In the wake of Obama’s victory, we all heard the chorus of black punditry telling us what the victory meant for African Americans. Along with predictions like “smart will be the new cool” and that growing up poor and fatherless will no longer be an excuse for idiotic behavior, there were ones obviously aimed at the power of hip hop. “Brothers are gonna have to start pulling their pants up,” I heard one talking head say (a sentiment even uttered by the president-elect). Gangsta rap will no longer be relevant. Rappers, along with singers, ball players, and other entertainers will no longer be THE role models to follow. Although I think many of the predictions are a bit lofty, I do agree, at least that the era of hip-hop being black America’s cultural and social center is passing with the arrival of a new, black president. Note: for all the purists, gangsta rap heads, and true-schoolers out there, this isn’t another declaration that hip-hop is dead but that, yes folks, we’re officially in the post-hip hop era.
Only, contrary to popular belief, what signals this shift isn’t that Obama’s win will eclipse hip hop, but that hip hop’s ultimate victory was it’s ushering in a Barack Obama. And when all movements accomplish their monumental task(s) they fade from the limelight, becoming another part of America’s cultural tapestry. The Harlem Renaissance went out with the coming of the Great Depression, but it’s leaders, ideas and works fueled the freedom struggles of the ‘60s. The civil rights movement, victorious after the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of ’64 and the Voting Rights Act of ’65 (and other bits of legislation), died with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Though America is still living to fulfill “The Dream.” Moreover, the Black Empowerment movement, ultimately killed by the U.S. government, waned during the years following its most shining moment, the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Yet the movement’s ideals of black pride and empowerment are a major part of black America’s thinking (whether we manifest it or not is debatable…LOL). So, too, it goes with hip hop.
Hip hop, started in the ’70s as a revolutionary cultural movement to give black and brown (and, hey, some white) urban youths a means to shake up the world’s idea of style, creativity and beauty. And, over the next 30 years, its music and style not only changed America’s cultural paradigm (not to mention becoming the new affirmative action for a post-civil rights generation), it became the banner under which a new reality of race was beginning to form. Particularly with white kids, along with a global community of colorful youth, who adopted hip hop as their cultural voice, arriving at black culture not only as pedestrians but also, as writer Carl Hancock Rux wrote in the case of Eminem, being “born into it.” While this “wigger” fascination with hip hop—fueled by that youthful need to scare the hell out of their parents—did feed off stereotypes, it socially disarmed this new generation of young “White Negroes” and their peers not only about ideas of black culture, but also notions of black identity and black people “keeping it real” and blacks with money and blacks with enough intelligence to beat a corrupt system and, most of all, blacks in power. And, when it came time to beat back the Republican Party monster and possibly change the course of history, who did they get behind? A young negro candidate who listened to Jay-Z, brushed off the haters at rallies, fist-bumped his wife, and promised to make a change. While, ultimately, it took a multi-culti coalition of voters to get Barack in, it was the enthusiastic support of young white, black and brown youth that got the Obama phenomenon rolling. And while the movements of yore laid the major groundwork for such an event, hip hop, at least I think, helped seal the deal.
So with that said, I think hip hop should be given major props. But, as new social and cultural standards are being discussed and set following Barack’s victory, I think we also need to deal with the fact that the best and most influential days of hip hop have past. It’s gone from Bronx playgrounds to mansions, from mom and pop labels to the boardrooms of multinational corporations, from grassroots organizing to major political events like the Nation Hip Hop Political Convention. But it’s also gone from “Fight the Power” to, well, take your pick of self-degrading lyrics involving the n or the b or the h-word (a debate we’re all simply tired of) and you get my point. With new things on the horizon, hip hop’s not going to die in this wave of optimism, but it will have to share the space with a fresh idea—from where, we don’t know—that will definitely be thrown in the mix.