The Underground Railroad:Hip-Hop’s express to escape the Minstrel Show PART 3
Author: T. Holiday
“We all chase money ’cause we scared to chase dreams” Talib Kweli is a perennial underground hip-hop artist. His albums Black Star and Reflection Eternal are critical- ly acclaimed classics and considered essential hip-hop records. Since those albums, Kweli has struggled to find a balance between the underground and mainstream audience while maintaining his positive sociopolitical messages. His latest release, Eardrum, debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. It was the highest debut he ever had. The album is filled with messages about positivity in hip-hop and the world. Despite the album debuting at number two, the album never received a video for the lead single and the singles never heard the light of day One of his songs entitled “Oh My Stars” shows Kweli speaking to his children. The message that he gives to them is something every parent with a child could relate to. It is also a message that many children should hear. Kweli raps, “And even though mummy and daddy might fight all through the night / Argue and fuss, you a part of us that we’ve got to get right / I don’t love you to death, cause I love you to life / And you a teenager, you might not want my advice / You .might be full of spite, think you’re grown, still a tyke / And say things that cut like a patient under the knife / I say this, cause I was once a teenager too / And respect for my peers is really all that I related to / But I made it through, you gonna make it too / So much I wanna say to you…” What parent would not like hearing a song with lyrics like that on the radio? It is very musical and the entire song is filled with similar lyrics. He is an African American man who is professing his love for his children. Most African American males are considered horrible fathers and known for leaving their families behind. To have an artist who is a proud parent is a good thing. It should not be hidden in the underground like it is. Along with Talib Kweli’s messages to children and adults, Lupe Fiasco is an- other artist that talks about things that receive little light in the world of hip- hop. His first single “Kick, Push” chronicles the growth of a kid who uses a skateboard. As the kid gets older, his attachment to hi skateboard grows and the events in his life revolve around it. Hip-hop artists claim to be many things, but a skater is not one of them. A skater is typically viewed as a punk-rock white kid. Yet through Fiasco’s song and lyrics, he has opened the door for an alienated part of the hip-hop audience to find a home. The chorus for the song captures the essence of a young skater. “And so he kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, coast / And away he rolled / Just a rebel to the world with no place to go / And so he kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, kick, push, coast / So come and skate with me / Just a rebel / Looking for a place to be / So let’s kick…and push…and coast.”
Now with Talib Kweli as the proud parent and Lupe Fiasco as the skater, MURS could be looked at as the average joe. He isn’t perfect and does not claim to be. MURS takes pride in being an under- ground hip-hop artist. His appeal is that he comes across as someone a person could bump into on the street and not have nightmares about. His last album, Murray’s Revenge, received positive re- views because of the issues he chose to talk about. The All Music Guide wrote: “In Murray’s Revenge, like in his 2004 release, Murs 3:16, his even-paced delivery shies away from ten-cent words and his songs often deal with the standard rap subjects — a hard life, women, and his own talent — but he is also unafraid to dispel some social constructs that many of his peers only help to perpetuate. In “Dreamchaser” he explains that the draw to gang life is because of a lack of positive opportunity (“We all chase money ’cause we scared to chase dreams”), and he discusses the difficulties of not fitting cleanly into racial stereotypes in “D.S.W.G. (Dark Skinned White Girls),” an issue that’s fairly common in contemporary, diverse America. When Murs does slide into talking about himself and his skills a topic no true MC can avoid — he’s such a good storyteller that his boasting isn’t boring, and he’s also willing to admit the bad decisions he’s made, creating a real sincerity in his rhymes. Some of the songs are meant to be didactic, but he’s usually subtle enough to convey his message without being preachy (“For if a soul is avenged through the deeds of a friend/Then success has always been the best form of revenge”). It’s not all seriousness, though; Murs has always been one for a chuckle, and there are some humorous tracks (the aptly named “Silly Girl,” for example), but there’s enough quality, content, and warm West Coast soul samples in Murray’s Revenge to make it a good album that should please fans of any type of hip-hop.
If underground hip-hop albums contain so much positive and relatable issues, why aren’t artists such as Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco and MURS heard on the radio? Why aren’t their videos on MTV’s Total Request Live? Why don’t they even have videos? Why are these artists, who are making critically-ac- claimed classic albums, having such a difficult time finding a buying audience? These are very easy questions that all contain one simple answer. Those artists don’t fit in the mold of the hip-hop minstrel show. Through commercialization, industry executives want people to believe that hip-hop is filled with pimps, thugs, gangsters and hoes. They want everyone to think that every woman dresses in scantily clad material and wants sex all of the time. The images produced on the television screen that are considered “hip-hop” make African American males look scary. If a person turns to a channel to find an angry black- man talking about how he will kill some- body, then that is what the person will think? This is not morally right. That is why I believe it is morally wrong for record companies to promote commercial rap over underground hip-hop. What kind of morals do industry executives have if the only things they promote are sex, drugs and violence? They can not be very high at all. Especially not when there are artists out there who show that black people are more than those stereotypes. Hip-hop music originated with African Americans and now in 2008 commercialism has taken away its true meaning. The Minstrel Show will continue as long as people keep a deaf ear to underground hip-hop.
“My culture’s not a trend, being Black is not in / But for you it’s just a phase you’re gonna have to transcend / While even if I tried, I could never blend in / To society’s mainstream, American dream / Yeah, it’s all one love, but remember one thing / This music is my life, not a cultural fling / It’s an expression of the soul when we dance and sing / And you are blessed to have a chance to even glance the scene.” – MURS, And This Is For, MURS 3:16 the 9th Edition.
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