Last week, I made the mistake of following a tweet from the homie DJ Hyphen about a Google-sponsored debate called "Hip-Hop on Trial," a live-on-YouTube meeting of the minds that included dream hampton, Michael Eric Dyson, Tricia Rose, and, oh god—KRS-One. I only caught the last hour or so of it, just enough to give me that unique but too-familiar mix of feelings: rage at the outsiders who would judge hiphop without understanding, without acknowledgment of a bigger failure at work—and embarrassment at the dumbass, dishonest, and disingenuous shit rappers say on the regular, but especially when rap is under attack like that.
Let me examine one small example. When someone quoted Kanye's verse on "Mercy"—"You know how many hot bitches I own?" (Jesus...)—KRS calmly informed the guy that Yeezy was referring to his cars and not women. He also brought out the old "look in the dictionary" chestnut, telling everybody what they already knew—"bitch" means "female dog"; as posh as it sounds, I crazily doubt that Kanye was bragging about his breeding stable of Pomeranians. Lastly, KRS told the crowd and the global audience that they should "acro-knowledge" the word, and retcon this term into a jaunty acronym: "Because I Take Charge Here" or "Because I Totally Challenge Him." I turned it off, despairing.
When I inevitably returned to the stream, dream was attempting to explain something about patriarchy and hiphop, which isn't something that gets talked about enough; too bad, and too fitting, then, that KRS completely spoke over her, perhaps embodying her point as much as he once claimed to embody hiphop. This ain't about him, though; it's about all of us. You know how many grown men I know who refer to women strictly as "bitches"? This thing is as old as a Black Sheep skit (don't try to play me out), but this shit is still dire.
Very few rappers in the light are currently living up to the responsibility of their station. Nas's new song "Daughters" is a very welcome exception, where literal patriarch Nasir has to honestly examine his public moves and choices in light of his now-teenage daughter's coming of age; it gets real when he refers to her Instagramming her condom collection a couple months back. Lupe Fiasco goes even harder, thinking about young kids being affected in his new "Bitch Bad"—he spins a couple tales that feel too familiar: one of a little boy riding around with his mother as she sings along to rap radio, the other of a group of young girls watching hiphop videos on YouTube.
Preachy shit is for the suckers—it doesn't help us to point the finger anywhere but at our own chests, to examine the choices we make every day, how we choose to express ourselves, how we relate to one another. Like my dude said, "Put yourself on trial." We're always trying to deceive the powers that be, to serve our needs—but deceiving ourselves, running to the balm of being constantly high or nostalgic for another time (something that applies to the '90s babies and the folk-beards alike), is only playing ourselves.