It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop – M.K. Asante Jr. [Review]

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M.K. Asante, Jr.’s “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation” 259 pages © 2008 is a successful attempt to remind hip hoppers that hip hop has been and should be more than just entertainment. He more eloquently compared the book to “snatching the mattresses from beneath our slumbering selves” and opting instead to sleep on the hard floor of a prison cell avoiding the danger of getting comfortable with the status quo.

Asante, an award winning filmmaker, author and professor before the age of 30, explains why so many may be upset with the direction of hip hop today.

Hip hop artists are predominately black males and since it became clear that hip hop was profitable record executives have not been black or hip hop for that matter. Asante likens this disconnect as colonial-like and one of the many ills of hip hop.

The “big four music companies (aptly called parent companies), Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, EMI Group and Warner Music Group account for 81.87% of the U.S. music market and supply retailers with 90% of the music according to Nielsen SoundScan music business likened to colonialism.”

Contrary to what it looks like there are no black males in executive positions at any of the parent labels. The subsidiary companies P. Diddy’s Bad Boy (owned by Warner), Lil’ Wayne’s Yung Money (owned by Universal), Russell Simmon’s Def Jam (sold to Universal in 1999) and Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella (another sub of Universal) are the colonies of the Big Four parent/mother companies.

“The mother countries go to the colonies and extract the raw materials like rubber, cocoa or gold to be finished and made saleable for the marketplaces of the mother country and back to the same colonies from which the raw materials were extracted in the first place.”

“So the inner city with its poverty, poor schools, drugs, police terrorism, etc. provides the raw materials needed to produce rap.” The result, the successful commercialism of hip hop benefits the parent companies and hurts those that are instrumental in producing it.

Beyond the colonial comparison Asante’s book contains discussions with Assata Shakur, dead prez, quotes from a number of hip hop artists, a nice historical lesson on the life of hip hop and the ghetto, an insightful discussion of the disconnect between hip hoppers and the Civil Rights leaders who focus on content rather than the sponsors of rap (parent record companies) as well as the incestuous connection between the prison system and the lobbyist that push laws to keep those prisons filled.

By midway through the book you can feel Asante calling you to act, encouraging artists to be artivists, listeners to be conscious of the badman box consumerism of hip hop has created, which they do not have to live in (and shouldn’t since it often leads to jail and the continuation of ghetto life) and separate the “real” from the “reel” daring to unlock their imaginations.

Quotes of author and quoted by author:

“When you make an observation, you have an obligation.”

“Each generation,out of relative obscurity, must discover their destiny and either fulfill or betray it.” Frantz Fanon

“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.” Zora Neale Hurston

“American golden rule: those with the gold make the rules.”

“By focusing on the content, they unskillfully avoid the tough questions: Who sponsors rap? Who buys the most rap? Who backs ignorance? Who owns radio stations?”

“In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum

For more info: READ the book! Peep the filmography (by any medium necessary) and bibliography for additional reading. Visit www.colapublib.org/ and www.lapl.org