Gratulerer med dagen, hiphop!
11. august 1973 inviterte DJ Kool Herc og søsteren Cindy Campbell til «back to school»-fest i 1520 Sedgwick Avenue i Bronx, New York. Denne kvelden endret 16-åringen musikkhistorien, og i dag feires hiphops 40-årsdag i New York.
ØH: Was hip-hop a nonviolent, political and nonracist movement from the start, or is this an idea that came much later?
JC: I think this is an idea that came much later. In Can’t Stop Won’t Stop I try to show the social context for hip-hop was in the politics of abandonment and the politics of containment that our generation has lived through, but which has been most deeply felt by young people of color in the inner cities. Hip-hop, however, began as a way for those young people of color simply to have fun.
It didn’t start with a political agenda, and the parties where people gathered didn’t always end with everyone going home happy and peaceful. I think that when hip-hop came downtown during the early 80’s a mythology built up amongst older white liberal supporters of the culture. A popular myth was that the kids were leaving violence to dance or spraypaint or rap. But while they meant well, the picture that they painted was a bit too simplistic. Hip-hop was a youth culture that reflected what these youth were going through – and certainly youth have tensions over things big and small all the time.
ØH: Was hip-hop in its infancy mostly party orientated, or was it concerned with political issues, social concerns and rebellion from the start?
JC: Again, hip-hop was just a way for kids to have fun, to fill their days with pleasure. There were some – like Afrika Bambaataa or Phase 2 – who saw the culture as having a much larger impact on the world, and having meaning in relation to the political and social currents of the time. But it was pastime for the vast majority of participants.
This is not to say that the act of doing hip-hop was not political in a sense. To paraphrase Amiri Baraka, the act of being of color and poor, and yet able to create something beautiful was, in a sense, political and rebellious in and of itself. Certainly, by the time the 80’s came, thanks to people like Bam, many more of the participants in hip-hop realized this, and attempted to use the culture to make statements. Good examples are Lee Quinones’ graffiti mural «Stop the Bomb», or even Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s «The Message».
ØH: Why do you think hip-hop was born in the Bronx, and why has it such a lasting and wide ranging appeal all over the world?
JC: I think hip-hop started in the Bronx because the gangs had organized young people, and once the peace treaty of 1971 was established, there was an explosion of creative energy that was unleashed from these same young people. And i think that because these young people faced the devastation caused by the politics of abandonment so deeply and so quickly, the art that they created amidst this chaos translated very well to other areas across the United States and around the world that would also come to be affected by the politics of abandonment.
When kids in North Philadelphia, South Central Los Angeles, North Miami, South Houston, West Oakland, or wherever, encountered hip-hop, they could recognize it as something that was somehow already intimate, familiar, and liberating, just the way it had been for the kids in the Bronx.
ØH: Why is hip-hop today seen as a mainly African-American and African-Caribbean culture? Is the Puerto Rican and American-Italian influence invisible and in danger of being forgotten, and does this pose a problem when white, Asian and Latin American kids want do adopt the culture.
JC: I think the roots of hip-hop are black. hip-hop is an afrodiasporic culture that came together on North American soil, but reflects the rhythms, traditions, and styles of the African diaspora in the new world, including afro-latino Puerto Rico. I also think that if you speak to any of the pioneers they will say that they are amazed and happy at how the culture has been embraced by young people of all cultures around the world.
Often people will wonder how it is that I, an Asian/Pacific islander born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, came into hip-hop. but I’m a cliché. There are millions of people like me, and I have found a place in hip-hop through many years of being in the cipher. In the cipher, one needs to add on or step out. Hip-hop rewards those who will bring something different to the table, which is what has made it such a powerful idea in our generation.
ØH: Why do you think the political hip-hop movement of the late 80’s is still being seen as an ideal for many people. And were Public Enemy and Spike Lee really that political, or were they just pointing at problems with no answers for solutions? And how important was the absence of real political leaders for the hip hop culture – as opposed to the 1960’s?
JC: Well, there’s many reasons. One is that many of us now writing the history of hip-hop came of age during that era. There’s a certain sense of narcissistic nostalgia for the particular rebellions of our own youth. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing. At the same time, I do think that younger people want to know why things are the way they are now, and there is a desire to learn about the late 80’s as a period in which the music was working dialectically with some political movements on the ground. I’m not interested in romanticizing the era, although I do have a deep love for the culture, music and heroes of that time.
I think that Chuck D and Spike Lee were anointed community leaders because of the great generational gap in leadership, and because of the shift – that continues to today -of politics becoming just another part of the larger popular culture. Neither Chuck nor Spike wished to take up the mantle of political leadership in the old sense. They wanted to make charged statements, to be sure, but they didn’t hope to be elected or to take up charismatic leadership roles like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King jr. Yet because the popular culture was shifting quickly, and political leadership failed to recognize that shift, they were turned into voices of the people practically overnight. I think this is really the context for the massive internal tensions they began to encounter in the summer of 1989.
I think it’s still strange to see how artists – who have a much different way of looking at the world than politicians – turned into leaders. I tell people all the time: let the activists and organizers lead us, and let the artists create art, and let us not confuse their roles in our lives.
ØH: What were the impacts of the gangsta rap revolution in the early 90’s and how has this changed America? Is gangsta rap underestimated for its underlying social concerns and street reportage, or has the nihilism and materialism taken over?
JC: First of all, the fact is that many rappers are neither nihilistic or materialistic, but never receive the same kind of promotion from record companies that other artists do. And frankly, controversies over gangsta rap almost always displace the real issues that they raise. for instance, lots of people worry about bling and gun-talk. But why do we never criticize where these values come from?
While the U.S. allows thousands of Iraqis to be killed, destroys Iraqi cities, allows its antiquities to be looted, and remakes the country to pursue the greatest accumulation for a small band of oil-profiteers that do not have Iraq’s best interests at heart, we focus on how terrible it is that rappers are rapping about «get rich or die trying». I think the concern may be a little misplaced. Gangsta rap reflects the same nihilism and materialism that are already the dominant values of our culture. If we want to change the culture, we need to change ourselves.
ØH: Where do you see the hip-hop culture going in the next 20 to 30 years?
JC: I am not as good at predicting the future as I am at talking about the past. but as long as hip-hop continues to be remade from the street level and neighborhood level on up by young people, it will continue to be a dominant popular cultural force throughout the world. If it becomes solely an enterprise milked by multinational conglomerates and force-fed to the masses, it will die.
ØH: Black popular music has traditionally gone through great changes each decade; with jazz, blues, gospel, soul, funk, disco, house and hip-hop. But what comes after hip-hop? Is r&b and urban pop music à la Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado a new revolution, or just old news?
JC: No, i think the next thing comes along – and it comes from the bottom, from the margins, from the places least expected. It never comes prepackaged from the wealthy and the powerful. It will be created by kids who have nothing but what they create to fill their lives and that idea springs up from the most abandoned, degraded place to rise up and affect everyone throughout the world with a taste for the new and a desire to tell the world their story. Aand so i think the next hip-hop comes from outside of the U.S. – from a ghetto in South Africa or China, or a favela in Brazil, or maybe even Norway. Then the cycle begins again.