Imagine a white kid from suburban America. His family is well-off, and he never goes without the necessities of life; food, clothing, shelter. In addition, he enjoys luxuries that much of the world doesn’t; access to transportation, a college education, and the fruits of modern technology.
On the surface, this kid may seem to have nothing to do with hip-hop culture. Hip-hop, after all, was born from the fires of the South Bronx by black and Latino youths looking for something fun to do. Nearly four decades later, hip-hop culture has gone global for many reasons; its accessibility in modern times, its infectious sound, and its strong desire to be heard. But there is one reason for its wildfire-like spread that super cedes them all; hip-hop is about the people.
Who are the people? This question is not as complicated as it may seem. The people are those who keep the wheels turning in this world. They are the ones who want their voices to be heard, to have a part in changing society for the better. In short, hip-hop is the culture of the underdog. (Whether or not the music is still for the underdog is a different subject; one that I will not delve into at this time for relevance’s sake.)
Back to that white kid. How is he the underdog? His economic status in this world is more than favorable, and he seems to have opportunity laid out right in front of him. However, there is more than one way to be an underdog. Social misfits and loners who may be from a broken home or may deal with some other unseen difficulty have long since found solace in hip-hop culture and music. Think about it: a kid may hear pop/dance/love songs on the radio all the time. Not only can he not relate to the lyrics, but he can’t even relate to the themes or feelings of that music. That kid may turn to “emo” rock. He may turn to hip-hop. If he turns toward the latter, he won’t be able to relate to the tales of urban America. However, he will be able to relate to the some of the themes and feelings of the music; hope for better days, desperation, continued pushing in the face of adversity, internal/external awareness, etc.
The problem with the image of white kids who love hip-hop comes from the poor image people have of hip-hop itself. Networks such as BET and MTV exist to make money, and they show what the mainstream culture enjoys. However, in doing so, said networks are giving the rest of the public a false image of what hip-hop really is. In fact, BET once blocked the showing of Little Brother’s “Lovin’ It” citing the song as “too intelligent” for BET. This notion, aside from being ridiculous, creates an assumption that hip-hop is all about blunts, broads, cars, and guns. In reality, there are so many different kinds of hip-hop. The white kid above is just one example. There may be a girl out there with political aspirations who receives inspiration from Black Star or Public Enemy. There may be a kid who is crazy about his girlfriend and listens to LL Cool J. The themes of hip-hop are not limited to struggle or hard times.
Hip-hop is universal. It seems that emcees realize this more than critics of the culture do. It’s time we all start realizing what hip-hop is, and what it can do. Labeling any kind of people “posers” for enjoying a genre of music limits what that genre can do for the world. Hip-hop is not some collection of silly dance crazes: it is representative of the world. We need hip-hop as much as hip-hop needs us. As Eminem once put it: “That’s why we sing for these kids who don’t have a thing/except for a dream and a fuckin’ rap magazine/who post pin-up pictures on they walls all day long/idolize they favorite rappers and know all they songs/or for anyone who’s ever been through shit in they lives/so they sit and they cry at night, wishing they’d die/so they throw on a rap record, and they sit and they vibe/ we’re nothing to you, but we’re the fuckin’ shit in they eyes!”