Let’s not forget the key ingredients that are critical for moving Black rock forward.

I can be cavalier and dismissive of commercial hip-hop and R&B and the artists who create it.  And there’s lots of reasons to do so: With subject matter that rarely ranges beyond parties and bullshit, I’ve certainly lowered my expectations for anything that might be on the radio.  In fact, I’ve made comments here on this blog and in conversations with people that it’s just plain silly to rep your block when the world’s gone global.

But an article in Sunday’s NY Times arts section made me stop and think for a minute.  The article recounted the unlikely path of screenwriter Michael Martin, a product of Brownsville, Brooklyn, from MTA subway employee to a screenwriter whose Hollywood debut is being directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and stars Richard Gere, Wesley Snipes and Ethan Hawke.  As inspiring as that story is, here’s what I found valuable in this article:

Before the shoot ended, Mr. Fuqua donated $100,000 of professional camera equipment to four teenagers he selected for a filmmaking program he created.

“Brownsville, we never get none of this,” said Bryan Martin, 16, one of the participants. “We don’t get nothing, no kind of recognition. And a lot of guys don’t get a chance to get out of the neighborhood, so it’s amazing for them to come to us.”

That’s just it: People are stuck in under-resourced neighborhoods where there aren’t a lot of options, and not a lot of hope.  There are people who are, literally, struggling to survive.  I want to take a minute to acknowledge that the fact that a lot of artists hold their blocks, their neighborhoods, so dear is because that’s all they know.  It wasn’t just that Fuqua donated the equipment, but that the movie set in Brownsville got shot there at all.  It validated the residents’ existence.  And once you feel valued, you move through the world in a way that’s different than someone who doesn’t.  And, honestly, it’s hard to think or care about global issues when your basic needs aren’t met.

I guess I’m trying to do a better job at not invalidating someone’s experience, even though there’s an industry that holds that experience up as the authentic Black experience, one by which every African American is ultimately judged.

Even though I don’t like what they’re saying, I’m going to try harder to not be so dismissive of the people who are saying it.  Certainly, that’s not the way to attract people to Black rock.

Just thought it was worth saying.

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  • …It’s always good to be reminded of the importance of empathy, and of complexities we may not be perceiving…It is hard to be understanding when you think that something someone is doing has an adverse effect on you: such as producting culture that offers a narrow view of black men; and yet, there are so many ways of courting controversy. (After all, feminism and gay rights are sometimes seen by some as progressive and by others as divisive; and, hip hop is seen by some as a dynamic, unifying culture by some and by others as a generator of misogynist, violent, and materialistic values and imagery. Is that like the blindfolded people touching an elephant, with their perceptions of what it is depends on which part they’re touching?)…Intelligence, compassion, patience, understanding: always necessary.

  • andre

    Good Job, man, I know its hard to understand people who do that to themselves and make their image worse. It’s understandable from a point of view, in which you dont have anything . YOu have little resources and man comes up to you and tells you to sell your soul. I dont like it, but its understandable. When you make it understandable, is when you can help others make that transition. Just listen and watch Lupe Fiasco’s song ‘Hiphop Saved My Life’. It really tells you a side of the story, you probably dont know.

  • People often reach for what’s accessible, or seems accessible because some precedent has been set. And you don’t have to be working poor for that to be the case. The United States operates as a provincial-minded (and now greatly diminished) super-power, and encourages that perspective in various ways among us citizens. A hip hop-birthed antidote to this mentality is Jean Grae’s song “Block Party” from her Attack of the Attacking Things e.g.: “stop acting like your flesh is metal, and your hood is a magnet” It’s specifically directed at black folks whose lives are defined by their block. But it’s a meaningful reminder to anyone trying to live beyond stereotyped limitations (hopefully that’d be all of us) with its cycling refrain urging folks to get off their block and see the world:

    (you need to) get out your house
    /get off your block
    /and see something
    /or do something
    /or (go) change something
    /or else we all fall for nothing

    you need to travel the world
    /and when you come back
    /tell your girl,
    and your girl,
    and your girl,
    and your girl
    /and your man,
    and your man,
    and your man
    /you understand?
    /So spread the word…