Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hip-Hop : is the medium the message? or are message and medium independent?

The above discussion analyzes whether political messages in hip-hop are useful. John McWhorter has published a new book entitled All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America.

Having not read the book, my comments are purely based on the full-length video available here.

This discussion, and likely this book, delves into an interesting debate: the value of hip-hop. There is a broad range of opinion. Many approach it at the distance Rock and Roll was approached by previous generations, that is to say with disgust. Such people do not like its sound, its messages and its style. The converse would be those who embrace every aspect of it. Yet there is a middle-ground: appreciation of pure aural aesthetics, verse whit, lyricism, flow etc. and a combination of all of the above. John McWhorter questions the potential of political messages in hip-hop. He notes the repetitive rhetoric hip-hop music contains such as "f*ck the police" and "I sell crack". Missing, McWhorter notes, are some of the crucial issues affecting black people - HIV/AIDS - . Yet hip-hop as an art form is not race-specific. Further, when hip-hop is employed in its common context of the 'hood, it is often used in the form of a reaction rather than for the purpose of making a positive point. In other words, it is an outlet rather than a platform. But then again, it can also be used as a platform... In essence, McWhorter's efforts to distill this artform to such a specific generalization fails to appreciate the overbearing purposes behind the artform. That is that it is multifaceted. His optimistic reverence for activism further filutes his understanding of hip-hop that does focus on the issues he wishes they focused on. He underestimates the impact of media on peoples' opinion and understanding; that to many, our only glimpse into several grave matters is hip-hop.

Does the medium overpower the message? McWhorter thinks so. He believes in the musical merit it contains, but that the message is muffled.