Is hip-hop a friend or foe?

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February 15th, 2011

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Hip-Hop and Rap C.D's (Photo Angel Martin)

Omaha, NE – Hip-hop and rap are generally not considered your grandparent’s music, but many young people download, buy, and listen to it daily.  So, is hip-hop a friend or a foe?  Omaha City Councilman Dr. Franklin Thompson was the lead facilitator for the hip-hop table talk.

“You can’t go through life with blinders on, not knowing what’s going on,” he said.  “We as people who educate must know … about the things you agree with and the things you don’t agree with.”

Tesnim Hassan is a community activist; she was also one of the event presenters.  She said hip-hop culture originates from Africa.  The hip-hop style has been poetic, she adds, and even used as a secret code language in the past. But, she said, in the 1970’s hip-hop became a profitable industry.

Speakers at the hip-hop table talk event (Photo Angel Martin)

“To go further into profit, everyone wants to talk about these hip-hop artists and what they are saying.  They’ve got booties all over the television and they confusing the youth with their drug language,” she said.  “But, who is enabling the rap artists to publish these lyrics and produce these records?  There a very few black-owned radio stations, I think there’s one.”

The documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes by Byron Hunt was also briefly shown to the audience of about 75 people.  Hunt’s documentary looks at the industry and how it affects masculinity.

“This is Nelly; he’s a multi-platinum rap artist and a successful business man.  He’s a huge rap star who’s also known for giving back to the community,” the film’s narrator said.  “He has two non-profits, one promotes literacy and the other locates bone marrow donors for Leukemia patients.” “Did I forget to mention he also owns a beverage called “Pimp Juice?”

Jay Kline attended the table talk event.  Over the years, Kline said the hip-hop culture’s intelligent content has moved to the underground while glamorized and materialistic content rides the airwaves.  But, overall, he said the community should view conscious hip-hop as a positive outlet and a friend.

Locals share a meal and talk about hip-hop (Photo Angel Martin)

“The positive side is what we need to focus on,” he said.  “The best way we need to focus on it is with our wallets, time, and with our emphasis.  The reason why it’s still out there is because people are buying albums,” he said.  “It’s one thing to be angry and to be very politically upset and to fuel your lyrics with that anger, but you can still do that it in a very conscious and intelligent way.”

Half the audience in attendance was not hip hop fans. But last week, in the basement of an Omaha Church, the discussion began.  Organizers said they hope to continue conversations like this – and build understanding about a music genre, which, they said, is here to stay.

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