While many hip-hop fans in the US have started feeling that hip hop is dead, it’s becoming clearer that there is a totally different sentiment in other countries. A major reason for the pessimistic feeling of the US hip hop fans is the commercialization of hip hop culture and the preference for rap which, without the other hip hop elements (graffiti, breakdancing, dj-ing etc), loses all reference and meaning. Gone are the days when there was a balanced view of urban life through hip hop. As major media outlets have welcomed/accepted the art form many US artists have have become comfortable and have lost their focus. The hijacking of the rap element of hip-hop culture has resulted in corporations like Viacom (MTV, VH1) creating a rap culture which has no purpose and looks outside of itself for direction.
But take a trip to any major African country like Senegal and Kenya and you’ll find the music as it once was in the USA. Because of the newness of the music form to Africa and the growing accessibility of it, hip hop is now the voice of the new generation of Africans. What is amazing about the music is how the youth have begun to adapt and use it as a vehicle to change the world around them. More than an entertainment form hip hop is now the standard among young people and as they become more empowered, they put it in song. The accessibility of technologies like video, internet and mobile phones have provided them with the resources they need to connect to one another in real time and develop a unified voice. With all the problems that ail the continent the youth are attempting to make the much needed changes themselves.
I attended a forum last week at The Rotunda Gallery (Brooklyn, NY) put together by my friend Ben of Nomadic Wax records about this particular subject. The conversation was an excellent one with a panel featuring MC’s Chosan (Sierra Leone), Saba Saba aka Krazy Native (Uganda) and poet and activist Toni Blackman. What became evident through the discussion was that the African hip hop movement is a potent one which sees community and social issues as it’s focal point. African hip hop artists are taking the blueprint of US groups like Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, and even Tupac Shakur mixing it with national pride and using it to push their community forward. A recent Reuters article discusses how Senegalese rappers have been able to influence government in the past. Whether by inspiring others or taking the reigns themselves, the artists are hopeful for a new Africa. But the question is will the art form survive the corporate and governmental assaults? I would hope so