What are your earliest memories of rap?
“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang and “The Message” shortly thereafter. They were mainly played by college radio and by my Uncle Nate, as well as older cousins Ronneire (R.I.P.) and Michelle.
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Chuck D once famously called hip-hop the CNN of the Black community, the way people got the news. Is it still?
I think rap still has the potential to be the CNN/news media of the Black community, and many rappers get to the meat of the things going on in our community.
However, a lot of current rap (post-commodification) is more like Fox News (conservative, self-hating/anti-Black talking points, hyper-capitalist) or some Hollywood movie studio (over-the-top, action-packed but essentially vapid), and now with the proliferation and mainstreaming of super-explicit rap, even an X-Rated video company. I think that rap used to be a lot more aspirational and politically charged, but there are still a lot of artists who are holding that torch—just not in the mainstream. Also, I feel like a lot of the younger generation of MCs are more in touch with their feelings and mental health than the previous generations.
As far as the “who”—I would say Skyzoo, Masta Ace, Killer Mike, Backwood Sweetie, Kendrick Lamar, and Billy Woods really are keeping the real-talk, politically charged rap rolling.
Fifty years ago hip-hop started a revolution, not just in music but in fashion, film, TV, art. Is another revolution possible now?
Revolution is possible, but to characterize the past “revolution” as existing in the categories of “music, fashion, film, and TV”—all products in this capitalist society —is not revolutionary by any means. Although some power dynamics have shifted and placed some agency and resources into the hands of the traditionally oppressed, the same people who profited off of the plantations of the agrarian colonies, the factories of the industrial revolution, and the financial windfalls of the tech revolution are the ones reaping the lion’s share of the profits of current hip-hop as well.
However, hip-hop’s ability to rapidly transmit information and ideas, to connect and galvanize people, and to present alternatives to what we see as normal will always hold the potential for radical change.
Interview with Kyle Eustice
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