Hip Hop On Trial debates at the Barbican – old school nostalgia opposed by commercial rap’s image


Hip Hop On Trial? Who dragged hip hop into the courtroom under false pretence when it should have been commercial rap, that should be cross examined?

Hip Hop On Trial? Who dragged hip hop into the courtroom under false pretences when it should have been its rebellious cousin, commercial rap, that should have been cross examined?

Watch the entire Hip Hop On Trial debate below – panel line up is listed at the bottom of this article

Hip Hop On Trial at Barbican Centre was one of, if not the only time that so many esteemed (that’s debatable) faces from hip hop culture would have been in one room together to discuss a topic intelligently. But it was hyped up and misleading, narrow minded, focusing only rap, not hip hop lifestyle. Damn, and it was supposed to be all in the name.

Does rap music degrade society? No, it’s the other way round. Think about the setting for this debate: An elitist fortress in the City of London in a moderated situation that could be likened to a dinner party debate (Google yourself other debates Intelligence Squared hold and you may agree with this observation). Organisers that are intelligent but are unsure about what rap is. And £25 tickets to something you discuss with your mates and draw better conclusions. Would that be paying for a one sided debate? This trial needed a public gallery seating the people that got ticket hook ups!

With an activist reverend on the panel many people were coming for answers. Instead this was preaching to the ignorant, and the ignorants weren’t the hip hoppers, because they came to listen.

There were two sides at Hip Hop On Trial: Eamon Courtenay is a lawyer to argue that hip hop is degrading: His job is to convice you that you’re wrong, even when you’re right, and Michael Eric Dyson, a hip hop intellect, representing the hip hopper’s point of view.

Once upon a time there was a genesis called hip hop that spoke about self awareness, how difficult it was to get a job and questioned whether there was any justice or equality in the world. But it grew older and became the victim of misguided choices and went down the route of self destruction. That was then, this is now, many ‘true hip hoppers’ are stuck in nostalgia. And the same happened with this debate.

Hip Hop On Trial debates

Rap is just bad poetry? It’s one thing to make an assumption, but another to try and spit a rhyme off the top of your head! Self righteous points of view? Don’t forget to hear others out. You live in the Hip Hoposphere, apparently. From politically motivated poets printing their own pamphlets in the nineteenth century to rappers selling mixtapes from their car boots, what is the difference in this old school hustle?

There is a much wider debate that could be had here, such as the role hip hop has to play in African American or British black people’s identity and how the Caucasian community has adopted it, and maybe someday that debate will be held. So instead here are the top points raised at the Hip Hop On Trial debates. There’s opinions and then there’s facts, and it’s up to you to decide which you agree or disagree with.

Society is degraded, hip hop is the response

In the opening argument for hip hop, Touré argues that hip hop has reflected society and come about as the war on drugs. The same way social (society) media responds almost immediately with a trending topic, the same trending topic appears in hip hop. But this is commercial rap we’re talking about… Everyone has their own opinions and experiences of it.

But, hip hop’s seductive nature is abused as a marketing tool

It’s plain to see if you do your research that a lot of rap culture comes from prison culture, from handshakes to how you wear your jeans and that plaster thing Nelly used to wear. Ironically the argument came from a FOX Sports columnist, and we all know Fox is never partisan in it’s views… yet he reinforced the point that the African American man’s image has been shaped by rap music and the imagery that goes with it, how many have imitated it because they weren’t given direction or alternative role models. As for those that did come up from being drug dealers rapping about what they do, how many do you think are proud of ruining other people’s lives by slanging them drugs?

Hip hop is exactly the same as the pop stars little girls sing along to and hang posters on their wall with semi-naked imagery and thrusting hips. Take them to trial too!

Jason Whitlock’s debate

Go back to the dictionary!

Hip hop has its own language – or to put it more precisely, its own dialect. Call someone a ‘bitch’ it can mean a female dog (or wolf, or fox, or otter), a difficult situation or can also be an acronym for “Because I Take Charge Here,” “Because I Totally Challenge Him” and not disrespect to a lady. The same way people might not get classical or opera because it has it’s own dialect, other audiences aren’t meant to get hip hop. It was too bad that Joe Budden and the rest of Slaughterhouse had to walk out against their debate…

Tony Sewel raised the point: Do you have to speak ‘hip hop’ to be accepted? Then again, where is the appreciation for Ebonics?

The racism and misogyny is within us

It happens that offending people is within us, from discrimination about race to being sexist: Racism goes down the route of slave trade and colonialising countries to patriarchal societies through to the media’s image of ethnic minorities and the objectivication of women. Hip hop didn’t start it off, just drew your attention to it!

And the “N word” debate will always rage on no matter how many times it is debated. Regardless of the history and etymology of it, whether it derives from the word ‘negus’ meaning ‘king,’ or the claim that it’s empowering by reclaiming it, it’s a whole other debate.

It’s the politician’s point of view… and the political points of view were ignored

It seems that all the arguments against hip hop in the past have come about due to politicians pandering for votes: Think 2Pac being singled out for cops being murdered after finding his record in the shooter’s car, think Ice T singing about being a cop killer and the call for it to be banned.

Deeb, the political rapper that came about from the Arab Spring movement spoke all but once (maybe twice) and Benjamin Zephaniah, acclaimed poet, published author and outspoken against the system (he turned down an MBE from the queen – publicly) spoke once. Oh, and if the government advisor for youth is as closed minded as Shaun Bailey, will the youth ever get a voice? The lyrics he quoted about “bitches ain’t shit” was a diss track between the Death Row and Ruthless Records band camp, and wasn’t gender specific.

Hip hop moderates itself

And few other cultures do this so freely. It has the power to degrade society, but also to uplift it. Perhaps looking for the positive and not only wanting to see the negative in something might help people?

Of course hip hop doesn’t degrade society!

The commercial stuff, sure. Guns, materialism, bling, whatever the debate was supposed to get at. But think of every sample used in a record that inspired you to research the original version of a song, every documentary watched created by passionate, pro-active hip hoppers, every popular culture reference, metaphor and in-joke in lyrics that has been rapped about? That came out of hip hop.

It’s time to give up some heartbeat props and start appraising what hip hop has, or had to say about society. Let’s take it back…

The Hip Hop On Trial panel

Shaun Bailey – Special adviser to the Prime Minister’s office on youth, crime and welfare issues
Deeb – Egyptian “Arab Spring” rapper
Estelle (via Google+ Hangout) – Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter
dream hampton – American hip-hop journalist, cultural critic and film-maker
Jesse Jackson – Civil rights activist, Baptist minister and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition
KRS-One – Hip-hop pioneer, record producer and activist
Jaron Lanier – American computer scientist, virtual reality pioneer and musician
James Peterson – Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University and founder of Hip Hop Scholars LLC
P. J. O’Rourke (via Google+ Hangout) – American political satirist and author
Q-Tip (via Google+ Hangout) – American rapper, producer and frontman of iconic hip-hop act A Tribe Called Quest
?uestlove (via Google+ Hangout) – Co-founder of Grammy Award winning band The Roots, DJ, music journalist and producer
Tricia Rose – Brown University Professor and author of the groundbreaking books on hip-hop: Black Noise and The Hip Hop Wars
Tony Sewell – CEO of the charity Generating Genius
Slaughterhouse (via Google+ Hangout) – Rap supergroup made up of Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joel Ortiz, and Royce Da 5’9
John Sutherland – Emeritus Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London
Isiah Thomas (via Google+ Hangout) – Former top 50 NBA basketball player and Chairman and CEO of Isiah International
Touré (via Google+ Hangout) – American TV presenter, novelist, journalist and cultural critic
Jason Whitlock – Columnist for FoxSports.com
Benjamin Zephaniah – Dub poet and musician

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