This relationship is complicated — an entanglement reaching the half century mark, that I'm lending a serious side eye to everytime I experience the massive amount of positive attention, as everyone scrambles to give it some flowers.
I'm off the Scrooge as one birthed and reborn from the culture, because I remember. I was in it and of it, amongst a cloud of witnesses watching the subcultures it inspired and birthed; how it's pillars of expression were born from the force fed detritus of social neglect, out of necessity, whose same pillars were subsequently transmuted into tools for social change, the proliferation of trauma and corporate greed.
I remember the onset of messaging in the art, the focus on cultural pride, the stories shared granting uncensored access to life in every borough, why the Bridge was over, why Brooklyn kept on taking it. The never ending tales of police brutality and new familial structures of Southern Cali, the scrapers and Panthers in the Yay, what fantastic volumes, hay in the barn and the first of the month meant to the midwest the sub frequencies and trunk rattle, dirty red dogs, the ATLien invasion and the public defense of the 1st amendment in the stories from the south and these were just the sounds of the revolution. End to end pieces, fat laces, frozen bodies on linoleum, cross faders, dusty fingers, airbrushed T-shirts, remixed; goods, technologies, business plans that turned a businessman into a "business, man" all acting in concert that moved numbers on Wall Street, newsstands and in throughout the prison industrial complex. White lines to pipelines, so to speak. I remember the massive amount of pushback against, hate toward, and dismissal of what was labeled a “fad”; as parents, congresspersons and sociologists spewed warnings and assurances regarding the temporal nature of this "ghetto phenomenon". There were massive pushes to legislate and codify the othering of "the culture", passing and enacting prejudicial laws, that continue to be used to prosecute creators based on their choice of artistic expression. Same shit, different era.
So we're giving flowers, but some of them jonts mixed up in this bouquet, to keep it a solid one, need to be weeds. We know that the culture ain’t clean, it’s not this revisionist version of golden aged self expression, self love and good vibes. Just as it ain't all about rapping and dancing, and that these other pillars exist, we also have to collectively admit that the culture has been problematic. 50 years that quite honestly, has been a haven for misogyny, homophobia, all the isms, and a rookery of albatross around its collective neck, the same albatross that historically migrate alongside the black and brown diasporic cultures of the creators and curators of "the culture". Congruently and historically, there has also been the co-opting of black and brown cultural creations by those once opposed to those cultures that serves as a through line within this narrative. The loss of generational wealth to bad deals and stolen IP from the unknown contemporaries of Dondi, Sharock, April Walker, Crazy Legs, Herc, and many more unknown knowns is super real.
The way my mental health is setup I was low key triggered when asked about the social impact of hip hop, because all my real coexisting trauma and joy is being tossed against this faux, follower performative love. Everybody is on the hip hop 50 bus, and this cultural movement has had real life involvement in world economies, social justice, reform, true democracy, and the lives of those who've resisted and adopted its offerings.
The duality of the cultures ability to be linchpin, backbone and cornerstone while also being the last straw, noose and tether, speaks to the complexity similar to familial structures of the cultures that blended to make it possible, so ease up interlopers and tuck your gentrification.
This culture that save/s/d lives has also rendered many Sisyphus, struggling to hold gravity at bay. The collective WE still love HER, no matter how they identify, we know some of the stories and irrespective of its complex legacy we are fully aware that there are now millions of stories in thousands of languages specific to a multitude of geographies because a singular culture has made an indelible mark on the entirety of humankind. Hopefully we can pass down some wisdom while breaking generational curses, untether our specific lexicon of language from the judicial system, lean into empathy and hold space for still unheard voices that rely on these pillars to provide shelter and stability.
Written by Kokayi Issa.
Kokayi is a preeminent improvisational vocalist, artist, producer, GRAMMY-nominated musician and multi-disciplinary fine artist. He is a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow for Music Composition, Halcyon Arts Fellow, and Nicholson Arts Fellow, who can be heard on over 60 titles spanning: Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock, and R&B.