Hip-hop has always been rebel music. But the object of resistance is difficult to pin down in the 21st century. No, we’re not post-racial. But we have a black president; Flavor Flav is doing Sprint commercials and The Digable Planets now rep for Tide detergent. Mainstream pop culture has embraced the genre, positioning MCs as rebelling against poverty (which is important) with hegemonic excess and little else. These days, the most accessible hip-hop is screaming into the wind to a good beat.
But hip-hop can still be dangerous; it can still challenge in purposeful ways that help to liberate psychologically. It’s a device that we get to attend to as adults. Scarface did it with The Fix; De La Soul did it with The Grind Date; recently Mos Def with The Ecstatic. Rakim gives The Seventh Seal as a “sign of the times” in an effort to have listeners think critically and act deliberately.
Youth is an important engine within hip-hop; with age comes the responsibility to ensure that there truly are No Ceilings with word, work and critique. Adults fortify childhood dreams with reality.
David Wall Rice is a research scientist and professor at Morehouse College. He’s written for the Washington Post, Vibe, The Source and is presently a contributor for The Takeaway.