Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
Between my daytime hustle and daily commuting, I listen to a fair share of urban radio. It’s not intentional, and for the most part, I try and avoid most popular music portals. However, for some unexplainable reason, I still find myself tuning in to stations that incessantly play the same songs over and over from sunrise to sunset.
Artists like Jay Z, Lil Wayne, and Drake envelope my sonic landscape no matter how swiftly I turn a deaf ear to their general direction. Urban radio – it seems – has become a zombieland utopia, devoid of any thought-provoking scriptures. Any enlightenment that once existed on the airwaves has been paved over, transformed into a graveyard where the ghosts of sex, violence, and money frolic freely, selflessly engaging with any set of ears that remain receptive to their ghoulish groans. Urban Hip Hop radio has become cylindrical and relentlessly repetitive, and in some instances, a danger to those who subconsciously digest their tunage.
Years ago, big name radio playlists consisted of a mosaic tapestry of soundscapes, where Rhythm & Blues fused with Hip Hop. Love songs & street music danced around together with no particular rhyme or reason. But sometime in the late 90’s, as people’s taste evolved and the world began to transform, so did the music. What began to happen was the inevitable; rap music’s influence gained more and more momentum. The Internet become a driving force in what people chose to listen to and the stations had no choice but to comply. At the same time, R&B music began to assimilate with rap, birthing a new type of love song, where sex was praised over admiration, and the fetus of today’s anti-love song began to take shape. Currently, at any given moment on any random urban radio station, one can hear songs dedicated to random, gratuitous sex where there were once ballads about falling in love.
We all know that rap music has been blamed for society’s problems for years, maybe decades. Some of the blame is well-placed, especially when one can isolate the behavioral influences it has on today’s youth, while most of it is just being scapegoated for lack of a tangible origin. But where there is smoke, there is most assuredly fire, and only a fool would deny that something nearby is burning. The proverbial air is hazy and thick, so to speak, and the scent of burnt cognition wafts overhead like the consistent, vague smog of Los Angeles. It’s an audio global warming that is unfortunately affecting us all.
The next time your daughter (or your son) hums along to the melody of Lil Wayne’s “Love Me,” think about why she’s even exposed to such music. The song is very catchy and somewhat hypnotic, and Wayne is only doing what he gets paid to do. Conversely, the radio DJ’s who cue it up umpteen times a day are only doing what they get paid to do. So who, then, do we blame for the constant negative messages that are being pumped into the air like unseen chemicals? Is it the artists’ fault for not taking any responsibility for their material (as some people think they should), the label’s fault for slanging their product like a digital dope boy, or is it radio’s fault for being seemingly deaf and blind for payola and advertisement money? Perhaps mankind has forgotten just how powerful music can be, which itself is just as dangerous as the music it promotes.
There is a myriad of alternatives to listening to stations like Hot__ and Power__ and the like, but that doesn’t mean their influence is any less impactful because there are plenty of people who aren’t in a position to subscribe to satellite radio. And everyone doesn’t have access to the internet. That leaves an entire demographic dependent on what the local Disc Jockey deems “radio friendly.” The problem with that, though, is that public access radio stations should be like public access television stations: safe for everyone to consume, no? Obviously, that’s not the case.
There may never come a day that society can pinpoint who’s at fault. That ghost hunt would eventually become a game of “The Chicken or The Egg?” It seems that all we can do is be on guard with what we allow to seep into our daily consciences. Chuck D and Ice Cube suggested long ago that it may be time to turn off the radio. That message may be more important now than it ever was.
Words by Tony Grands