The Daily Grind Video
CLOSE

The packed Barbican event by Intelligence Squared and Google + for the “first ever global debate on Hip Hop”, had an impressive line up. On the panel were Reverend Jessie Jackson, KRS-One, Q Tip, ?uestlove, Professor Tricia Rose, Professor John  Sutherland, Benjamin Zephaniah (legendary Dub poet), FOX columnist Jason Whitlock, Deeb (Egyptian Rapper), Shaun Bailey (Special advisor to the UK Prime Minister on youth, crime and welfare) and Grammy Award winner Estelle, plus other academics.

It was a shame there wasn’t more women or global representatives. Where were the global witnesses that had been touched by the power of Hip Hop?

The audience was buzzing, and varied in age, background and style, with suits, trainers, hoodies and heels in attendance.

Attorney Eamon Courtney was first to put his case forward against Hip Hop. He told us about taking his daughter to a Ludacris concert, only to realize the language wasn’t quite right for his ‘little girl’. Later, Estelle made the point that parents should be bringing up their children, not Hip Hop. She was clearly frustrated at being in the virtual ‘hang out’ space and not being able jump in as points were being made.

Although paying tribute to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, Eamon went on to tell us some people were now trapped in the ‘Hip-Hop-a-sphere’, where right is wrong and good is bad, where bitches, hoes and niggas take pride of place, and the swagger and the Get Rich or Die attitude of a convicted criminal, is obscene.

Blaming Rap for a crime wave and prison system, Eamon shouted, “Hip Hop is powerful. Power is attractive, seductive and toxic, and it’s killing our young people, its degrading society. It’s bad for you and all of us”. 

The fact that Hip Hop is powerful was raised time and time again. It was however, Professor Tricia Rose, who highlighted the commercialization and penetration of Black culture that had been turned into ‘predatory capitalism’ in the last 30 years.

Why was no one asking what part do the global corporations and media, play?

Michael Dyson put forward his case for Hip Hop and with his fast talking skills enraptured the audience.  “Hip Hop teaches us oracle wizardry.”

Both sides talked about the incarceration of Black and Latino males for non-violent drug offences, with Fox’s Jason Whitlock believing Hip Hop had been hijacked by America’s extreme incarceration.

Did you know that 50% of former US drug felons were refused student loans, yet retained the rights to own a gun?

The UK also has a disproportionate amount of young Black men in jail. The reason is not Rap or a lack of energy and courage, but poverty, a lack of parenting, mental health issues and an education system that is often stacked against them, a lack of work opportunities and a prejudiced police force.

After last summer’s riots, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported police were 28 times more likely to use stop-and-search powers against black people, than white people.

Brit, Shaun Bailey, was booed when he blamed Hip Hop for the death of 27 Black boys killed in London last year.
Hip Hop and Rap are a “Culture of rebellion born in pain” said Jessie Jackson. He went on to talk about the hypocrisy in blaming Hip Hop artists as the bad guys, when US drones are being used to kill people, and the war in Iraq is obscene and a waste of life and money. 

KRS-One talked of Hip Hop’s power to uplift and enhance a society, with Professor James Peterson breaking down the five pillars of Hip Hop – Graffiti, Dance, DJ, Rap and the 5th pillar, Knowledge. 

It felt more like a trial of the words Nigga, Bitch and Hoe rather than a debate about Hip Hop, which is a culture that has reached every corner of the globe.

With justification of the ‘N word’ by Q Tip as a term of endearment, he admitted it had a ‘nasty’ history.  Benjamin Zephaniah pointed out that the Dub movement had fought hard against this word in the UK.

Professor Rose was articulate and sharp, protesting against women being called “Bitches” and said Hip Hop needed to be able to be critical of itself. KRS One says Kanye West was referring to cars when he talked about bitches, and that Rap was a coded language.

“Hip Hop has given a voice to Middle Eastern youth…a trusted voice when media and news cannot be; with pop music offering a shallow alternative”, said Egyptian rapper Deeb.

I can recall my visit to the Townships in Soweto, South Africa a few years back. I entered a young man’s home, which consisted of a one-room corrugated iron structure, a dirt floor with an old mattress. There was a solitary picture on the wall of Tupac Shakur – this was his hope, his inspiration.

“Tupac is one of the greatest poets of our time, and Ice T was no more gangsta than David Bowe was an astronaut”, said English Professor John Sutherland.

At times the debate was laughable, with ridiculous questions such as ‘Is rap bad poetry?’ Or the BBC Chair asking, ?uestlove if he would have sold more records if his music had not been negative?

It was embarrassingly obvious she had no idea who he was. 

Hip Hop came out the winner, as a culture that enhances society, winning both the online and in-room vote, but I can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity for something more constructive!

Hip Hop itself was never on trial, just a few Rap words.

 – Follow Jodie Dalmeda on Twitter: Jodie Dalmeda