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Hip Hop Ain't Nothing But the Young People's Blues

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Hip Hop and Rap Around the turn of the century some 119 years ago, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, a Harvard-educated Black scholar, was shocked at the impoverished blues he found in a distressed Philadelphia community inhabited by Blacks: "Murder sat at their doorstep, police were their government, social and academic paucity prevailed, and philanthropy dropped in with periodic advice," wrote Dr. DuBois. If he was alive today, Dr. DuBois would be even more appalled by the sheer mass of distressed Black communities that still suffer from the exact impoverished blues he witnessed some 119 years ago.

In many ways nothing seems to have changed as high unemployment, homelessness, violent crimes, the seemingly unabated flow of illegal drugs and guns, and exposure to inadequate and inappropriate social and educational experiences have created intergenerational afflictions that enslave members of distressed Black communities by dwarfing their good spirits, bodies, and minds. The stresses of this dysfunctional reality have created a devastating intergenerational culture of failure, disappointment, pain, and self-hatred that have always been highlighted in the extraordinary art forms of music such as the blues and hip-hop.

In the eyes of the people who live in distressed Black communities, there are not many voices that provide true insight into the impoverished blues that distressed people face daily; if not for the hardcore language and images of the blues and hip-hop music their cry’s for help would not be heard. As a public expression of human conditions of the less fortunate, hardcore forms of blues and hip-hop music express the social, economic, and psychological impoverished blues of distressed Black people. It is an art form created from a perception about oneself that reflects a direct relationship between reality and destiny. More often than not, this reality reflects a destiny deeply marred by the ugly oftentimes cruel and sometimes inhumane debilitating living conditions within a society. A music critic once wrote, "Blues lyrics are often intensely personal, frequently contain sexual references and often deal with the pain of lynching, betrayal, desertion, and unrequited love or with unhappy situations such as being jobless, hungry, broke, away from home, lonely, or downhearted because of an unfaithful lover." According to Hip-Hop artist Snoop Dog, "We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we see and feel." In this sense, hardcore aspects of the blues and hip-hop music give voice and paint portraits of the profound despair and concerns endured daily by a distressed people.

More recently, hip-hop music has generated much discussion as there are those who seem to be more concerned with the hardcore aspects of the art’s language and images than with eliminating the deplorable living conditions that bring voice to a people’s cry for help. Yes, the language and image of hip-hop music are sometimes offensive but not as much as the impoverished conditions that it arise from. For some people, I guess, it’s easier to single out the hardcore language and images of a few artists as opposed to developing and implementing systemic social, economic, political, and educational processes that effectively address and eventually eliminate the myriad of longstanding impoverished living conditions that serve as the impetus for the young people’s blues.

With all the technology, economic resources, goodwill, and intellectual mind power within the United States of America, it makes absolutely no sense to me that the blues artists of yesterday and the hip-hop artists of today voice the same concerns that Dr. DuBios witnessed in that distressed Philadelphia community some 119 years ago. Although the names have changed from Blues to Hip-hop; Muddy Waters to Snoop Dog; Clarence Brown to 50 Cent; John Lee Hooker to Tupac; and Lightnin Hopkins to Dr. Dre, the hardcore language and images of both art forms reflect the same reality from which blues musicians found their songs of despair and from which hip-hop artist are inspired to give voice to and paint portraits of what they see and feel.

Surely we can all agree that distressed people and society at-large would be better served if those who are offended by the hardcore language and image of hip-hop music were to collectively use their energy, influence, and resources to eliminate the longstanding intergenerational impoverished blues that have devastated, far too long, the lives of far too many people.

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About The Author - Michael O'Neal Grafton   All Articles By This Author
The Americanized African Corporation (AAC), a non-profit 501(C) (3) organization, is committed to telling people where to go while simultaneously providing them with the training and opportunities necessary in order to get there. Michael O. Grafton is the Chairman Board of Directors of The Americanized African Corporation (AAC) and is based in Washington D.C. For more information, contact:

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