An op-ed from a friend:Have you ever listened to songs or watched videos from the 80's or early90's and realized how much things have changed, in life as well asmusic? How about watching people in the club lose control when a classichip-hop record blares through the speakers, whisking everyone over theage of twenty-one into a state of complete nostalgia, rememberingexactly where you were and what you were doing when the song was brandnew. As the years go by, it's always experiences like these that reallylet you know full and clear that you are getting old. But with agealways comes wisdom. Kickin' it with younger kids always brings thishome for me. In a poetry/hip-hop workshop I facilitated the other day,while discussing music, writing and creativity with a group of 8th and9th graders, I couldn't help but notice that one of these youngscrappers was wearing a Tupac T-shirt. After a proud speech on how Tupacwas "the realest", I was shocked to hear after asking him what hisfavorite Tupac song was, that he really didn't have one, as he wasn'tinterested in Tupac's music as much as he was in the way the t-shirtmade him look. I then asked him how old he was when Tupac died, to whichhe replied, "I think like...3". I was baffled by this boy's pride towear a t-shirt of a rapper he has never really listened to.This experience has caused me to question, has hip-hop lost its roots?Is the new generation of fans and emcees out of touch with theirheritage? Because hip-hop, for the most part, is marketed to youthculture, how important is it for young people to know the history of themusic, the culture and the revolution? Who is out there to ensure thatwe never forget the strides and mistakes made by those who have comebefore us? How do we know where we're going if we don't know where we'vecome from? Ultimately, I ask, has hip-hop lost its soul?To truly answer these questions, we must first determine what it meansto have "soul". To be "soulful" should not be misconstrued as someonewho wears thrift-store clothing while going shopping for head-wraps andincense. Having soul also does not mean you don't have a job either,because you don't want to work for "The Man", pumping your fist whileyou pose in your Marcus Garvey or Che Guevara shirt. More than an image,a look or an ideal, I think the criteria to be considered "soulful"involves, more than anything else, a keen awareness of your culture orbackground. Be it African-American, Latino, European, Arab, Asian oreven hip-hop, it's important to be aware of who you are culturallybecause in the end, those are your roots as an individual. The soul isconsidered to be the root of the human being. The soul is the veryessence of our existence, thusly becoming the foundation from which wespring forth into the world. To say some one or something has "soul"means that they embody the potential of the present, motivated by thepromise of the future and strengthened by the wisdom of the past.It is our understanding of our past and our culture that guides ourfuture, thus giving us soul. It can be argued that hip-hop music is inthe unique position of being the only genre of music that doesn'tappreciate its own past. If you consider the lifespan of the average rapcareer, which is about three years, and factor in the constant turnoverof record labels' artist rosters, you would see that we have more "Whereare they now?" questions than a missing persons website. It would seemthat our cultural icons are not meant to stay. Why else is it that whena rapper passes the age of 30, he's considered washed up, unlike rockartist such as Steve Tyler from Aerosmith, Paul McCartney from TheBeatles, and Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones, who are all almost intheir 60's and are still able to pack arena's and sell records? On 106thand Park, the Flashback Joint of the Day is usually a song that came outno more than four years ago by artists who, more often than not, are nolonger on the scene. Hip-hop artist comebacks are seldom seen, becausethe artist is usually replaced by a younger, upgraded version of whothey once were.You can't blame hip-hop for neglecting its own past and culture, as thisis the result of a larger problem. Hip-hop, being young itself, is asub-culture stemming from other cultures that have influenced not onlythe music, but the attitude of the people who identify with the entiremovement. Along with the ethnic influences, be they African-American,Latino or Caucasian, hip-hop is mostly a product of its environment, theghettos and low income communities of the inner city. The music was bornfrom the plight of the people who created it. Past and culture aretypically what develop one's morals, values and what we all view asimportant. People understand culture and what's important based on howthey are raised, their upbringing and all that is instilled in them fromthe institution of family. Because the institution of family isconspicuously absent from the landscape of urban America, where fathersfigures aren't present and mothers, more than likely, work all day ornight, we are raised without a sense of history. When there is no senseof history, there is no sense of pride for our own heritage, as we areleft unaware of who we are; unaware of our past, unaware of our culture,unaware of our souls.Because we don't know who we are culturally, the corporate powerstructure that controls television and radio programming, all the whilemarketing hip-hop to sell their products, have been telling us what ourculture is. With missing parental guidance, television and radio havereplaced parents in some households, raising you in the absence of youractual mother and father. Corporate America is trying to have itsconsumer base focus on the right now, keeping your hearts and mindsliving for the moment, rather than moving forward based on yourunderstanding and pride of the past. If all you're about is your fadsand the most recent trend, what will you have when the trend and thefads are gone?Hip-hop culture is starting to lack culture. Is our "in the moment"mentality along with our contempt for anything that isn't brand newushering in the decline of the entire movement? Because hip-hop is nowin its 30's, is it starting to face the same fate as artists in their30's? More than street credibility, I think hip-hop artists need soulcredibility. Like one would have respect for their elders, a hip-hopartist should show respect for those who have come before them, thosewho have paved the way for new artists to find their direction in thehaze and calamity of the entertainment world. I realized however that inorder to get the soul back into hip-hop, we must first get the soul backinto our households. We must learn about our own history, culture andvalues and be proud of them, in order to aware of who we are, where wecome from and what we stand for. If you don't stand for something,you'll fall for anything, but it is the soul of the past that will catchyou and bring you back to the heights that you aspire to reach."It ain't about what you cop, it's about what you keep..."-Lauryn HillThe Final Hour
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