IS IT FOLLY TO THINK THAT AN ART FORM — AT LEAST IN ITS MOST POPULAR FORM — THAT'S SO TAKEN WITH BLING AND CELEBRITY CULTURE, AND IS SO CENTRAL TO THAT CULTURE NOW, CAN RECAPTURE THE VOICE OR THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE SO-CALLED GOLDEN ERA OF HIP-HOP. AND SHOULD WE REALLY CARE? IS HIP-HOP REALLY A PARTY MUSIC ANYWAY? ARE WE ENDOWING IT WITH TOO MUCH IMPORTANCE HERE? Look, the best political music is able to be partied to. R&B and soul have always been dance music with a political message. "Say It Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud" was a dance tune. And that's been the case forever. So the divide [has never been an issue] in black music — so I don't ascribe to it. I think we can have both.
Look, hip-hop has been around almost 40 years, and it's definitely time for something new — significantly new. And I don't have any problem with that. I think that we should see culture as a series of energies that coalesce around expressive forms — but not that the forms themselves have to be maintained at all costs because the more investment you make in one form over another, the more energy you siphon away from new creations.
I think what we have to solve is this incredible investment in what I call a kind of pernicious brand of black dysfunctionality. That we have to fight, because it's not about hip-hop. Hip-hop is articulating this desire very successfully, but if hip-hop were to vanish tomorrow and we invented something new, we would have very much the same linguistic building blocks, why wouldn't we? Hip-hop didn't invent them.
Hip-hop is like the miner's canary for us. It's telling us, look, we are not well. We are not well when it comes to race. We are not well when it comes to poverty. We are not well when it comes to gender. And it's not just about those black people — it's about white desire, mainstream desire, and corporate influence.
YOU'VE TAKEN APART MANY OF THE LEADING CRITIQUES AND DEFENSES OF HIP-HOP. AND ONE OF THOSE DEFENSES — OF HIP-HOP'S GLORIFICATION OF VIOLENCE AND MISOGYNY — IS THAT HIP-HOP NEEDS TO "KEEP IT REAL" IF IT'S TO BE AUTHENTIC AND TO MAINTAIN ITS POWER. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT NOTION? "Keeping it real" is used as a dishonest defense of keeping it unreal. Violence and misogyny is an aspect of everyday life, to be sure, but it's disproportionately represented in hip-hop. As a result, it's not about keeping it real, it's about keeping it fantastical and voyeuristic and racist and sexist.
YOU'VE SUGGESTED THAT HIP-HOP HAS BECOME OUR PRIMARY MEANS OF DISCUSSING RACE AND THAT IT'S PROBLEMATIC FOR MANY OF THE REASONS YOU'VE ALREADY OUTLINED. BUT I WONDER, DO WE FAIL TO GIVE GENERATION Y WHITE KIDS ENOUGH CREDIT IF WE SUGGEST THAT THEY CAN'T SEE THROUGH THE CARICATURES TO A FULLER BLACK EXPERIENCE? HAVEN'T THINGS CHANGED TO SOME DEGREE OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS OR SO? The reality is, they have a personal, rhetorical commitment to racial equality — that's what's improved. You would be very unlikely to just call me an epithet or talk behind my back about me, just because I'm a black girl, in some horrible way. You would be far more sophisticated than that and you wouldn't want to. You would be against that, that's true.