The problem with hip hop: patriarchy, proletarians and revolutionary culture

The problem with hip hop: patriarchy, proletarians and revolutionary culture

An article by Crudo about hip-hop as culture of the working class and some of the problems within the music.

Punk rock was the first style of music that really meant anything to me. That’s not really true, I was into grunge and radio rap for a while, but punk was the first musical culture that I felt any real affinity with. After all, punk was what lead me to anarchism, and then to class consciousness. Around the same time that I was getting into anarchism, I was also playing in bands, setting up shows, and tabling with anti-war, crimethinc, and animal rights literature at local concerts. By the time I was 18, being an anarchist within punk rock was what I considered to be the best way to get towards a freer world. I felt that the punk scene represented what could be the ‘revolutionary agent’ within society. I reasoned that this group of kids united by a love of a musical style could become radicalized, they then could go out and “do stuff.” I received a rude awakening from this hypothesis when the band I was in was invited to play with some pretty big bands like Phobia and Resist & Exist in LA and San Diego for a series of benefits for the anarcho-punk publication, Profane Existence. LA is a hot bed for anarcho-punk and crust bands. There, I watched probably a thousand kids singing along, surrounded by anarchist banners, and literature tables. Yet, despite the sea of people who were “down,” a ragged collection of a million “Support the ALF” patches, and hundreds who chanted along with the lyrics, I realized how empty all of this was.

People here were united in an aesthetic and for the enjoyment of a musical style. It was also telling to me that the people I met in the various activist groups and at places like the Che Cafe (a radical space and infoshop) largely came from outside of punk and often did not dress the part. As I became older and more involved in community based action, I discovered that people were motivated to take action against Capital based on the conditions that were imposed upon them by class society. Slowly, as I came to class consciousness, and I grew to see that in punk, not only was class largely not discussed; there was a lack of looking at one’s relationship in class society. Meaning that if you put on an Aus-Rotten record you might get schooled on what the US was doing in Columbia, but you’re weren’t going to hear about the singer’s work and why it sucked. Punks largely didn’t talk about being without money or working – perhaps this was because of the class composition of punks, or perhaps it was just because of the cultural tradition of many anarcho-punk bands. As I became older, I was introduced to other forms of music that I was not before; namely hip hop, largely through the leftist political rap group, Dead Prez. Soon, I was listening to more political hip hop than I was political punk rock, and now, I listen to mostly non-’political’ hip hop.

At this point in my life, I find hip hop to be the most class conscious form of music. By this I mean hip hop is the most clear musical style that articulates the singer’s relationship to the commodity while at the same time expressing their struggle within that relation. The narrative that is found in hip hop is something that I think all proletarians can appreciate and find resonance with, even if the image of the street hustler or an up and coming gangsta is far from your present reality. The idea that one can only beat the material conditions that are imposed upon our lives by taking risks, breaking the law, through the action of close and trusted friends (thus making the police, feds, and snitches enemies), and not hesitating to use violence to achieve such ends, is a fine narrative indeed. Because so much of hip hop is about the reality of life within poverty, ghettos, and being forced into certain situations (drugs, prisons, police brutality), it can act as a vehicle for creating class consciousness. When people understand what they go through is not their fault, but the product of a system that, in fact benefits from exploitation, then they can make a better analysis of the current system and their place within it. The problem with hip hop however, is that much of it has created what I would refer to as a ‘false class consciousness,’ that has nothing to do with abolishing our present conditions and everything about class ascension. Meaning, the goal is not to abolish class, but to rise up from the bottom and get the fuck out.

Much of the substance of hip hop is also problematic: black market capitalism, prole on prole violence, and rampant sexism. Patriarchy is perhaps the most problematic aspect of this, and one of the biggest barriers holding hip hop back from being a truly class conscious form of music. This happens for several reasons, and probably the largest driving force is, of course, the music industry that demands that rappers keep turning out hits about empty sex and booty jams. But beyond that, the narrative of most hip hop starts off firstly with that of the individual; that individual largely always being a young male, as opposed to being any young proletarian or the collective body that is the class. This young male, in his attempt to appropriate material conditions (often through criminal means), also often sees female bodies as objects that he wants to appropriate. Thus, women, like money, cars, jewels, etc, become commodities to be accumulated for the purpose of consumption. In fact, women are often seen not only as commodities, but as commodities that require the buying of even more commodities. Thus, hit after hit about buying women various objects for the purpose of acquiring them, or talking about how other males are broke, and thus less admirable suitors towards various female bodied people continues to be pumped out. It is no surprise that these songs are hits, as they reinforce the values of the culture and help to reinforce racial stereotypes of young men of color. Thus, as female bodied people are commodified into objects just like cars or jewels, it becomes necessary for them to be demonized or spoken of simply as “bitches” and “hoes.” This is done for the sake of writing them and their agency off; thus justifying their position as commodities. Since much of hip hop has written off a whole section of the class, it thus cannot truly be a vehicle for class consciousness, and thus cannot be revolutionary. There are several artists out there who attempt to fight this (for instance the Coup, “Pimps down, hoes up!”) or 2pac (who although in some songs states that he is pro-choice and pro-woman, then goes on to state things like MOB, or Money over Bitches). This further plays itself off in hip hop culture, such as in the video, or on stage, or just in the sheer lack of female emcees singing and performing. In one of the latest Young Jeezy videos, “Put On,” which includes references to the economic recession and housing foreclosure, and is an all together pretty class conscious video. The video is then shot to shit when Jeezy comes out flanked by three women who do nothing but dance around him in a provocative manner. Hip hop not only often lacks women’s voices, it silences them. By denying women the opportunity to talk about their relationship to not only class society, but also their lives within the patriarchy, hip hop in essence further strengthens those systems of domination. Until hip hop sees women as active players in their own lives, able to articulate their own needs and desires not only as people but also as fellow proletarians, it will not be fully class conscious.

Hip hop is also further problematic, because it shapes and influences so much of proletarian and youth culture. Modern hip hop, while often antagonistic towards the police and aspects of the power structure, it does not question the nature of wage labor and commodity production. Since the late 60’s and 1970’s, the various nationalist and liberation movements that sought to organize and liberate the internal colonies in the ghettos and barrios of the United States were crushed by the US government. In the place of these groups and political parties such as the Black Panthers, self-defense crews formed into gangs. Political revolutionaries turned instead to drug trafficking. What was first seen as a movement to liberate communities, instead the focus became much more individualistic and concerned only for itself. Modern hip hop is a product of this class decomposition. The drive to accumulate material conditions and ‘fuck everyone else,’ shows this clearly. The influence of the drug game that has grown since the 1970’s and has thus influenced hip hop has spread to every t-shirt, car sticker, and rap album in the English speaking world. With the dreams of the 60’s crushed and nothing new to take its place, this new ‘false consciousness’ now parades around, offering no real opposition to Capital. While it may claim to be against snitches and the police, as long as this is only for the purpose of protecting the power and markets of the drug trade, then it will only be the musical voice of underground capitalism.

At a time of great crisis, we do need proletarian cultural forms like hip hop. While I have talked a lot of shit about it, truth be told, give a poor person a mic, and they’ll in the end give you something good, at least part of the time. Still, for hip hop to be a way to explain actual conditions and thus create class consciousness on a mass scale, it will have to leave behind much of what has been a part of hip hop culture for so long in the past. It must come to terms and destroy its patriarchal language, themes, and ways of presenting itself. It must bring female bodied people into the picture and allow them to talk about their lives as proletarians on even footing. It must turn away from being an individualistic movement, and instead focus on destroying the things which create poverty in the first place.

Many new class conscious and anarchist hip hop projects exist here in the US and in Europe, and for me are very exciting. Emcee Lynx, Drowning Dog, DJ Maletesta, Kenny Arkana, Looptroop, and Sherman Austin are all creating great hip hop music that is both revolutionary, class conscious, and also banging. Hopefully this continues and artists like this will become bigger and more popular within the class. Please, let the beat drop.

Originally posted: November 30, 2009 at Revolutionary Hip-Hop Report

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Oct 13 2012 04:53

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canIsggestsomet...
Oct 13 2012 17:06

I always find something unnerving when we lefties try to identify authentic forms of art especially of the proletarian sort. One should keep in mind that all art can be appropriated by anyone and neither the aesthetic nor the content will determine much at least to me the problem lies in the consciousness of the subject.

Take hip hop for instance, as the article points out as hip arrived on the scene articulating antagonistic concepts (the police, ghetto life, poverty) it rarely took a stance against the entire condition that creates those antagonisms. Why? because there was no positive ideology for those who were creating the content in hip hop whose creators having arrived in the aftermath of serious state repression of ghetto movements were left with the dominant ideology which is material accumulation in capitalism all while reflecting the ills of capitalist society (patriarchy, misogyny, etc).

Lets also make note of capitalism's ability to appropriate anything even its antagonisms (better than fascism for many reasons) which is why today rich ceos enjoy hip hop in their leisure time without any concern of its semi political origins just as new age spiritual ceos enjoy their occasional compilations of indigenous Buddhist chants (or whatever) despite the obvious contradictions. We could even imagine that the best way for capitalism to assimilate and pacify the poor into the ideology of the ruling class is to appropriate their work or maybe appropriate their subjectivity hence our project as anarchist is to change the latter so that instead of music telling us about the good life we may retake our history back and (on a lighter note) finally remix bella ciao!

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 13 2012 17:38
Juan Conatz wrote:
While I have talked a lot of shit about it, truth be told, give a poor person a mic, and they’ll in the end give you something good

This is a load of romanticising shite, which I guess makes sense coming from a former crustie... wink

Also the slamming of punk rock's superficiality immediately followed by bent double apologism for hip hop's shortcomings is patently absurd. You promised us some writing from 'proletarians' (which I assume means 'sociologically working class') on hip hop, but this seems to come from a very self-denouncing middle class white perspective.

Surely the point shuold be to critique the subculture in itself?

Ed
Oct 13 2012 18:13

I think the two comments above are a little too harsh to be honest.. I think the article in general is getting somewhere in saying hip-hop is the 'most class conscious form of music' (if I want to be picky I'd say 'class conscious' wasn't the right word but maybe 'working class-based' but I don't think that's important) as there aren't many types of music where reporting on everyday working class life is taken as the starting point the majority of songs.. I mean, looking at punk, which has a way more overtly political image, you don't seem to get that many songs that are just about the everyday grind.. you get your political antifa punk or anti-cop punk or animal lib punk; but you don't get that much that just talks about what it's like being a low-paid worker, being unemployed, not having any prospects etc.. (I suppose at this point I should stick in NB: I don't know that much about punk so could easily be talking out of my arse, but this is my impression from the outside)..

On the other hand, this is basically what forms a massive chunk of hip-hop.. even the most fucking remorseless gangster hip hop will have a good chunk of songs talking about how they grew up, the problems faced in black working class communities etc..

Anyway, there are a few bits in the article I think are self-contradictory (like saying - correctly imo - that hip-hop is the result of the conditions it was made in but then at the end talking about hip-hop like it has agency separate from those conditions) but whatever, I thought it was still good and am planning on writing some stuff in a similar vein in the next few days..

And Jesus fucking christ Caiman, no one promised you anything.. you sound like such a whiny little kid!

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 13 2012 18:23

Yeah sorry meant to put a wink in there or something...obviously I don't expect anything of Juan Conatz.

flaneur
Oct 13 2012 18:36
Ed wrote:
I mean, looking at punk, which has a way more overtly political image, you don't seem to get that many songs that are just about the everyday grind.. you get your political antifa punk or anti-cop punk or animal lib punk; but you don't get that much that just talks about what it's like being a low-paid worker, being unemployed, not having any prospects etc.. (I suppose at this point I should stick in NB: I don't know that much about punk so could easily be talking out of my arse, but this is my impression from the outside)..

For what it's worth, you are. wink

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 13 2012 18:43

No I actually largely agree with the characterisation of punk in the OP and Ed's post. Actually, most of the songs which best reflected working class reality came from an Oi! background (no prizes for guessing why) and thus tended towards reactionary/right wing stuff.

This tune from Cocksparrer for instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj2TUcDdVic

klas batalo
Oct 13 2012 18:48

Also if not clear this wasn't written by Juan.

flaneur
Oct 13 2012 18:58
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
No I actually largely agree with the characterisation of punk in the OP and Ed's post. Actually, most of the songs which best reflected working class reality came from an Oi! background (no prizes for guessing why) and thus tended towards reactionary/right wing stuff.

This tune from Cocksparrer for instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cj2TUcDdVic

It's no different to hip hop, it depends what you listen to really. Self indulgent stuff is a constant in both, it's just drowned out by the majority of dross, like everything else. Dubstep is the music for the mighty (lumpen)proletariat anyhow. Burial will be played in the streets for the post revolution comedown.

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 13 2012 19:47

I agree that Burial is the soundtrack of the modern (white collar) working class. I dispute that he's dubstep though. [/pedant]

crudo
Oct 13 2012 23:38

People seem to miss the point of the article's thesis: that as long as women are seen as commodities and not people with agency and their own stories and conditions to tell, then hip hop can't be a true media for poor and working people because it will only tell part of their story and also be a tool to keep backwards ideas within the class itself.

fingers malone
Oct 14 2012 01:36

[edit] forget it

Ed
Oct 14 2012 10:38
crudo wrote:
People seem to miss the point of the article's thesis: that as long as women are seen as commodities and not people with agency and their own stories and conditions to tell, then hip hop can't be a true media for poor and working people because it will only tell part of their story and also be a tool to keep backwards ideas within the class itself.

First off, nice one for writing this article, its always great to see people writing about hip-hop.. about the central thesis of the article, I think it's basically right except for the thing in my above post about it talking about hip-hop like it has some separate agency from the rest of society.

So you say stuff about problematic things in hip-hop, like patriarchy, prole-on-prole violence etc and say that it's holding back hip-hop from being truly class conscious and then at the end you drop a couple of names of explicitly political hip-hop artists.. this sounded to me a bit like you're saying that we need more explicitly political hip-hop artists to make hip-hop a class conscious form of music.

Now for me, I'm not sure a style of music can be 'class conscious' in and of itself coz at the end of the day, its a fashion thing that represents a certain demographic.. and unless that demographic has an explicitly class conscious political culture, then I'm not sure its music will be class conscious either. Related to that, the number of explicitly political artists (and even the politics they have) will probably represent the level of politicisation from the demographic they come out of.

So the problem of sexism in hip-hop isn't really even a problem within hip-hop, but the people who listen to and make hip-hop.. that is, its a problem within our class and will exist in hip-hop as long as it exists amongst ourselves.

Now to be honest, to me that doesn't mean that hip-hop can't be a force for spreading radical ideas amongst the working class.. but it means that the people spreading those ideas are going to have inconsistencies, contradictions, be nasty fuckers with brilliant ideas on some shit or really nice people with fucking stupid ideas about other shit etc etc etc.. to cut it short, they'll be full of all the contradictions and short-comings as the rest of us trying to explain (and change) the world.

flaneur
Oct 14 2012 12:27
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
I agree that Burial is the soundtrack of the modern (white collar) working class. I dispute that he's dubstep though. [/pedant]

POST DUPSTEPS.

And what Ed said. If you reject all hip hop without perfect politics, you're gonna have to reject nearly everyone who listens to this music, because they're not going to be flawless either.

jonglier
Oct 14 2012 13:10

even if he says it in je(h)st,
he's not joking in fact....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEC9tKoZ1K4

Jayman
Oct 15 2012 04:26

I would say country and bluegrass should not be ignored

Juan Conatz
Oct 15 2012 04:37

I try to ignore them as much as possible! Mr. T

Jenre
Oct 15 2012 19:21

For what it's worth I really liked this. Covers a lot of things I've often thought myself about hip-hop

knotwho
Oct 15 2012 20:58

I'm wondering if racial politics in the US don't play at least as important a role as class. Much hip-hop is produced to be consumed by white people. This is a trend that started with NWA, Ice Cube, etc. Many of the artists are just rapping about what sells. This documentary, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, goes into this a bit. Jadakiss says that any sales over 200,000 albums are to white folks. Then he talks about how he's supporting a lot of people (fam, community, etc.) with what he makes as a rapper.

In other words, there isn't a (white/MTV) market demand for raps about abolishing the shitty conditions sown by capital in the US (conditions which are intimately tied to race).

not-televised
Oct 16 2012 00:09

A new YouTube channel I've been making.

Aim is to collect together music which isn't usually associated with political thinking, or just stuff that is great.

Find it here and subscribe: http://www.youtube.com/user/moahmedis?feature=mhee

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NotTelevised

If you have any ideas for tracks email me at not-televised@riseup.net

knotwho
Oct 16 2012 18:39
klas batalo
Oct 17 2012 00:12
the croydonian ...
Jan 15 2013 15:16

This is exactly what I was talking about when I said political music usually ends up compromising the music bit, this is shite musically. Would you honestly listen to this sort of stuff as much as non explicitly political hip hop ? The answer is no.

flaneur
Jan 15 2013 15:49

Did you not see the Killer Mike link above? The dichotomy between bad political music and good non political music is bogus.

the croydonian ...
Jan 15 2013 17:04

Yeah I dont like his flow at all, doesn't change and is generally bait as fuck imo.

flaneur
Jan 15 2013 17:43

Someone needs to have that talk with you about music being subjective and not a science. Some folk reckon you can make both a decent political statement and music, which is why it was made albums of the year lists.

the croydonian ...
Jan 15 2013 19:26

Notice how I said imo at the end, I dont need that chat. Cheers.

No. 45
Apr 22 2014 02:30

Hip Hop, as with any other art form, is only as insightful as the artist who creates it. Hip Hop can serve social justice by inspiring the people to rise up and take action against injustice. Hip Hop can also degrade class consciousness through misogynistic objectification of women and encouraging conspicuous capitalist consumption and exploitation. Hip Hop that degrades the culture impedes social justice by blinding listeners to the true nature of class struggle. It is ironic that Booker T. Washington, who may have been the least class conscious of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century civil rights leaders, was also the one who recognized, with stunning clarity, that the highest purpose of arts education is the pursuit of social justice: "The study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppose the weak means little.” -Booker T. Washington