What’s Going On: The Hip-Hop Era
by Todd A. Smith
When hip-hop legend, Nas, began promoting the title of his latest CD, I was one of the many that thought that hip-hop had finally taken it too far. I believed Nas was using the N-word as the CD title as a mere publicity stunt to gain more attention for the project. After months of political pressure and protest by civil rights leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, The Island Def Jam Music Group and Columbia Records forced their artist to release the project as a self-titled CD after many retail stores made it clear that they would not stock an album called (N-word).
Despite the controversy that erupted over the original CD title and the negative lyrics of some rappers, what we received from the NAS CD was not the ignorance that many critics thought we would get, but the most intelligent and thought provoking hip-hop CD in over 20 years. Not since Public Enemy’s heyday has a musical artist presented an entire album dedicated to the struggles and the triumphs of African Americans, and caused those who are very critical of rap music to take a critical look at themselves and realize that many rappers are willing to be the leaders of tomorrow if we took the time to understand their struggles and their solutions to the problems plaguing the Black community.
NAS is hip-hop’s version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and introspective look at the problems confronting the African American community from unhealthy eating habits, sub-par schools and self-hate.
In the song “Sly Fox,” the Queens, N.Y. native takes aim at Bill O’Reilly and Fox news for their conservative slant on the news we see and their tumultuous history with the hip-hop community. Nas rhymes:
“They own YouTube, MySpace
When this ignorant sh*t gon’ stop?
They monopolizing news
And the channel you choose
On “Fried Chicken,” he collaborates with Busta Rhymes for unprecedented depiction of unhealthy eating habits among African Americans, which is the main culprit in the Black community’s battles with high blood pressure and heart disease.
“Mmm, Fried chicken
Give me heart disease
But need you in my kitchen”
On the track “(N-Word)(The Slave and The Master)”, Nas discusses issues from outdated school books in Black schools to self-hate, while arguing that we are the problem and the solution to the ills plaguing the Black community.
In the chorus Nas raps:
“They say we (N-word)
We are much more,
Still we choose to ignore,
Man this history don’t acknowledge us.
We was scholars long before colleges …
We are the slave and the master,
What you looking for?
You the question and the answer.”
And in the timely track, “Black President,” states:
“I think Obama provides hope and challenges minds
Of all races and colors to erase the hate
And try to love one another, so many political snakes
We in need of a break”
Although the profane lyrics might go too far at times and offend some non-hip-hop heads, the climate is changing in the hip-hop culture from focusing on the frivolous (i.e. materialism) to focusing on the future (i.e. politics). Barack Obama’s presidential bid has done a lot to destroy the stereotypes of African Americans, especially the younger generation. Many television and record company executives (i.e. Black Entertainment Television) believe that the young hip-hop generation is not intelligent enough for socially conscious rappers. However, with the success of Nas, Common and Lupe Fiasco and the attention placed on politics in the Black community, maybe the rappers are the intelligent ones and those in suits and ties are the ones not intelligent enough to appreciate the brilliance of some in the hip-hop community.