stripes and places today are so beautiful, full of promise and productive.  African pop music and Caribbean and the ethnic/culture musics in the world are bright, brilliant, energetic and filled with positive images of young artists all connected, making music that matters that is connected to something. What happened to the American presentation of Black music? 


So why don't the music forms allowed by this "silly American cartoon culture," present and permit a more full and holistic picture—sound(s) for all of us who love music and popular culture to live in? The " man" has a very bad plan for us. Let's get him, out!!


Don't believe the hype, choose a higher path to heights. The options are out there. There are better and more examples of cultural models of  excellence than this. Hip-Hop as a larger cultural framework failed. Its biggest  product is soured commercialism that has done more damage to youth ascendancy than any other form today. 


It's not Hip-Hop the cultural form's fault, the form and the forum is powerful and rightfully a part of great Black art. The poison is big business, greed, and the community that allowed the form to fall into the gutter. Not enough have had the courage to tell the " baby" to stop drinking, and cursing and "chasing the devils." 


So enough with the apologies, I'm with Nas, Hip Hop is dead.




Bill Banfield is a composer, recording artist, musical director, scholar and the Professor in the Music and Societies program at the Berklee School of Music.  He is the author of several books including the recent Representing Black Music Culture: Then, Now, and When Again? and the host of ACC with Bill Banfield.


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