Picture this: a 14 year old homeless teenager called Lawrence Parker wanders the streets of New York without a place to go. With a desire to improve his surroundings, he educates himself through the Cities public libraries. As part of his growth he gets involved with the Hare Krishnas. His friends nickname him KRSNA, a title he would later shorten to his Graffiti tag KRS!.
As he gains the power of his new found knowledge, he embarks on a spiritual journey. He calls this journey hip-hop. After learning how to rap and inspire others, the world sits up and listens. With this comes financial rewards and Lawrence becomes a world hip-hop star called KRS-One. In many ways this story embodies hip-hop’s history as a voice for ghetto youth. It is the true rag’s to riches story that many of us hold close to our hearts.
But how real is this dream today? Which hip-hop stars truly serve as a representation for their communities. The answer sadly, is very little. As hip-hop has developed to reflect a corporate culture, it’s hard to see where the love for it’s roots remains. Artists like Jay-Z are talented. Just like KRS he comes from a background that many would consider modest. He came out of that is now a multi-millionaire. But his lyrics often seem to support a capitalist culture of excess rather than something which is real to the youth of today.
Is today’s message of commercial hip-hop any different to that of corrupt bankers? Especially when the actions of Lil Wayne is to throw money around like it’s worthless. How is this any different to the men in business suits a lot of inner city youths claim to despise. The men whose ignorance caused an economic crash which directly effects the lives of the poor. How much of these rap stars show off gold chains instead of putting money back into their community. You could say what a man does with his own money is nobodies business but it becomes an insulting hypocrisy when these people claim to be our voice in the public eye.
Rap music is republican and often serves to keep a status quo of economic inequality. Birdman wants your money the same way Coca Cola strive to keep you buying their products. He flashes a rented chain to keep people in awe of his lifestyle. It’s strange then that many people could take that as a voice for their own circumstances. Kanye West spoke out about Hurricane Katrina yet his latest album is an egotistical exercise in self glorification. What message does he give those less better off than himself? By holding these people in such high esteem we are getting away from the core issues we wake up to everyday.
Perhaps modern hip-hop has become a form of escapism, but then this dilutes what it really could be. A movement for the poor on par with that of any political initiative. What other form of music allows people to better themselvs simply by being who they are on a microphone? Nothing speaks directly to a listener like the lyrics of an impassioned emcee. The audience for hip-hop is vast and when artists come along with a message people are effected. So why then do we allow those with their own interests at heart to become our spokesperson?
In late 2009, Krs returned to The Bowery Mission. The homeless center where he grew up. He is quoted as saying “”I am showing up for Thanksgiving this year to not only lend a hand, but hope that I am may inspire others in the hip-hop community to consider their role towards helping the the homeless, and join me by helping those in your community that need help during this holiday season.” Needless to say Lil Wayne didn’t show up.