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The Hip-Hop Generation on Hip-Hop


By Mark Anthony Neal

No doubt it transformed the entertainment industry, and all kinds of people's notions of entertainment, style, and politics in the process. So let's be real. If hip-hop were only some static and rigid folk tradition preserved in amber, it would never have been such a site for radical change or corporate exploitation in the first place.


Hip-hop was never going to not go for gold as more gold got laid out on the table for the goods that hip-hop brought to the market. The problem today is that where hip-hop was once a buyer's market in which we, the genre's elite, decided what was street legit, it has now become a seller's market, in which, what does or does not get sold as hip-hop to the masses is whatever the boardroom approves.—Greg Tate

Although minstrelsy began with white performers putting shoe polish on their faces and acting out their distorted, obscene notions of Blackness, Black performers also performed Blackness. Black performance of Blackness was not simply self-mockery; it was also mockery of those white people who initiated and patronized this tradition. Most important it must be understood that Black performers had no options.


Their survival as performers was dependent on self-derision, and any portrayal of Blackness that challenged the deeply racists beliefs around which the society was organized were prohibited. Indeed, whiteness was defined in opposition to all that was Black, and thus its existence depended upon the recapitulation of Blackness as deviant and grotesque. Thus, Black performers have always been pressured to perform the Blackness of the white imagination, and that Blackness is most often in the service of white supremacy. —Andrea Queeley

Today rap, for all its excesses and commercialization, re-asserts the African core of black music: polyrhythmic dance beat, improvisational spontaneity, incantatory use of the word to name, blame, shame and summon power, the obligation of ritual to instruct and enthuse.


It’s no coincidence that rap exploded as the big business of music was luring many black artists into “crossing over.” Huge sums were paid to black recording artists; then a kind of lobotomy was performed on their work, homogenizing, commodifying, pacifying it by removing large portions of what made the music think and be.


Like angry ancestral spirits, the imperatives of tradition rose up, re-animated themselves, mounted the corner chanters and hip hoppers. As Soul diminished to a category on the pop charts, the beat from the street said no, no, no, you’re too sweet. Try some of this instead.—John Edgar Wideman

Developing a style nobody can deal with — a style that cannot be easily understood or erased, a style that has the reflexivity to create counterdominant narratives against a mobile and shifting enemy — may be one of the effective ways to fortify communities of resistance and simultaneously reserve the right to communal pleasure.


With few economic assets and abundant cultural and aesthetic resources, Afro-diasporic youth have designated the street as the arena for competition, and style as the prestige awarding event. In the post-industrial urban context of dwindling low-income housing, a trickle of meaningless jobs for young people, mounting police brutality, and increasingly draconian depictions of young inner city residents, hip-hop style is black urban renewal.—Tricia Rose

“You got Nas coming back and saying ‘hip-hop is dead’. Who is he to say ‘hip-hop is dead’?...You look at them first week numbers, and we’ll talk about it…If Nas Say Hip-hop is dead, I say hip hop is alive. Tell Nas to get at me.”—Young Jeezy


Dr Mark Anthony Neal is the author of several books including the recent New Black Man (Routledge, 2005). Neal is currently working on a collection of essays titled Thug Nigga Intellectual (New York University Press). He teaches African and African-American Studies at Duke University.


He also blogs frequently as New Blackman.


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