I Am Hip-Hop – Cool Conversations

I Am Hip-Hop: Conversations on the Music and Culture by Andrew J. Rausch

This is what Dres of Black Sheep had to say when he was asked, “What does hip-hop mean to you?”

“It’s kind of grown over the years. I’ve kind of come upon a revelation that it’s the music of the people. I heard this poet—an African cat—who was speaking on hip-hop. He observed that if you flip hip-hop around backwards it’s “pih-poh” . . . people. I’ve really embraced that. He’s right. Hip-hop is much bigger than a culture of a sect of people. Hip-hop has the power to affect all people, as does any form of music. I would even go so far as to say that it’s possibly more powerful than other forms of music on a certain level. It can more directly affect the children than other things that are offered to them. Ultimately, that’s how I’ve grown to see music: as something that affects the people—and not always for the best.”

I absolutely loved that he thinks of this culture as belonging to all people. I know a lot of white artists in this genre who say they are guests in hip-hop. Maybe this isn’t exactly true. Hip-Hop can be for, and include, everyone.

Dres goes on to talk about radio hip-hop in an interesting way.

“Rap music, to me, is pop music. It’s the cookie-cutter stuff that’s all over the radio. Someone combined the DNA of pop music and hip-hop music, and the result is rap music, which doesn’t really adhere to that principle. It’s made by artists who don’t really look at it as an art form so much as they look at it as a hustle or a business. It’s work, and it’s just work. That’s cool, and I’m not mad at those artists. But for me, it’s more than just work. We’ve gone really far . . . it’s just too bad we’re going the wrong way. We’ve come really far. Who ever knew there would be hundreds of millionaires because of hip-hop? And that’s such a powerful statement, but what’s sad is what we’re doing with that money. Coming from the condi- tions that we all came from, it’s shameful for us to turn our backs on that and on each other. Someone like Kool Herc or Melle Mel or Kurtis Blow shouldn’t want for anything. There are responsibilities to where we come from that we’re not adhering to.”

This reminds me of a quote from K-os where he is critical of modern hip-hop. He mentions how all of the protests going on can’t use any popular music from the last five years because it wasn’t saying anything relevant to the experience. You can watch it now on CBC. Just search for the June 14th episode of “What’re You At?”

Raush doesn’t just interview well-known emcees either. Here is a great passage about the power hip-hop can have in education. It is from an interview with Michael Cirelli.

“Within the last 10 years, folks have realized that spoken word artists reach the young people a little bit easier than the traditional poets, so there has been a whole movement of organizations such as Urban Word that champion this art form as a way to teach writing and literacy in the classroom. So when I got into the class- room—this white guy from Providence in South Central, teaching 30 kids poetry—I immediately thought of who was the most representative emcee from that geographical area that these kids would be into. I had already acknowledged and realized the poetics of rap lyrics. There was never a differentiation to me. So I just started bringing lyrics to the classroom. Then, in order to teach literary devices, I would just pull out the literary devices in the lyrics and let the students identify them and find ways to learn them and find elements of writing and literacy through those lyrics. If you go into a classroom and ask students who their favorite poets are, they might have some answers. But if you go in and ask who their favorite rapper is, you could have the conversation for an hour. From there you can evolve that to the things they’re talking about and the politics that are invested in their lyrics. So Hip-Hop Poetry and the Classics came out of that using hip-hop in the classroom as a tool and as a subject of its own discourse and study, and then connecting that to what the students have to do in the classroom—the standards-based curriculum that they have to follow.”

I don’t read much in the way of interview compilation books, but this was a great one. I like the way the author gives some brief info about each artist before the interview as well. It’s worth your time if you are a fan of hip-hop.

My List of 2020 Reads – my annual reading (b)log