On July 14th, the Washington Post published a piece by Touré titled “How America And Hip-Hop Failed Each Other.” Touré’s editorial quickly made the rounds through the Hip-Hop blogosphere. I personally read it and have to say that I have a few issues with his article. The data that Touré used regarding the war on drugs, the incarceration rates, unemployment rates and the books he brings into the discussion to help hammer home his conclusion was not the problem. Oddly enough, where Touré’s entire piece fell apart was when he discussed anything regarding Hip-Hop. Let me explain why…
Basically Touré’s entire article hinges on how Hip-Hop went from having a majority Black audience in the 80’s, when it was largely Afrocentric and fairly conscious/uplifting, to possessing a mostly Caucasian audience that reveled in criminal/gangsta archetypes in the 90’s. Touré attributes this changeover directly to America’s war on drugs, begun by Richard Nixon but kicked into overdrive by the Reagan administration and its by products and aftereffects. My issue is that while the FBI’s anti-drug funding increased exponentially and crack’s growing presence in the inner cities obviously affected the culture of Hip-Hop, those outside influences weren’t the key reasons Hip-Hop’s aesthetic and core fanbase switched between the 80’s and 90’s .
“If you were an outsider to Hip-Hop culture you’d simply take Touré at his word, seeing as how he’s the ‘expert.’ That would be dangerous & ill advised.”
Let’s get to the meat of the issue here. The switch-over Touré is referring to in his article actually did occur. I saw it happen firsthand and I lived through it. Why did it happen? Not exactly for the reasons that Touré alludes to, they were far more organic and internal. Between the years of 1986 and 1993 Hip-Hop had this change in core fan base. What happened in Hip-Hop itself during those years holds the key to everything. The first part of this era includes the first Hip-Hop Golden Era which spanned the approximate years of 1986 to 1989. During this era advances in sampling technology, production techniques and a new focus on lyricism all emerged.
MCs like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and afrocentric/conscious groups like Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic, Gang Starr, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, among others, all came into prominence. What we tend to forget is that hardcore/gangsta acts like Schooly D, Just-Ice, Ice T, N.W.A, Geto Boys and many others were popular as well. This is where the naturally fickle nature of urban music reared it’s ugly head.
In urban music (such as Hip-Hop) generations occur in three to five year segments. If a particular style or sub genre of Hip-Hop is hot in 1991 it will fall off sometime between 1994 and 1996 in most cases. Take into account the rise and fall of once super successful acts like Fu-Schnickens and Das-EFX, for example. The first Golden Era of Hip-Hop came to a natural end after four years and settled into crucial space that gave rise to the second (and last) Golden Era of Hip-Hop which lasted between 1992 to 1996 (some include 1997 while I contend it’s part of another era entirely). During the years of 1990 and 1991 the changeover Touré attributes to outside influences other than byproducts caused by internal cultural turmoil occurred.
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