Round 3: Hua Hsu
Thanks for inviting me to participate in this dialogue. It's certainly an important time to be wondering about the future of hip-hop in the age of Obama. I think I'm a bit more optimistic about things, though.
There is this sense that hip-hop is always “dying”—people thought this when the music transitioned from live bands to drum machines, when the West Coast made room at the table for itself, when Diddy showed up, when Eminem became a pop star, etc. Yet it's never really died; it's only grown.
I think it's a convenient and alluring narrative, but also one that seems a bit short-sighted. There are certainly things about hip-hop circa 2009 that don't conform to our most precious idealisms. I feel like everyone goes through a phase when it seems like some cosmic injustice that more people listen to the radio than old Jungle Brothers tapes, or whatever we find to be a progressive alternative. I spent the late 1990s wanting hip-hop to be one way—but it's the other way. And that means the consolidation of a kind of political and cultural capital I never would have imagined possible back when hip-hop seemed like an ever-marginalized form.
Hip-hop in the 1980s and early 1990s was a key disruption to traditional norms, values, racial prejudices, ways of hearing, etc; but it became central to American culture only after it was successfully absorbed by the market. It's a weird thing to acknowledge, the extent to which the rise of the hip-hop mogul (as opposed to hip-hop as a “dispatch from the ghetto”—an expectation I find problematic) facilitated the rise of Obama. While I was busy wishing hip-hop to be something positive or conscious or progressive or whatever, it grew into something completely different: the establishment. Diddy, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons: they are part of the language now, for better or worse.
I'm somewhat ambivalent about the particulars here. But I don't think we can neglect the possibilities and spaces that have been created over the past decade. Obama will certainly change hip-hop. All this “post-racial” talk will probably result in more weird crossings like Lil Wayne's rock song “Prom Queen” or Asher Roth or the amazing Willie Isz record. Feeble, uncritical takedowns of the powers-that-be won't work anymore. Most importantly, I think something like Young Jeezy's “Put On” video, with its Depression influenced scenes of a multiracial underclass, really captures for me the complexities and possibilities of the present.
Next page: Alyssa Rosenberg
"Because they've got a seat at the table, artists who want to make political songs are going to have to identify issues and solutions to them."
Page 1: Alyssa Rosenberg
"On Relapse, the album that he's releasing this week, Eminem's a pill-popping psychopath."
Page 2: Gautham Nagesh
"The days of hip-hop as a 'dispatch from the ghetto' are over."