YFM DJ Zama Dube’s opinion on hip hop. Is it in crisis?

The culture of hip hop for me marks itself as something majestically beyond a genre. When I think hip hop, I see a sense of collective being which gave so much voice and agency to the young and black. From the unapologetic rhymes, to the fierce beat in the rhythm which dominates hip hop, I dare you to not respond to this genres’ commanding spirit. I still get goose bumps when I think of the impact which was made by the legends of hip hop “Run DMC”. I get even more emotional however, when I think about our own era of hip hop, which at the time was led by your Proverbs, Skwatta Kamp, Amu…the list is endless. This was a period when the young black voice was forcing the state and any other oppressive system to LISTEN! These young black people were contesting the misconception of us being a “lost generation”. Black youth were saying, “Yo! Listen up, I may be model-c and have a twang but I have a conscious mind, which is questioning the existential crisis of being, young, black and ‘free’”.

Fast-forward to 2012 and I find it hard to share the same pride I felt back then. I find it hard to accept that the fight for black youth representation was for I what I see dominating the public and commercial space. When rhymes have been reduced to name-dropping, swag-proclaiming lines of nothingness, I find it hard to relate. Surely this cannot be the pervasive discourse among our struggle as young black people. Don’t even get me started on some of the problematic images being spread as the face of 21st century hip hop. If I used a couple of local videos and the tracks getting airplay, as case studies, it would be safe to assume that success for the average young black man is nothing less than a “yellow-bone” honey on his arm, free VIP club access and bottle-popping swag. I am not only critical of these images as a scholar of gender politics but I am even more so concerned with what we collectively understand to being young, black and “free”. For self-hate to permeate the existence of my people so intensely, that we place beauty as anything outside of the natural black aesthetic just saddens me. So if she aint a mix-race or yellow-bone with a silky 16-inch weave, nah, she aint hip hop, nor is she hip and happening. If he doesn’t roll with ballers and cannot come up with a line that rhymes with “paper-swelling pockets”, why should we even listen? I see a crisis here. A crisis of representation and identity among us as young black people. How can we even make a compelling case to have the “hip hop” category reinstated in our national music awards if we ourselves cannot come to an agreement of what hip hop means to us in 2012?

I’m not calling for the radical politicization of our craft because art is never just for “art’s sake”. The act of producing art is in itself political, however eighteen years of democracy ain’t enough for us to be as careless with our representation. We are still in the process of constructing our self-hood, outside the confinements of socio-political constraints therefore, this begs a greater level of consciousness.

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