The Beat goes on: Why only Hip Hop can Save Black People

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

"The hood is like a ghost town haunted by souls who believed time stood still" -Nas

About a year ago, I sat down with my dinner, scrolled down my YouTube feed, and found a debate from 2008 of Ta Nehisi Coates and some guy having a go about Hip hop. By this time, Ta Nehisi was one of my favorite writers, whose full collection of publishing I devoured. Every book the man officially published I bought, read, and found to be brilliant. Now here he is defending hip hop, one of my favorite genres of music, against a naysayer whose convinced that hip hop will not and can not save black people. Needless to say, I tuned in to see Coates wash him, to school him, but this isn't at all what happened. 


I watched John make solid point after solid point. Like a heavyweight trainer I was in Coates corner with the white towel gripped in hand. Why are hip hop artists obsessed with their talent or even more trivial the excesses that fame/wealth allows them access to? Why is it always so boastful to a nauseating degree? Pugnacious as John would aptly put it. 

Coates would go on to say that hip hop taught him how to think, and you can tell John smelled blood. This is precisely the kind of answer that gave reason for him to write the book in the first place. When pressed for a clear tracing from a hip hop album/artist to something he believes now, to something that would justify his claim that hip hop, did in fact, help him learn to think. Coates again was unable to deliver a single thing! 



Ta Nehisi failed to answer these questions to not only John's satisfaction, but also to mine. It caused me to ruminate on my feelings on the matter, asking myself again and again the questions posed. 


So, I bought McWhorter's book aptly titled all about the beat: Why Hip hop can't save Black America 


After reading it, I listened to 5 hip hop albums Me Against the world, To pimp a butterfly, Laila's wisdom, Black Reign, and Drogas wave by Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, Rapsody, Queen Latifah, and Lupe Fiasco respectively. Searching the heavens for answers that Ta Nehisi didn't offer. What I found was that John was spot on. His assessment and the time passed proved him correct. Despite the meteor threat that BLM was and rap music being the most commercially viable music ever, still the movement is ending up like a passing fiery rock that missed the land of America's heart by many celestial miles. How could this be? McWhorter must be correct, right? Before we proclaim this just line of reasoning true, can we for a moment drift back a ways to see why it isn't? 


My friends, take a walk with me a moment through Black music history. Once upon a record spin, a tradition existed that has passed hands from one generation to the next. We must go all the way back to negro spirituals. Would we say slave songs weren't revolutionary? On the surface, they did not lead to any substantial change we could point to, and still John would be the victor. However, Immediately upon venturing further does my point become more apparent. What is widely known now, but was esoteric then, is that these songs had cryptic messages that revealed the stations and sophisticated inner communications of the underground railroad, The biggest revolution in black American history. From the womb of spirituals cries the blues, which begets jazz and from jazz hip hop is conceived. 




If we stop looking at hip hop like a catalyst that'll usher in a new Era of black folks, but look at it for what it is, we can see that Hip Hop is the current holder of the baton in a relay race of expression that the cheering crowd depends on wholeheartedly. To say that our music cannot revolutionize us is to simply say we cannot be revolutionized. Music is the most influential tool to alter hearts. It can change how we perceive time, tap into primal fears, make us better communicators, boost your immune system, assist in brain damage repair, enhance how we learn, what we notice, what motifs can be brought out of the ground of our subconscious and shake our conscious view. If good music can be this beneficial, then it stands to say bad music can be this detrimental. Is hip hop bad? John and I likely are to agree on the detrimental messengers/neurotic superficial messages. If we exclude them for a moment and focus our attention on the artists that illuminate a path to the way inside ourselves, then I'm sure Nas can be mentioned with the greatest artists of any genre of any time. If the greatest of the Poets cannot motivate us to save ourselves then we are forever lost. Music is all that we have. 


Hip Hop alone cannot save Black America, but If we are to be saved, hip hop will rest at the very core of that person who stands up and rallies the troops. Once more into the trenches, my friends, while Tupac is the melody to our battle cry. Pac famously said. “I won't change the world, but I guarantee I'll be the spark within the person who does.” 


There are two last points I would like to raise that exemplify when I was gripping the towel most for the Beloved Coates was when McWhorter challenged Coates' notion that hip hop taught him how to think. Here again, Ta Nehisi conceded, without pointing to anything in particular to even remotely address the crux of John's point. Well, let me give it a spin. 


Going back to when I was a child and hearing “We are living single in a 90s kinda world, I'm glad I got my girls. Keep ya head up right, keep ya head up that's right, you know in this life you know you gotta fight with my home girls standing to my left and my right true blue we're tight like glue." 

My mother was watching that show and I happened to be passing by her room. It became a thing we regularly watched together. Before this, I had not connected the dots that Khadija was royalty. My mother said, “you do know that she pointing to Khadija is the woman rapping in the beginning, right? I was mindblown. Me being all of 11 didn't know that girls could rap. The only rappers I've ever heard were Tupac and NWA. 


My friend Taylor Washington's mom had a Queen Latifah album called Black Reign. This is where I heard just another day, U.N.I.T.Y. and weekend love. Directly because of her, I was able to skip the whole phase of calling women bitches, hoes, and, thots. This phase consumed my friends and some are still stuck there, and it's likely there they will remain. Is it possible, I would've sidestepped this almost passage of rites if not for the Queen's training? Maybe, but the possibility of potentially not frightens me into grateful peasantry. I never in my life disrespected women by catcalling them, reaching out grabbing them, then becoming irate at their disapproval of my bold hands and the ultimate rejection of my poisonous advances.  All hail the Queen for saving me from such ignorance. A woman could be a bitch, but she wasn't a bitch simply because she was a woman. 


The last point strikes here that I would say both debaters missed. The question posed what makes hip hop unique in its responsibility to rescue at all? 

Back in the days of public enemy we were a people looking for representatives to voice our frustrations, to mouth our movements, and declare our demands. We got this in them, we got this in 2Pacalypse, we got this in digable planets. The same pressure that produced the spirituals will cause hip hop to erupt. This is not a matter of if, but when.


I'll leave with this, Nas is more than a rapper, he is a Prophet. It's a common misconception that Prophets are fortune-tellers able to predict future events, but this superficial grasp does a disservice to what a Prophet actually is. They are historians. They are a tribe of people who can see the patterns in our nature, and only by studying the past do they tell us about where we're going. 


Hip hop has blessed me with the tools to save myself. The art form has helped me to orient my worldview, and harden my resolve enough to not falter to the winds of life, but use my will to bend the world to me. What is true of the personal is also true of the collective. If toxic rap can destroy, than meaningful hip hop can fortify. Fortification is safety, and safety is salvation. One of the most impressive feats was McWhorter penning a whole book without mentioning culture. Hip Hop is the dominant musical sound to the cult of black people. If we can adjust this minstrel show that has contributed mightily to our destruction and devolution then from this same rubble we can rise and give birth to the soaring Phoenix with feathers. 

Only hip hop can do this. 

If black people are to be saved it'll be done by us, but it'll be done with hip hop being an essential current that pushes us over the stream and empowers our inner champion. 


Submitted: August 27, 2022

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