Brighter Dayz (The Finale)

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

C. Matthew Hamby

I look into my daughter's eyes and realize that I'm a learn through her ... If I'm a do it, I gotta change the world through her.

— Common (Sense)

At some point in the not-too-distant future, my daughter (now 6 years old) might stumble upon a stack of old, dusty newspaper articles that span a four-year period of time, collectively known as The Ledge. If by that time in her life she wants to know more about what Hip Hop is and, more importantly, what it used to be, I'd like her to start with the very article you're reading now.

For the last several years, I have indulged myself in the belief that my daughter's tastes in music — which includes vintage Eric B. and Rakim, Whodini, LL Cool J and the Watusi Tribe — was the result of an uncanny, prodigious understanding of the difference between real Hip Hop music and it's commercial, mainstream counterpart.

She's heard me utter the first few lines of Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" so many times that she can nearly sing along. Of course, I always stop just short of the "picture me givin' a damn" part.

Truthfully, I know that a child her age could not possibly have a clear point of reference for differentiating positive, culturally-relevant music from the chopped-and-screwed anthem of the week. Rather, she's merely parroting what she's heard me listen to throughout her life. Nothing wrong with that.

But I shudder to consider the fact that in less than 10 years her musical tastes will be shaped by the interests of her peers who — if current media trends are any indication — will probably gravitate toward whatever mindless dribble is pouring through the airwaves by then.

If Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" is any indication, we're in big trouble.

There's a scene early in the first installment of The Matrix trilogy where Trinity suggests that Neo has been looking for an answer to something he can't quite describe because he doesn't understand the world he's been living in. I hope that when my daughter is in her teens, her deep-rooted memories of the music we listened to will evoke a similar response in her along with other teens whose parents might have raised them on music from Hip Hop's golden age.

Maybe one rainy day in the year 2016 as my daughter is cleaning her room (parents of teens might laugh now), she'll stumble on this faded editorial and begin to understand that something else once existed. Maybe she'll ask me or my wife for details. Or, better yet, decide to do some exploring on her own and unlock the secrets of this culture known as Hip Hop.

If she's half as curious then as she is now, I'm certain she'll take the red pill.

As she scans this and other columns that I've penned since early 2003, she will undoubtedly question whether my monthly ramblings were about music, culture or politics.

She might also wonder whether I truly loved or hated H.E.R. for how she had portrayed (and betrayed) the very people who created H.E.R.

My daughter might ask the same question that fans of true Hip Hop have pondered for years: who stole the soul?

She might sense my anger at how radio stations and media companies have sold out to the lowest common denominator in order to attract ratings and market share and finally understand why Dad's radio was continuously tuned in to the local NPR affiliate.

My daughter might also detect my disregard for popular, media-created megastars who had somehow become successful despite their lack of talent. (Was there really a Rap song called "Chain Hang Low?" And just who was this guy called 50 Cent anyway?)

Or, as she snickers at my worn suede Pumas, she might conclude that I had gotten stuck in a Fresh Fest Time Warp and simply grown bitter as new sounds and artists began to shape the culture.

By that time, I suspect that Hip Hop (or, more appropriately, Urban music) will permeate American popular culture to such a degree that it will, in effect, cease to exist.

Yet if history is doomed to repeat itself, artistically and spiritually-grounded young minds will eventually decide to develop their own underground interpretation of music that reflects their values and sense of self.

Perhaps this time, the creators of this new sound — whatever it is — will understand the power and responsibility that comes with access to the airwaves.

Hopefully they will recognize how important it is to protect this new sound so that it might simultaneously evolve and adapt to the cultural and economic landscape while staying true to its origins.

Without doubt, someday real Hip Hop will be reborn. Perhaps by then we'll get it right.

5 on theledge

· "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J God willing, somehow this joint will be played during my daughter's wedding reception. And the groom will listen.

· "I Know I Can" by Nas She was just learning to talk when I used to play this and it's still a mainstay on her playlist.

· "Kold Krush" by The Watusi Tribe She still loves this bass-heavy, downtempo tune from Cincinnati's conscious Hip Hop collective.

· "Jam Master Jay" by Run DMC She once asked me if I were the DJ on this classic track from Run DMC's debut LP. I'm not that good!

· "Numbers" by Kraftwerk Gotta love this syncopated, Techno Pop track from the early '80s. A great way to teach your child how to count in English, German, Japanese and Spanish.

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