Can Hip-Hop Hang With Hard Times?

 

We know how presidents have flavored American culture in the past. The Kennedys brought class. The Carters, earthiness. When we look back on the Clinton years, the word "excess" will probably come to mind.

So with the election of George W. Bush as our country's 43rd president, I can't help but wonder how he will affect us and our art. Many of us will now have to contend with a man whose priorities couldn't be further from our own. Like Mos, Pharoahe Monch and Nate Dogg sing, "Oh, no!"

Think about it. For the past 10 or so years, hip-hop has mirrored the record economic boom of Bill Clinton. The champagne flowed and the diamonds glittered. In music videos and on the streets, our gear upped a notch from Polo and Guess to Prada and Versace. Our celebs boasted of friends the likes of Donald and Donatella. And the mantra we chanted was none other than Puff's own "It's all About the Benjamins." We spent our money on luxe stuff while Jay-Z and J.D. bragged that "Money Ain't a Thang." But W. and the recession that's threatening to come our way will let us know just how much of a thang money is —-- especially if it won't go as far as it once did.

A new day in hip-hop
Hip-hop's lyrics have generally reflected either what we needed, wanted or didn't have. I can't say that we haven't been materialistic in the past (who can forget that enormous jewelry collection that Slick Rick wore around his neck?), but damn if it hasn't gotten a bit extra (check out Cash Money Click's video for "Bling Bling," where they wear two Rolexes on each wrist and a mouthful of platinum teeth. All to prove just how much chedda they have. Riiight.). Like Wu says, "Cash Rules Everything Around Me."
But imagine how that tune will change when our new president —-- the one who supports, no, embraces , the death penalty; who wants to take away a woman's right to choose; drain money from our public schools into vouchers; privatize health care so even fewer poor folk can afford to get sick; and give tax cuts to the richest of folks (and no, your favorite platinum-dipped rapper need not apply) —-- takes office.

For richer, for poorer
Let's be real, though. Not too many mainstream rappers will start rhyming about something other than their money, hoes and clothes. And I can betcha that no single featuring Jay-Z addressing our potential economic and political struggles is in the works. What I do know is that once an economic meltdown hits your average hip-hop head in the pockets, we're not gonna wanna hear too much about yet another iced-out piece of platinum jewelry some rapper just bought (not while we're still shining those teeny studs we were lucky enough to catch on sale —-- don't front!).

Hip-hop is not just about excess. It's also about the everyday people who'll suffer hard when unemployment rates soar from their historic lows. Our rappers are good for parties when the good times are propping us up. But when we're all on our way down, will they respond? Will they at least try to voice the frustrations of real heads who are struggling, as hip-hop did in its early days?

I hope so. I hope mainstream hip-hop won't abandon us when we need it even more. I hope there will always be those cats —-- like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and dead prez —-- who remember the roots of hip-hop and keep us balanced and focused. Cuz W. certainly won't. These artists will remind us, as dead prez so eloquently put it, "you rather have a Lexus or justice/ a dream or some substance/ a beemer, a necklace or freedom? ... Cuz this is bigger than hip-hop." I heard that.

Read More