The President of Flow… and the end of Hip Hop?

What if “My President is black” is a reset button, marking the end of a cultural era? Just talking here again about the hip hop pulse of Obama Nation. Tricia Rose says the President of Flow will be (surely ought to be) the death of commercial hip hop… of the last decade’s giant stars like Jay-Z, and of the iconic trinity of gangstas, pimps and ho’s in the lyrics of violence and carnal excess. Professor Rose, the Brown University author of Hip Hop Wars, loves the form of rap, quotes Nas as prophecy, reveres the art of Lupe Fiasco and Immortal Technique among many cult practitioners. But times have changed, she says, and the Obama – Hip Hop linkage (Adam Bradley’s theme) is mostly fantasy — a link of opposites, actually, not influences.

 The civil rights movement made Obama possible… Now there’s no question that hip hop encouraged the cultural comfort that Obama represents, but he really represents the fruition of a civil rights legacy. That’s what I think people see in him predominantly. We’re reading through a hip hop lens that has four generations of black culture behind it. Almost all of his gestures, his language, his connection to the church, everything he does is both “civil rights” and occasionally “hip hop generation.” Young people see the connection to hip hop. They see the “brush your shoulder,” the fist-bump and all these moments, and there’s a great deal of excitement about those symbolic points of continuity. I see that. But if he’s hip hop, how do we account for this sense of systemic belonging that he represents? …There’s really no rhetorical continuity between Obama’s political vision as an elected official in the system, in the highest office, and the cultural politics of marginality, outsider status, and a kind of perpetual speaking-truth-to-power type of politics. There’s no parallel.

Patricia Rose in conversation with Chris Lydon, March 24, 2009 at the Watson Institute.

Braunze, the embodiment of call-in radio wisdom, on the line from Birmingham, goes a step further.

I think that hip hop is the antithesis of Obama. What it has turned into is the antithesis of all the values and progressive understandings that black culture has had since we landed here 4 or 5 hundred years ago… It’s a “faux African-American” culture. This correlation, this conflation of hip hop culture with Barack Obama is all wrong. Barack Obama is just a brotha! I think all of us hope that the Obama Effect eclipses hip hop… The corporate conception of hip hop, when adopted by African-American youth, is an opportunity death sentence. These are my relatives and friends I’m speaking about. The aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic, of hip hop is such that the opportunity they’d like to have is fated to be impossible.

Technologist and singer “Braunze” in conversation with Chris Lydon and Tricia Rose, March 24, 2009.

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  • Great interview! It’s good to hear Lupe Fiasco mentioned this time, I listened to the entirety of the last podcast waiting for his mention.

  • nother

    A joy to listen to Trisha Rose. Thank you for introducing us to her. And thank you Ms. Rose for introducing me to Lupe Fiesco. I’m very eager to read “The Hip Hop Wars.” The nuanced incite she brings to the mic is refreshing and stimulating.

    Open Source! – A wonderful follow up conversation on the subject. Great questions + great soundtrack + great editing + great guests = enlightenment. And the freestyle on jazz and institutional racism was a nice crescendo.

    You’ve given us a lot to think about.

  • nother

    Sorry – Tricia not Trisha!

  • I agree with Tricia: it’s important to take into consideration how the entrance of hip-hop onto the pop-culture mainstream coincided with it’s transformation from a sort of marginal and experimental creative space to a highly produced marketed product. This might be simplistic, but maybe going mainstream in a highly privatized and conservative commercial space since the 90’s (even MTV in the early 90s looked MUCH different than it does today), also narrows the range of content…a sort of embedded containment of the message to fit advertising strategies that themselves perpetuate a cultural status quo amidst a changing social landscape. Definitely there is a new more pluralistic cultural narrative forming in the Obama age, but it might be interesting to explore what is left unsaid despite this pluralization, or the disconnect between what is officially said and what is expressed in less mainstream spaces. It might challenge the way that we look to legislation (civil rights bills, Obama) rather than popular expression (the emergence of hip hop as a new cultural philosophy) as the primary way that change happens.

    In terms of this conversations, I wonder why race is the primary prism through which we understand the election and hip hop?…where would Eimenen and the Beastie Boys fit in, or ‘black’ artists now popular in other, traditionally ‘white’, musical styles? Also why was electing a black man such a big news focus in the lead up to the election and then the next day the same people were saying that we were entering a post-racial society?

  • Just a thought, not a criticism: why no mention of The Roots?

    Especially as they’ve sort of transcended the realm of “pop culture”- with their residency on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

    They too are socially conscious, enormously popular, still “underground” in some respects, musicians, and of the “Obama era”.

    Any thoughts?