Thank You, Hip Hop

by Jaylin Paschal

I'm going to try my best not to be cliché. I don't want this to be another stereotypical ode to Hip Hop. I don't want this to be the classic "Hip Hop saved my life" testimony. I don't want to tell you about our love story. I don't want to come off as some sort of music elitist or genre snob. However, Hip Hop--as an art, a culture, a lifestyle, an industry, and a statement--has managed to keep me me while simultaneously forcing me to change. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful, extensive, vibrant, and cultured art form I've ever encountered. A thank you is in order.

I spent hours of my childhood lying beside my dad on our living room floor listening to music. I've answered countless random rap trivia questions and have guessed a number of instruments at play during long family road trips. I've had to prove myself on the aux cord and I've watched more Hip Hop oriented documentaries than you'd believe. I've dug through crates of vinyls looking for hidden gems. It's safe to say that I'm not an enthusiast by choice but by default. Music, particularly Hip Hop, is a huge part of my family and my daily life.

Its manifestation in my life is reflected ten-fold in those of millions of others. Hip Hop has permeated social and societal barriers in a way that's connected people across the nation, and around the globe, since its birth. This connection has surpassed the trend phase. 

"People called rock & roll 'African music.' They called it 'voodoo music.' They said that it would drive the kids insane. They said that it was just a flash in the pan - the same thing that they always used to say about hip-hop."
- Little Richard

It reaches beyond the area deemed as "common interest." Hip Hop is not only by the people, for the people, but representative of the people.

Listen, people be askin me all the time
"Yo Mos, what's gettin ready to happen with Hip-Hop?"
(Where do you think Hip-Hop is goin?)
I tell em, "You know what's gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever's happening with us"
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Hip-Hop like it's some giant livin in the hillside
Comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop
So Hip-Hop is going where we going
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is going
Ask yourself: 'where am I going? How am I doing?'
'til you get a clear idea
- Fear Not of Man by Mos Def

And because it's a representation of the people, Hip Hop is often personified and given human characteristics or abilities. This is why describing something as "Hip Hop" means so much more than category or style. Hip Hop has implications, connotations, and history that it carries on its shoulders. It extends beyond beats and rhymes; rhythm and poetry. Hip Hop is not just a genre--it'd be naive to think so.

Hip Hop is a culture. Hip Hop is graffiti. Hip Hop is street style--oversized clothes, customized denim, gold grills, tilted snapbacks. Hip Hop is beat-boxing, break-dancing. Hip Hop is a boombox over the shoulder. Hip Hop is "greatest emcee" debates. Hip Hop is in fact, more than a culture. It's a lifestyle choice. The shoes you wear, the way you speak, the style of your hair. Kids live by it, kids die by it. It impacts individuals, just as it impacts the masses.

"Is Hip Hop just a euphemism for a new religion?"
- Gorgeous by Kanye West

Hip Hop is an industry in many of the same ways. It impacts sales beyond the musical world, affecting profit margins in the arenas of theater, fashion (clothes and shoes), cosmetology, etc. Looking at the executive success of men like Jay Z and Dr. Dre strengthens this belief.

Most importantly, Hip Hop is a statement. From songs like N.W.A.'s "Fuck the Police" to Kanye West's "Facts," Hip Hop has been away to challenge systems. Questioning the status quo and voicing truths, Hip Hop has managed to give a distinct sound to the struggles and stories its members have experienced. Hip Hop is censored beyond belief and often thought of as less than because of its tendency to unapologetically discuss whatever it is that needs to be handled--pleasant or otherwise. You don't have to like what's being said, but you definitely have to listen. Hip Hop as a statement is abrasive, uncensored, and candid in the most beautiful way imaginable. It's not meek or mild, but gracious still. It's all of the power, with none of the prestige.

"I think hip-hop could help rebuild America, once hip-hoppers own hip-hop... We are our own politicians, our own government, we have something to say. We're warriors. Soldiers."
- Nas
It manages to manifest in one race, and still transcend racial boundaries. It manages to appeal to people of all socioeconomic statuses. It manages to travel the globe by way of radio waves. It manages to appeal from underground to mainstream. It manages to gain recognition from barbershop panels, to XXL covers, to the Grammy's.

And even more significantly, it manages to maintain a healthy resting heartbeat when so many claim its death.

"I know Hip Hop is alive and well,
If it died, you other crews wouldn't survive the smell."

- Shady 2.0 BET Cypher, Joe Budden

If Hip  Hop dies, so many and so much dies with it. It has infiltrated not only black, but American culture as a whole, too deeply to go down without taking the rest of us with it. Which is why, even when enduring what seems to be its deterioration, it could quite literally never die. I hate to be this corny, but it lives as long as we do. And we're fairly resilient. And just like we have, "Hip Hop's passed all your tall social hurtles (Mathematics by Mos Def)." But then again, in the words of Common, "maybe I'm a hopeless, Hip Hop romantic."

As I said in the beginning, a thank you is in order. Thank you for giving a voice to the voiceless. Thank you for the community. Thank you for changing the definition of "art." Thank you for all of the beats that make us nod our heads and lines that make us rewind the track. Thank you for all of the dances. Thank you for all of the moments spent obnoxiously rapping along to songs with loved ones. Thank you for making white people so uncomfortable.Thank you for both the platform and the forum.Thank you, Hip Hop.