The Social Responsibility of Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop is no longer limited to rap music and break dancing; today it represents a multi-billion dollar industry that influences everything from fashion to prime- time television programming, professional sports, mass media marketing and advertising. Today Hip-Hop is becoming a way of life, a culture that is intricately woven into every aspect of young people’s daily lives.

Artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Public Enemy, 2Pac (to some extent right?) and many more use hip hop to describe the social inequities of the Black community and the inner city. They are putting a very human feel to issues that are calloused by misinterpretation and exoticism and sensationalization. Artists like 50 Cent and the genre of ‘gangsta rap’ have become extremely popular in America today, in part because of corporate manipulation and the large, multiracial audience that now exists for hip-hop music.

Hip-hop is an expression of the social, political and economic problems associated with living in urban areas. Since African-Americans are the dominate group in urban centers, their influence is the largest on urban music. Hip-hop lyrics, with their emphasis on “keepin’ it real” and marked by a colossal indifference to mainstream taste, became an equally powerful influence on young black men. These two influences have created a brand-new, brand-name generation that refuses to assimilate but is nonetheless an important part of mainstream American culture.

Legendary hip hop icon Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, of the pioneering hip hop group RunDMC, told a crowd recently that what they see on television in music videos is “show business” and not a true reflection of what hip hop represents. “The whole purpose of hip hop is to inspire, to motivate and to educate. It is the transfer of information whether you are in the ghetto or Beverly Hills. Hip hop is about the life we live-especially for Black people,” DMC said. “Hip hop was created to make it known that we as a people are in charge of our purpose and our destiny. The true purpose of hip hop was not just to create rappers,” he added.

Rapping developed both inside and outside of hip hop culture, and began with the street parties thrown in the Bronx neighborhood of New York in the 1970s by Kool Herc and others. Rap, graffiti, spoken word are all part of hip-hop. There, of course, is much more that is hip-hop, but you wouldn’t know it through playing video games that are based on hip-hop.

TJ Crawford, founder and executive producer of the MPR Report, a radio talk show airing weekly on WVON 1690 AM, has said, “It’s beyond just hip hop, it’s beyond just a generation, This is about people who want better for their people and recognize the power that is in the music. People who move in that same type of spirit are trying to see who they can connect with to take it to that next level.”

Opportunities are few outside of the ghettos; therefore, their language focuses on their world. Instant gratification reflects the short life expectancy. Thus, when money is gained, it is for conspicuous consumption. Hip hop is the culture of a people who, separated from mainstream society, turn into themselves to create their own standards of survival in a hostile world.

However, those that continue to proclaim “victim, victim” will never realize beyond their “victimhood.” With hip hop having such a big influence today, more than ever before, it is enlightening to see some organizations realizing a responsibility to protect the integrity of such a powerful influence. This is brought about by public education organizations, dedicated to raising public awareness about social, cultural, political and economic issues important to the hip-hop generation in America and throughout the world.

One such organization, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network which was founded in 2001, is dedicated to harnessing the cultural relevance of hip-hop music to serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other societal concerns fundamental to the well being of at-risk youth throughout the United States. HSAN is the largest non-profit, worldwide coalition of hip-hop artists, entertainment industry leaders, education advocates, civil rights proponents, and youth leaders united in the belief that Hip-Hop is an enormously influential agent for positive social change which must be responsibly and proactively utilized to fight the war on poverty and injustice.

The Social Responsibility of Hip-Hop involves the idea that it is better to be proactive toward a problem rather than reactive to a problem. Social responsibility means eliminating corrupt, irresponsible or unethical behavior that might bring harm to the community, its people, or the environment before the behavior happens. Businesses promoting hip hop have the fiduciary responsibility to instill a sense of faith and trust that would not allow a product to harm people just to meet their own bottom line.