April 25, 2007
Idris Hassan wants to know what happened to the love in hip-hop. When she says “love,” she’s talking about family. She’s talking about relationships, meaningful relationships that hip-hop seems to have forgotten.
Hassan, an artist and multimedia producer from Oakland, is hopeful that hip-hop can find the love again, but she’s disappointed that more hip-hop artists don’t address issues like sexism and familial responsibility. “Hip-hop right now is a distorter of what a relationship should be,” she says.
Hassan was one of the attendeees at a recent “Is There Freedom after Hip-Hop?” forum discussion on the expanding aesthetics — or elements — of hip-hop at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts hosted by KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio. The event was part of author Jeff Chang’s tireless efforts to bring together creative intellectuals throughout the larger hip-hop community to, as he puts it, “build, shape, own and define” hip-hop.
Chang introduced the panel, which included Marcyliena Morgan, executive director of Stanford University’s Hip-Hop Archive, “Angry Black White Boy” author Adam Mansbach, poet and author Joel Tan and hip-hop journalist, author and “Bling: A Planet Rock” filmmaker Raquel Cepeda.
So what is the “hip-hop aesthetic” in 2007 anyway? No longer limited to the original five elements of MCs, DJs, B Boys/B Girls and Graffiti, hip-hop’s worldwide aesthetic, according to Chang, has grown to include new creative outlets such as photography, graphic design, film, poetry, literature, dance, theater, and journalism. And inside those forms of creativity lies the newer, global, diverse and complicated voice of hip-hop, Chang says.
But what, specifically, do hip-hop aesthetics, or elements, have to do with freedom? Panelists and folks in the crowd grappled with this. Chang, in his opening remarks, argued that these new elements help give voice to the voiceless. “This is all ours to build and shape,” he argues. Folks on the panel discussed their own contributions to the hip-hop aesthetic (writing books, making films, archiving historical materials, performing dance and poetry), and debated the potential for freedom through creation. Everyone at the event seemed to share a love for hip-hop, but they felt its potential to liberate individuals often seems to be cut short by corporate media companies that thrive on blowing up a small segment of hip-hop that glorifies violence and misogyny.
By the end of the evening, there was consensus among panelists that creative outlets associated with hip-hop have most definitely expanded and may now influence arts more than any other cultural movement. The jury was still out, however, on whether hip-hop has done enough to liberate.