I’ve mentioned before in this column that I grew up listening to hip-hop, which is something that characterizes my generational cohort. I remember hearing rap for the first time at summer camp in 1986 as an 11-year-old (“Girls Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) and getting hooked on the form at school a year later (Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back). In 8th grade I was cruising with a stack of cassette tapes and a Sony Walkman, rocking everything from Poor Righteous Teachers and EPMD to Chubb Rock and Erik B. and Rakim, and by high school all of my friends were wearing Tommy Hilfiger shirts and baggy Guess jeans, unless they had the mojo to rock Girbaud.
There is something ridiculous about white middle class kids throwing themselves into the language of urban black culture with so much abandon that they lose their bearings. But there is something beautiful about it too, especially because we were looking for direction in a musical genre that was, at least at that point, devoted to The Message. (Grandmaster Flash helped introduce the art through a melancholic disco anthem of the same name). Whether it was the positive survival strategies of Gang Starr and Tribe Called Quest, the radical lyricism of Rakim and RZA, or the cold-blooded myth-making of Tupac and Biggie, we saw rap as a way of negotiating the world around us, albeit metaphorically.
I look other places for the message now and I rarely listen to hip-hop, but metaphor —the pattern of truth, language, and nature—is still a powerful influence. This week’s feature looks at how local artists are trying to put hip-hop back on the center stage. As Louis “Waterloo” Hampton says in the story, quoting rap pioneer KRS-One, “Hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement.” What good is the knowledge without the movement?–Giles Morris