Rewritin’ Hip Hop History
by Paul Scott
To hear some Hip Hop journalists tell it, there was a time when Hip Hop
magazines were the vanguard of the Revolution. Not since David Walker‘s
“Appeal” were there such powerful writings that shook the foundations of
the system. Some believe that if it wasn’t for Hip Hop journalists ,
slavery would have been back in effect after the Reagan administration.
However, contrary to popular belief, the Source was never “The Negro
World” nor was XXL ever the “The Messenger.”
This is not to say that Hip Hop magazines have not had their shining
moments. XXL’s first couple of issues showed promise that something new
might have been on the horizon and the Source did give the early
conscious rappers a voice in its early years. But that had more to do
with the fact that Hip Hop, itself, was going through a brief conscious
era more so than the Source shaping the direction of Hip Hop. The
writers were merely reporting what was happening in Hip Hop not plotting
a new “vanglorious” course.
Today the Source does have a few interesting articles especially in its
“Ear to the Street” section, however, this is an exception to the rule.
For the most part Hip Hop journalists give the same rehashed stories
over and over again regarding beefs, street credibility and the
obligatory paragraph about a rappers love for weed.
The goal of Hip Hop magazines has and always will be to sell
subscriptions, not to lead black folks to the promised land. For the
most part, the mission of Hip Hop journalists has been to give pseudo
black culture to mainstream America in small doses at a time.
In other words, the cat who buys a Hip Hop magazine in 2009, is the same
dude who bought that Alfonso Ribeiro “Learn How to Breakdance” book back
in the day.
This is not to say that the writers of 20 years ago were any different
than most Hip Hop artists whose end game strategy was to gain acceptance
by the mainstream and to prove once and for all that rappers were
To suggest that there was ever a period when Hip Hop journalists/artists
ever consistently put fighting the power before fighting for profit is a
myth that has been repeated so much that it has become part of the
official Hip Hop canon. Of course, there were some writers who used
their skills as tools to empower the masses. Even today a few still
exist such as Davey D and Rosa Clemente, however they have found ways to
move the crowd , mostly, outside of mainstream avenues. Also, there are
a few Hip Hop artists who have used the art to deliver political
commentary to the streets such as Pittsburgh’s Jasiri X.
While some would write about “The Poor Righteous Teachers,” back in tha
day, few wanted to be one, as assimilation into the mainstream was more
lucrative. This is the true side of Hip Hop journalism that few want to
discuss, therefore we become victims of historical amnesia.
Hip Hop history becomes problematic when, like the rest of American
history it becomes revisionist. Those who are entrusted to record
historical events tend to give themselves or their causes greater roles
than they actually deserve. Therefore, many who see as their crusade to
return Hip Hop back to a “Golden Age” are trying to time travel back to
an age that never really existed to that degree.
If we are ,truly, trying to move Hip Hop forward, we must first dispel
the myths of the past.
First of all, Hip Hop journalism has never been revolutionary in and of
itself. We must remember, as much as we try to extend the time period,
out of the almost 30 years since Hip Hop was first put on wax, the
period of “conscious Hip Hop” was relatively short, barely lasting four
years. What ever conscious Hip Hop of that era was, it was not able to
engage itself in a protracted struggle against the powers that be. At
best the writers did the best they could to enlighten the masses within
the narrow confines imposed on them by those who had a vested interest
in keeping young urban America in the dark.
While some writers consider themselves “underground Hip Hop journalists”
they face the same contradictions as underground Hip Hop artists. As
Huey P Newton said “movements are driven underground” through some form
of political repression. The writings of true revolutionaries are
quickly labeled as contraband by the oppressors, therefore you would not
be able to buy them for $4.99 at your local grocery store.
We must also remember that conscious Hip Hop began to lose it’s
“pro-blackness,” as soon as it began to gain acceptance by the
mainstream. What could have been a force to teach unadulterated black
history/culture to the youth soon became just another way for white kids
to live the hood life vicariously through Hip Hop. They could drink of
the rivers of blackness without experiencing the after taste. Although,
we may wax nostalgic about the pro-blackness of the Hip Hop journalists
during ’88-’92, just like the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, they
were never allowed to reach their full potentials because of the
influences of outside forces. (Read “Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by
Despite all the new prognostications of Hip Hop journalism’s sudden
growth spurt into collective maturity since the last election, it still
is well below the intellectual level that it should have reached during
its 20 years of existence . While some refer to the shallowness of
today’s Soulja Boy -esque Hip Hop as ring tone music, today’s Hip Hop
writings can be best described as “text message journalism.” Thus, it
has not evolved much from where it was two decades ago,
Out of all the things Hip Hop magazines coulda/shoulda done to advance
the culture, their crowning achievement was promoting the East
Coast/West Coast Beef.
If Hip Hop is to move forward, the scribes must see the past as its was
and not through rose colored Gazelles
As the saying goes, “those who don’t learn their history are bound to