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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