Bear with me here. I’m asking, from an academic perspective, if the election of Barack Obama will result in the death of hip-hop.
My son’s reading class is studying the poetry of Langston Hughes. I was speaking to him about the subtle threat at the end of “Dream Deferred.” (Read that poem if you haven’t. It’s like ten lines long and quite amazing.) I said, “That line, ‘Does it explode?’ implies that if the needs of a major portion of the population aren’t taken seriously, they can and will erupt in violence.”
My Patient Husband then laughed and asked if I was seriously suggesting that Langston Hughes wrote the “Cop Killer” of his time.
When I was growing up, rap (as it was called then) became progressively more violent, with songs such as the aforementioned “Cop Killer” and my favorite title since forever, “Fuck the Police.” And whenever someone objected to the content of these songs (the violence, the misogynism) it was defended by saying, “This is the voice of the streets, of the underrepresented minorities, and they are giving words to their anger at society.”
That might have been academic double-speak, but I can completely believe that someone who spends his life judged by the combination of his skin color and his zip code might well feel the police need to be killed or, er, well, you read the other title and figure out how to make that sound snarky.
The election of Barack Obama, in a purely symbolic sense, smashes that whole “American society hates minorities” mentality, though. Again, this is purely symbolic because his election isn’t going to directly benefit any single individual regardless of skin color, but right now, any young black man or woman in American can look at Barack Obama and think, “There is no job in America that I cannot have.”
And they’re right. That’s as it should be.
Knowing anything is possible, is it eventually going to be understood that this anger, this “voice of the people,” no longer needs to be voiced?
The recording artists aren’t going to dry up and blow away (they want to make money) but the market of listeners might. If the anger of the music doesn’t resonate in the heart, maybe the listener will change the channel. Maybe the buyer will think twice before laying down money to play an ode to frustration he no longer feels.
It might not happen quickly. But… it might happen at all. Another chapter in history would close.