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Beyond the Four WallsThe Rising Ministry and Spirituality of Hip-hop
By Walter Lizando Hidalgo-Olivares
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Walter Lizando Hidalgo-Olivares
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the Beginning, there was Hip-hop:
Looking at Hip-hop from a Sociohistorical Lens
It's a form of intelligence/
To be hip is to be up'date and relevant/
Hop is a form of movement/
You can't just observe a hop
You got to hop up and do it/
Hip and Hop is more than music/
Hip is the knowledge
Hop is the movement/
Hip and Hop is intelligent movement/
All relevant movement
We selling the music/
So write this down on your black books and journals/
Hip-hop culture is eternal/
Run and tell all your friends
An ancient civilization has been born again/
It's a fact!
I come back!
Cause I'm not in the physical/
I create myself man I live in the spiritual/
I come back through the cycles of life/
If you been here once you gone be here twice/
So I tell you!
I come back!
Cause you must learn too/
Hip-hop culture is eternal/
Her Infinite Power
Helping Oppressed People/
We are unique and unequaled/ ....
Holy Integrated People
Having Omnipresent Power/
The watchman's in the tower/ of ...
The response of cosmic consciousness....
To our condition as....
We gotta think about the children we bringing up/
When Hip and Hop means intelligence springing up/
We singing what?
Sickness, Hatred, Ignorance, and Poverty or Health/
Love, Awareness, and Wealth/
—KRS-One From the song entitled Hip-hop Lives (I Come Back)
During the 1980's the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, unemployment was high, and racial tensions were even higher. People of color were angry and the spirit of protest hung thick in the air. Armed with lessons learned from their parents' and grandparents' era when southern African-Americans inspired millions of red, brown and yellow people all over the world to rebel against oppression, Black students and their supporters once again took the streets.
—Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Brother J of the X-Clan When Rap Music Had a Conscience: The Artists, Organizations and Historic Events that Inspired and Influenced the Golden Age of Hip-Hop from 1987 to 1996
"Hip-hop aint dead it just had a heart attack."
—Lil Wayne From the song entitled Last of a Dying Breed
There are so many ways we can look at, or better yet interpret, Hip-hop's history and its key players. But realistically speaking, like any other history, it is difficult to capture everything that was happening throughout this period of time, not to mention the countless unsung heroes that have contributed to this culture and have yet to receive their recognition—the people who provided technical, educational, and inspirational support that inspired Hip-hop voices and performers to reach a level beyond their own potential.
Recognizing the "players" of the Hip-hop culture is critical. However, that is only half the battle. But in fact, it is the arena that the players "play" in that is just as important whenever we talk about youth in the Hip-hop culture. In other words, it is in the environment of our youth, or what Pierre Burdeux calls ones' habitus, that makes the Hip-hop culture a stepping ground for both subjective and social observation and transformation.
Exploring the urbanization of any city in the United States, or the world for that matter, requires deep analysis in its growing populations, real estate development, political application and its media outlets. Why? Because it was in those elements of the urban infrastructure that helped produce Hip-hop culture over forty years ago. The people who were involved in the development of Hip-hop culture experienced many urban sociological challenges, which can be seen in the way youth express themselves (i.e. constructing a beat, fashion, rhyming delivery), and is also based on their geographical and social location.
Gentrification, racism, culture shock and xenophobia are a few of those social problems present in and around the South Bronx in the 1970's, 1980's and to some extent, the 1990's and which led to the beginnings and rebuilding of Hip-hop culture and pride. Together these problems created a social space for youth to express themselves in light of their own social reality.
Clive Campbell, known to many as DJ Kool Herc, was faced with this social space when he and his family immigrated to New York City from Jamaica. While living in the Bronx, he innovated a new style by incorporating his Jamaican style of DJ-ing into the various styles and cultures present by reciting improvised rhymes over dubbed versions of Reggae records. DJ Kool Herc chanted over the instrumental or percussion sections of popular songs of the day (disco, rock n roll and rhythm and blues). Because these breaks were relatively short, it provided the best dance beats and therefore learned to extend them indefinitely by using an audio mixer and two identical records and continuously replacing and repeating the desired segment. He did this by isolating the instrumental portion of the record which emphasized the drum beat—the "break"—and from there, he switched from one break to another to yet another, allowing dancers to keep on dancing and eventually competing with each other. This is why DJ Kool Herc called his dancers "break dancers."
Unfortunately, New Yorkers weren't into Reggae at the time. But when DJ Kool Herc combined his style of DJ-ing with his Jamaican cultural influence, specifically his love for Reggae music; it helped to create (and diversify) Hip-hop music through the sounds and voices of countless diverse and marginalized youth in the streets of the South Bronx.
KRS-One, an MC, scholar and now motivational speaker from the South Bronx, is another witness to this socio-historical revolution. Another example of a New York immigrant who had embraced his own Jamaican roots and influences, KRS-One talks about the history of Hip-hop in a similar fashion:
"A product of cross-cultural integration, rap is deeply rooted within ancient African culture and oral tradition. Hip-hop is believed to have originated in the Bronx by a Jamaican DJ named Kool Herc. Kool Herc's style of deejaying (DJ-ing) involved reciting rhymes over instrumentals. At house parties, Kool Herc would rap with the microphone, using a myriad of in-house references. Duplicates of Kool Herc's house parties soon drifted through Brooklyn and Manhattan. Kool Herc and other block party DJ's helped spread the message of hip-hop around town and spawned tons of followers."
Over the course of its years, Hip-hop has grown in popularity because its visible force offers young urban minority New Yorkers a chance to come together freely and express themselves. This form of expression can be seen in all of the elements of Hip-hop culture: graffiti, break dancing, DJ-ing and of course MC-ing. However, as a spoken word artist myself, I see the MC-ing element of Hip-hop—its "word"—as contributing most to the gathering of countless marginalized minority youth in the South Bronx—mainly West Indians, Latino/as and African-Americans. Hip-hop, and its various elements, represented for them (and me) a culture that was living in consort with its socio-historical realty.
The culture of Hip-hop acted like of force of gravity to those who lived in and around the South Bronx because it was performed in public venues of the city, the streets. These public demonstrations and block parties had created a fellowship among diverse neighbors by employing language and sentiment of struggle, hope, liberation and God. This spiritual force soon spread out beyond the context of the Bronx and was first introduced to me in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1990's.
Consequently, what DJ Kool Herc (and myself) experienced in the 1990's in theSouthBronxis,moreorless,whattheotherfathersofHip-hopexperienced in the beginning of these Hip-hop community gatherings—or block parties. These parties brought with them diversity and different perspectives that helped to embody and grow the Hip-hop culture. It brought other Bronx residents together, people like Afrika Bambaataa, founder of the Zulu Nation and the son of parents from Jamaica and Barbados; Barbados-born Joseph Saddler, known to many as DJ Grandmaster Flash—one of the pioneers in the art of DJ-ing; and finally, DJ Love Bug Starski, who is known for DJ-ing at Harlem World, a famous venue in New York City that hosted MC battles ("call and response" rhyming competitions between two MC's).
These performers tend to be the most talked about pioneers of Hip-hop, but I must also include other important figures as well, such as the Latin Empire; a Hip-hop group that consists of Tony Boston (Krazy Taino) and Rick Rodriguez (Puerto Rock), two Puerto Rican cousins from the South Bronx; and the infamous DJ Disco Wiz and MC Prince Whipper Whip, also Puerto Rican of early Hip-hop. Other key players of the hip-hop culture, particularly those from the 1980's generation, include MC LL Cool J, MC Run DMC, Crazy Legs (B-boy), DJ Marley Marl, MC Kurtis Blow, MC Kool and the Gang, MC's Boogie Down Productions, female MC's Salt-N-Peppa and MC's De La Soul.
Over the course of its forty year history, the Hip-hop culture in the South Bronx has facilitated a cross-cultural, cooperative, communicative and spiritual gathering of diverse marginalized youth from all over the city. These public discourses represented for many youth the socio-historical realties of the South Bronx—which was often unknown to those outside its context.
In the introduction of their book, Yes Yes Y'all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-hop's First Decade, Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn summarize the social conditions in the South Bronx as such:
"The Bronx, the only one of the five boroughs physically connected to the U.S. mainland, became the symbol of all that allied us. A brief survey of statistics from the southern end of the borough in the 70's tells us a horrific tale. The medium family income in New York was $9,662; in the South Bronx it was $5,200. The area suffered one-quarter of all the city's reported cases of malnutrition. The infant mortality rate was 29 in 1,000 births. There were 6,000 abandoned buildings there. In the pivotal year of 1975, there were 13,000 fires in a twelve-square-mile radius that left more than 10,000 people homeless and earned landlords $10 million in insurance settlements."
One of Hip-hop's founding fathers, DJ Grandmaster Flash, lived through the above statistics, which compelled him to rhyme about it thereafter. In a song entitled The Message, Grandmaster Flash chants:
"Broken glass everywhere/
People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don't care/
I cant take the smell, I cant take the noise/
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice/
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back/
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat/
I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far/
Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car/
Standing on the front stoop, hanging out the window/
Watching all the cars go by, roaring as the breezes blow/"
Don't push me, cause I'm close to the edge/
I'm trying not to loose my head/
It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder/
How I keep from going under/"
Like so many other MC's of the past and present, DJ Grandmaster Flash can be viewed as the eyes and ears of his own social realities—projected through the lens of the Hip-hop culture. Consequently, DJ Grandmaster Flash used his (words), or MC-ing, in The Message in order to convey the:
"Harsh realities of ghetto life, only to put it into a Hip-hop beat. Raw, and full of a passion that only a person who lived what they spoke could have, Flash and his crew explained the depressed environment that they grew up in and the toll it took on the spirit and the minds of the people."
In essence, these MC's became social critics of the injustices that plagued the borough of the Bronx and beyond.
In 1996, criminologist and urban sociologist George Kelling and Catherine Coles released a book entitled, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. Both authors reference the "Broken Windows Theory" which states that "fear of crime is strongly related to the existence of disorderly conditions in neighborhoods and communities." In other words, disorder in urban neighborhoods leads to disorderly behavior.
Grandmaster Flash, along with many other Bronx-natives, was already aware of the crime that existed in his neighborhoods because he lived there. Therefore, in the eyes of the Hip-hop culture, Grand Master Flash had already assessed and called out the situation by referring to the "Broken Glass Theory" as "Broken Glass Everywhere."
The Broken Glass Theory was defined fourteen years after the release of Grandmaster Flashes song The Message, which came out in 1982. Unfortunately, DJ Grandmaster Flash's Message has been overlooked by people searching for a more aggressive approach. In 1990, New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani implemented a "zero tolerance" policy to alleviate future crimes, particularly in the South Bronx. The Broken Glass Theory was used to create a strategic plan that permitted the New York Police Department to have a high police presence in "hot spot" neighborhoods, as well as on-the-scene arrest.
Sadly, the implementation of both theories and legal policies in and around the South Bronx has historically affected marginalized youth communities in ways that has left many of them feeling oppressed and dehumanized. During this period, one of the most destructive tools being used against South Bronx residents was gentrification.
No other person in New York City can attest more thoroughly to the gentrification that had took place in the Bronx than urban planner Robert Moses. In his book Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang talks about Robert Moses' strategic urban planning when he quotes him by stating:
"60,000 Bronx residents were caught in the cross hairs of the expressways [interstate 95, for example]. Moses would bull dose right over them. 'There are more people in the way-that's all,' he would say, as if lives were just another mathematical problem to be solved, there's very little hardship in the thing."
Gentrification, and to some extent urbanization, brought with it a host of other problems, like the displacement example I quoted above. But the bigger problem it brought to South Bronx residents was poverty.
In his book The Hip-hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, Bakari Kitwana discusses the many common disparities that are found in the Bronx and other urban areas of the United States, particularly amongst African-American communities. Bakari Kitwana indentifies the "Hip-hop generation," as being individuals born between 1965 and 1984 (I was born in 1982). He identifies the common disparity of poverty as being synonymous with the Hip-hop generation. Following the 1970's and 1980's, Bakari Kitwana goes on to say the following regarding this generational trend of poverty among urban Black youth:
"According to the U.S. Consensus Bureau, in 1999, the number of Blacks living below the poverty line had dropped to its lowest level in nearly three decades, many young Blacks remain poor and working poor. The Urban Institute estimates that 60 percent of America's poor youth are Black."
With high levels of poverty, especially amongst poor young Blacks and other minority groups, high rates of crime became prevalent, particularly, when it came to drug consumption and distribution.
Excerpted from Beyond the Four Walls by Walter Lizando Hidalgo-Olivares Copyright © 2011 by Walter Lizando Hidalgo-Olivares. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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