At this point it might seem hollow to repeat what has been widely said about Michael Eric Dyson: this gifted man is the “hip hop intellectual,” a world-class scholar, and the most brilliant interpreter of hip hop culture we have. But plain and simple that is what he is. He has shown those doubters and critics that hip hop is a vital arts movement created by young working-class men and women of color. Yes, our rhymes can contain violence and hatred. Yes, our songs can detail the drug business and our choruses can bounce with lustful intent. However, those things did not spring from inferior imaginations or deficient morals; these things came from our lives. They came from America.
The folks from the suburbs and the private schools so concerned with putting warning labels on my records missed the point. They never stopped to worry about the realities in this country that spread poverty and racism and gun violence and hatred of women and drug use and unemployment. People can act like rappers spread these things, but that is not true. Our lives are not rotten or worthless just because that’s what people say about the real estate that we were raised on. In fact, our lives may be even more worthy of study because we succeeded despite the promises of failure seeping out from behind the peeling paint on the walls of every apartment in every project.
This is part Jay-Z’s intro in Mr.Dyson’s new book, “Know What I Mean?(Reflections of Hip Hop).
Know What I Mean? addresses salient issues within hip hop: the creative expression of degraded youth that has garnered them global exposure; the vexed gender relations that have made rap music a lightning rod for pundits; the commercial explosion that has made an art form a victim of its success; the political elements that have been submerged in the most popular form of hip hop; and the intellectual engagement with some of hip hop’s most influential figures.
Thoughts on what Jay-Z is saying?