What Will Be Hip-Hop's Legacy?
A Harvard hip-hop scholar compares the golden age to today's era of violence and greed.
The legacy of hip-hop will also depend on how it resolves its issues with women, and vice versa. There are most definitely some foul lyrics about women and their relationships with men that reinforce the fact that hip-hop, like the society it criticizes, is a microcosm of patriarchal authority that relegates women, their needs and their contributions to the margins.
Take Jay-Z, for example. I am probably Hov's biggest fan, but pre-Beyoncé, Jay-Z was pretty hard on the ladies. See "Ain't No Nigga," featuring Foxy Brown. See "Big Pimpin'," featuring UGK. See "I Know What Girls Like," featuring Lil' Kim.
Women must also take some responsibility for how they practice what historian and author Darlene Clark Hine calls "dissemblance." In her article "Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West," Hine writes about how black women in particular strategically conceal their true selves while "remaining an enigma" as a way to galvanize the "psychic space" and "resources needed to hold their own in the often one-sided and mismatched resistance struggle." Many women of hip-hop enter through the doors of strip clubs and videos with dreams of being a singer, actor or model, but for the overwhelming majority, body politics do not lead to the professional transitions they seek.
What conclusions can be drawn from the excess of bootylicious images of women in advertising, magazines, videos and books like Karrine Steffans' Vixen series and Culo -- the new coffee-table book by Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jimmy Iovine and Raphael Mazzucco -- which praises the female derriere? Women participate in these stereotypical images, which on the surface seem celebratory but simply objectify and virtually cancel out the many contributions made to hip-hop by female rappers, directors, choreographers, record executives and intellectuals.
The Mis-Education of Hip-Hop
How tragic will it be if the legacy of hip-hop culture -- its music, lyrics, videos, films books and other archival holdings -- is predominated not by the constructive elements that school us in new ways of doing business, new ways of expression or perhaps new ways for teachers to deliver classroom instruction, but rather the paradox of gluttony?
The true legacy of hip-hop, which I believe will ultimately prevail, is in the fact that it changed the urban landscape, as Stoute explains. In fact, many colleges, universities, intellectuals, teachers, counselors, health practitioners and even parents are in support of the instructional value of several hip-hop books, lyrics, music, videos and films. That support signals a move toward determining what material is worth archiving for the benefit of generations to come.
Dr. Joycelyn Wilson is the Hiphop Archive Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.