Monday, November 19, 2007

Fight the Power: A New Movement for Civil Rights?

In the following article, Jeff Chang (who is the author of a great history of hip-hop, Can't Stop, Won't Stop) asks, "Can hip-hop get past the thug life and back to its radical roots?"

In one of the more hopeful passages:
But now, with the industry on the ropes and the political sphere energized, the transformative power of hip-hop may finally be reemerging. Over the past decade, hip-hop-based community groups have recharged the social justice movement and launched get-out-the-vote campaigns in neighborhoods most candidates and parties wouldn't touch... Even moguls such as Jay-Z, Simmons, and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs have thrown their weight behind voter outreach. And while the results are hard to track case by case, one massive shift is undeniable: In 2004, half of the 4 million new voters under 30 were people of color—a demographic watershed largely overlooked by the media...

He concludes:
Can hip-hop grow into its potential? Can rap sell activism as well as it has $150 sneakers, bottle service, and grill work? Can the very people who've made vast fortunes off selling stupid help reform the industry? "The thing I love about hip-hop," says Chavis, "is that it is evolutionary. It replenishes itself. I get in trouble all the time for saying this, but hip-hop is doing what the civil rights movement was only dreaming about."

What do you think? Can hip hop find its way back to its roots? Can hip-hop be a force for social change, or is this all a lot of talk? What is the real potential here? Can hip hop untangle itself from the damage and distortion done by its relationship with corporations? Or, can it sell sneakers and activism, as Chang asks? Is hip hop doing what the civil rights movement only dreamed of, as Chavis claims?

And, this leads to a bigger question: How effective is culture as a vehicle for social change?

Here is the whole article:
Jeff Chang, "Fight the Power: A New Movement for Civil Rights" (published in Mother Jones)

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