UPDATE: an updated version of this, and much more, appears in my new book.
(Any similarities to real people, other than me, are coincidental)
~hip hop journalist/blogger Colin Pennyworth
~gangsta rapper Young Lil’
~hip hop scholar Professor Alastair Xavier Cheffordshire III
~hip hop activist Jamie “Jaymix” Wester
~midwest nobody Guante
~and our moderator, local news personality Sarah Mulligan
(The scene: a full auditorium at the local university’s student union. Our panelists are on a stage behind a table. The moderator stands at a podium to the right. The audience is composed primarily of college students, but a few younger and older faces pepper the crowd as well. Four white kids are ciphering in the back).
Mulligan: I’d like to welcome all of our panelists. So as you all know, we’re here today to talk about hip hop. We’ve got about half an hour, which should be more than enough time. So the first question: Nas (pronounced “Nass”) had an album out a few years ago called “Hip Hop Is Dead.” Is hip hop dead?
Wester: I’ll jump right in and say, as KRS-ONE once told me, HIP HOP isn’t dead. HIP HOP lives in the projects called your heart. HIP HOP goes to work every day putting food on your table. HIP HOP is immortal like GOD, and TALIB KWELI is JESUS. See there’s hip HOP and then there’s hip POP, and…
Young Lil’ (interrupting): Nah mean, Nas is a real smart dude. No homo. He charts well. I mean, people in the hood ain’t tryin’ to hear that book shit, but he still sells records. And that beef…
Pennyworth (interrupting): Nas is just an out of touch New York rapper who doesn’t understand what the streets want. See, the South is on top now. Maybe if he quit being an elitist hack and wrote a few dozen songs about selling crack, he’d be singing a different tune. I had a sit-down with Jeezy the other day, and he told me…
Cheffordshire (interrupting): I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with you there old boy. Like I say in my new book, Nas is a modern-day street prophet, a GRIOT, if you will, who translates ancient African folktales into a thoroughly postmodern gumbo that speaks directly to the blues experience. When he says that hip hop is dead, he is, quite obviously, alluding directly to OSIRUS, the Egyptian god of the dead. To die is to transcend, to become more-than, and Nas is quite simply following in the footsteps of Public Enemy as he…
Mulligan (interrupting): Mr. Guante, you’ve been rather quiet. Do you think hip hop is dead?
Guante: Um… no? I think that’s kind of an oversimplification. Do you mean hip hop as a global culture? Hip hop as art? Hip hop as a commodity? Hip hop as a force on the pop charts? These are all very different. Really, what does that question even mean? I think…
Mulligan (interrupting) Well since you don’t understand the question, let’s move on. Backtracking a little, what IS hip hop?
Wester (eyes lighting up): HIP HOP IS A CULTURE COMPOSED OF 37 ELEMENTS: b-boying, graffiti, DJing, MCing, beatboxing, street knowledge, street entrepreneurialism, street manicure/pedicure, breakfast cereal, beat production, martial arts movies, street upholstery…
Pennyworth (interrupting): Here we go again with that hip hop culture shit. I was on the phone with Pusha T of the Clipse the other day and he told me…
Young Lil’ (interrupting): Hip hop is like, it’s like, crazy, man. It’s like, a voice. Like, I’m Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or some shit… no homo.
Cheffordshire: Yes! Precisely, my dear boy. Hip hop is the united battlecry of the African-American proletariat, awakening from its slumber to reclaim its objective identity. It is Athena, bursting fully formed from the noble skull of Zeus. Hip Hop creates subjective spaces wherein objective reality can…
Mulligan (interrupting): But what about the sexism? Isn’t there a lot of sexism in hip hop?
Young Lil’’s manager (suddenly appearing behind the panel): Can I just jump in here for a minute? See, hip hop ain’t sexist; AMERICA is sexist. Hip hop is just reflecting that reality.
Young Lil’: Yeah and also, some bitches ARE bitches.
Young Lil’’s manager: Exactly. My man here is a ghetto reporter, showing middle America the objective facts about the ‘hood. You all should be thanking him for performing a valuable public service!
Guante: Your breakthrough single was called “Stomp a Ho Out (Over Nothing)!” Yeah, America is sexist, but there comes a point when we as artists need to…
Wester (interrupting): HAVE YOU GUYS EVER HEARD OF COMMON? OR MOS DEF? OR TALIB KWELI? THOSE GUYS ARE GREAT AND THEY RESPECT WOMEN AND TALK ABOUT REAL ISSUES. IT’S NOT ALL GUNS, HOS AND CARS. YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT THE ROOTS’ NEW ALBUM.
Pennyworth (rolling eyes): Those are all old men who only sell records to white hippies. I may be from Maine, but I know that the streets don’t want to be preached to. Music should be devoid of social commentary because that shit is preachy. TI and Young Joc might be sexist, sure, but that’s real. And the beats are transcendent, slathering mountains of sticky sweet boombap with robo-sexy future synths and rumbling, neck-biting basslines. I had sushi with Ghostface the other day, and he told me…
Mulligan (interrupting): Don Imus. How ‘bout that?
Young Lil’’s manager: He’s a hater. He just hates. It’s all just hate, man.
Cheffordshire: What Mr. Imus fails to grasp is that neo-colonialism has created a kind of post-traumatic psychic shock in the African-American collective cultural consciousness. By invoking the terms he did, Imus has, in a sense, awakened the Cyclops, and now even the softest wool will serve as poor protection against the rage of the injured beast.
(pause… not in, like, a homophobic “pause” kind of way, but an actual pause)
Guante: The Don Imus incident was four years ago! Are we going to talk about East Coast vs. West Coast beef next?
Mulligan: How about violence. Isn’t there a war going on between the East Coast and the West Coast? Is hip hop inherently violent?
Young Lil’’s manager: No. It’s not. Simple as that. It’s fantasy. My man here is a poet, a master storyteller. We don’t get mad at Arnold for making “Terminator.” We make him the governor of goddamn California. My man here is just telling highly detailed, poetic stories.
Guante: But didn’t you just say that Young Lil’ was a “ghetto reporter, showing middle America objective facts?”
Pennyworth: You’re obviously one of those elitists who thinks all hip hop should be boring piano loops you can't get down in the club to. Why can’t you just respect Young Lil’’s body of work? I gave his last album, “I Sell Crack (You Just Die),” a 7.4 out of 10, the highest rating I’ve ever given anything. It was a masterpiece of dark, urban paranoia, mixing crackling high hats, shabble-tastic synth grooves and multilayered, Shakespearean vocalizationals. Meeting him reminded me of meeting Mobb Deep’s Prodigy for the first time back in…
Wester: COMMON NEVER RAPS ABOUT SHOOTING PEOPLE. HE’S MORE LIKE A POET. MOS DEF MADE A SONG ABOUT CONSERVING WATER! TALIB KWELI! DID YOU KNOW THAT “EMCEE” IS AN ACRONYM FOR “EVERYONE MAKES CULTURE EVOLVE ETERNALLY?”
Young Lil’: I will shoot a m’fucka though. Just so we’re clear.
Mulligan: Let’s take some questions from the audience. You there.
Dirty Backpacker: Hey duuudes, I just wanted to say that I think Jedi Mind Tricks is fuckin’ dope. What do you duuudes think?
(Pennyworth makes “jerking-off” motion with his hands, the rest of the panel stays quiet.)
Mulligan: Okay next question. You there.
Obvious College Student: I’m writing a paper on 2pac and Black Nationalism and I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts on… that.
Cheffordshire: In my new book, I say that Tupac Amaru Shakur was a modern day Rumi, perhaps mixed with Alexander Pope and Basho. His words can be endlessly analyzed because he directly channeled the oral traditions of…
Young Lil’ (interrupting): ‘Pac was real, you know. He sold a lot of records. I like that song about his mother because I love my mama too. No homo.
Mulligan: I think we’ll take one last question. How about you in the back?
Little Kid: Isn’t it a bit presumptuous to think you can cover all of hip hop in a half-hour panel discussion? I mean, this audience is composed of people with different levels of prior understanding, different life experiences and different ways of interacting with the culture. Hip hop is an enormous, complex global culture that is fluid and ever-evolving, yet we still talk about it like it’s some New York fad. Wasn’t this whole farce just a meaningless exercise in intellectual masturbation? Don’t half-assed discussions like this, whether at a conference or on cable news, always just undergird whatever assumptions people already have about hip hop, good or bad?
Mulligan: No. Okay now on to the closing statements. Professor, would you like to begin?
Cheffordshire: Oh hip hop, thou many-headed hydra, wherefore shall we find thee? In my new book, I write that Chuck D. of Public Enemy, while pioneering a kind of neo-romantic poststructuralist er er ER er ER ER rhythm, was in fact alluding to—and paying tribute to—his intellectual forebears, the guild poets of the Russian Revolution. And this is where we find hip hop today, at a crossroads. The Scylla of postmodernism on one side, the Charybdis of Marxist determinism on the other, the good ship hip hop must sail carefully, the winds of revolution in her sails, always forward, always backward.
Young Lil’’s manager: And I would just add on to that: haters hate. That’s all it really is. Like, some groups have called my man here homophobic. He ain’t homophobic. AMERICA is homophobic.
Young Lil’: And besides, I ain’t AFRAID of gays, I just don’t like to be around them, hear their voices or read about them in magazines.
Young Lil’’s manager: Exactly. My man here is a PROPHET. He’s like a cross between 2pac and Biggie, but with that Southern flavor that’s so hot right now. Make sure you cop that new album.
Pennyworth: Three Six Mafia’s zombieflutter chipmunk soul sound, combined with their stubbly, Goodburger basslines, ghetto dilapidated kicks and pure bricktop syrupy freneticism are really the only hope this middling genre has left. I split a muffin with Juicy J the other day, and he…
Wester (interrupting): I THINK THAT IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS, MOS DEF, TALIB KWELI, COMMON AND THE ROOTS ARE GOING TO DO AN ALBUM TOGETHER AND IT WILL SPARK A WORLDWIDE REVOLUTION OF HEALING AND REVOLUTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS. THEIR BRILLIANT POETRY WILL FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, GIVE BREAD TO THE HUNGRY AND EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN.
Mulligan: Mr. Guante?
Guante: O…K… I guess if I can say anything about this ridiculous fiasco, it’d be that…
Mulligan (interrupting): I’m gonna have to cut you off there. Sorry, we’re out of time. I’d like to thank all our panelists, the audience, and the conference organizers. Drive safely.