In the context of these questions, we can also ask why the attacks on hip hop - and why now? That some people hoped to enact political retribution for the so-called victory of Don Imus's firing, goes without saying. But I'd like to suggest that, more significantly, the current critique of hip hop is aimed at undermining the culture's potential to politicize the generations of constituents that might claim hip hop as their social movement. After high profile voter registration campaigns in 2004 that were fronted by Russell Simmons, Sean Combs and others, much was made of the lack of impact that hip hop generation voters had on the outcome of the 2004 Presidential election. The hip hop generation, in fact, embraced the franchise in unprecedented numbers, but those numbers were obscured by the unprecedented turnout of religious fundamentalists who were galvanized by issues like same-sex marriage and threats of anti-American terrorism. With no candidate on the Right likely to galvanize religious fundamentalists, the hip hop nation - which has continued to organize since 2004 - represents a legitimate political bloc. With this political bloc comes demands for social justice, particularly within the realms of the prison industrial complex, the labor force, US foreign policy, law enforcement, the electoral process, mainstream corporate media, the economy, public education and a range of other concerns.
While there has long been criticism of hip hop culture from the standpoint of social conservatives, pro-hip hop feminists, religious groups, anti-homophobia activists and hip hop heads themselves, what marks this moment as different are the attempts to force mainstream black political leadership and Democratic Presidential candidates to repudiate hip hop culture (reminiscent of the pressures placed on Reverend Jesse Jackson to distance himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in 1984).
Emblematic of these pressures is a recent Chicago Tribune editorial, which asked,
"Will Obama scold David Geffen, the entertainment mogul who is one of
his most prominent contributors and who owns Snoop Dogg's record label? Will
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton admonish rap impresario Timbaland, who recently
threw a benefit for her at his Miami home that raised $800,000?"
Asking figures like Reverend Al Sharpton, Senators Clinton and Obama, and Russell Simmons to publicly distance themselves from hip hop is a transparent attempt drive a wedge between them and a constituency that has both the energy and the creativity to galvanize a youth-based electorate in the 2008 election season.
The sexism, misogyny, violence, anti-intellectualism and homophobia that rap music traffics in is real - but it is also reflective of where American society is at this moment. Remove offensive and vulgar lyrics from rap music, and we are still faced with a society that is largely sexist, misogynistic, violent, anti-intellectual and homophobic. The real story here, is that as the hip hop generation(s) have come to maturity and begun to realize their civic, social and political responsibility, that there are many in the larger society who are disconcerted - and they should be.
Such is the reality of social change.
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