Before Hip-Hop Was Hip-Hop
I keep coming across old essays I wrote that seem to have disappeared off the face of the planet--this one was for a high-school textbook. Glad to see it's holding its own.
Tell me what you think:BEFORE HIP-HOP WAS HIP-HOP
by Rebecca Walker
© Prentice Hall Literature Textbook
If you ask most kids today about hip-hop, they’ll spit out the names of recording artists they see on TV: Eminem, P. Diddy, J. L o, Beyonce. They’ll tell you about the songs they like and the clothes they want to buy. They’ll tell you about the indisputable zones of hip-hop like “EO” (East Orange, New Jersey), the “ATL” (Atlanta, Georgia), and the “West Side” (Los Angeles, California), neighborhoods they feel they know because they’ve seen them in all the glossiest, “flossiest” music videos. Hip-hop is natural to these kids, like air or water, just there, a part of the digital landscape that streams through their lives.
I watch this cultural sea change with fascination. It astounds me that hip-hop has grown into a global industry, a force that dominates youth culture from Paris to Prague, Tokyo to Timbuktu. I can’t believe that in small, all-white towns like Lincoln, Nebraska, high school boys wear their clothes in the latest “steelo”: pants sagging off their waists, sports jerseys hanging to their knees, baseball hats cocked to one side. Even in the pueblos of Mexico, where mariachi bands and old school crooners still rule, it is hip-hop that sells cars, sodas, and children’s toys on TV.
The vast empire of hip-hop amazes me because I knew hip-hop before it was hip-hop. I was there when it all began.
July 5th, 2009