I spend a lot of time thinking about Hip Hop. The energy. The bad rappers. The kick ass activists. The record labels. The legends. It’s a conversation that can often be overwhelming but not necessarily mundane because such spaces of dialogue allow me to define, interpret, and process in order to reach definitions of truths. Here, I consider a truth to be any belief a person may hold about the music, art, or business of Hip Hop.
Truth, however, is a strange word when thinking about Hip Hop.
There are multiple realities and identities that intersect and converge. A young emcee rhyming in Brooklyn in 1988 may or may not think about the game the way a young emcee rhyming in Dallas in 2012 would. The southern- womanist -writer-in me engages with Hip Hop in a manner that could be unknown or irrelevant to a 16 year old DJ learning how to spin in his basement on Chicago’s South Side. It is a safe space where I interrogate conceptualizations of blackness or sharpen my writing skills or refine my weekend dance skills ( ’cause yes, sometimes a girl just wants to juke. blame it on my residency in the Chi.)
It may not be that deep for you.
And that’s perfectly fine. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how things are supposed to work.
I recently attended an artist talk with photographer Mike Schreiber where he discussed his new book True Hip Hop. A collection of black and white photographs, the book features portraiture of some of the most interesting Hip Hop artists from the last decade. When asked by the moderator why he had chosen to title the collection True Hip Hop, Schreiber simply responded that the book was a Hip Hop as he had experienced it, a Hip Hop that marked a moment of his life as a young professional. It was a truth that Schreiber, as a photographer, defined and created in his own language. It wasn’t really about the artists as much as it was about the connections Schreiber cultivated with the artists in order to tell a story.
And maybe I’m the only person in awe of this concept but I had an epiphany. As I engage in conversation about the culture across boundaries- age, class, geographic location- I have learned that multiple truths must exist because it is in the tension that an art form truly flourishes. Without the interaction of truths, there wouldn’t be room for a Foxy Brown and a Lauryn Hill.
And so what if Nikki G wants to ink Thug Life on her forearm in honor of a fallen flawed poet? Shouldn’t her truth be allowed to speak to and with Pac’s truth, despite what may appear to be an inherent contradiction of feminism and gangsta? Someone has to talk to our men about misogyny and love and greatness.
If I may adapt Chimamanda Adichie’s language: there is a danger in a singular understanding of Hip Hop. While universal, it is full of specificities. I learn from these details.
I’m convinced no single truth can ever exist in Hip Hop because it carries on its shoulders so many experiences. Folks evolve and with this growth comes new knowledge and responsibilities that shape us or our truths. And if we can change, our truths certainly can.
Although, I think I will always strongly dislike Chief Keef. That’s just me though…
How do you define truth in Hip Hop?