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     Volume 8 Issue 85 | September 4, 2009 |

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Rhyme & Reason

Adnan R. Amin

Contrary to the common view of hip-hop as comprising of rap and slick dance moves it is often defined as a way of life. Much of rap, for instance, is descended from ancient, oral traditions. Central themes have much to do with unfair treatment, isolation, limited opportunities, economic hardship and refusing to be discriminated against. It's about the ghetto, ganja and the social gangrene of gangs that grows unabated. It is also about the good life. Sometimes it is about haunting, social injustice and institutionalised discrimination. Sometimes it is about booze, babes and the beautiful life. The new brand of gold-flashing, car-thumping, skimpy-clothed hoe filled rhymes about the good life always seems more like an afterthought. It is loud, in-the-face and perhaps a touch immature. It's like the cousin who made it out of the Projects.

Hip-hop-giving voice to the silent.

A steady stream of talented artistes has been speaking out for a voiceless community. With contraction, distortion, slurring, fusing, 'verbification' of nouns and a host of pronunciation innovations - they have shown us how even a rich language like English can grow, mature, diversify, evolve and remain on an admirably-dynamic plain. While the Ivy League might initially resist this transfusion of Ebony life into the language they are surely pragmatic enough to avoid a prolonged denial, convalesce and acknowledge what English has grown into. Grouchy, decorated academics have never contained the effervescence of oral traditions. They will form grim panels of grey-hairs, sit at their Mahogany desks and decide, over tea, that any more denial will make them look increasingly idiotic. Fine! Let 'dawg' be counted as a word from today. How degenerate! How perverse!

I believe it was Roosevelt, who declared, 'I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don't care what the facts are'. It actually suited him. Facts, today, are what men of his stature say they are. For a civilisation that barely acknowledges any other, the statement is emblematic of its attitude. In this unipolar world, attitudes are like hand-me-downs soon to outfit a sibling nation. It sets the tone for global dialogue.

Thankfully, within this vast empire, its bustling establishment there are lessons. A paltry 12% of the population is protesting systematic segregation through a movement that is so civil, so artistic, so poetic, so sophisticated and so cultured that it ought to put the 'White Man' to shame. How the greatest civilisation of our times treats a minority race is actually a reflection of globalised erosion of morals, values and tolerance.

The typical perception of an average Black man, which-we-do-not-speak-of, has a social and not a racial or cultural origin. Quite ineptly, many of us view such phenomenon as a cultural one. Their actions are the fruits of decades of segregation. While the greatest civilisation of our times has recently learnt to abstain from racial segregation, to think black children worthy or fit to attend the same schools as do their fair children it is yet to be cured of social intolerance. They say Segregation, like Elvis, is dead and buried. Well, it certainly wasn't the KKK that banished most of the blacks to the outskirts of city-centres. But there is no denying the Bronx and what it represents, is there?

Are Black people more prone to evil and crime than the Whites, Yellows or Reds?

Less than 50 years ago, Blacks were treated like a sub-human species. It is this embarrassing legacy that today fuels the fanatic bustle of anti-racist rhetoric. Negroid people must be called 'African-Americans'. Could have been just 'American' but the skin-colour at the backs of minds, forced its influence upon the chosen nomenclature. It's the same with the Hispanic, Portuguese, Mexican, Asian and other communities. We probably need the UN to remind us that all races are equal. Some are just more equal.

But is it really so? Hasn't the Black (and other coloured) communities been made to queue up for rations and free vaccines?

To stereotype: basketball, rap and dealing have been to the African-American community, what banking was to the Jewish people. Outside the chosen few, many turned to gang-violence, crack-dealing and other unsavoury habits that are either illegal or derided. Being somewhat tactless, the average American thinks a Black man more prone to crime, violence and drug-dealing. And why not? On the average, black people get lower grades in school, earn less at work and represent a disproportionately high percentage of inmates and juvenile delinquents. And those are the facts.

In my inconsequential view, it is only natural for Resistance to brew in an absurdly unipolar, repressive world. We know what absolute power does. Which is why such resistance is so essential! To act as a watchdog, an analyst, a strategist and an alternate voice that speaks of the lesser people. To create disruption to achieve balance, equity.

In an ocean of 4 billion other people, a small group stood up and collectively refused to be 'amalgamated' or 'integrated' into a society that itself suffers from a severe identity crisis. Who could blame them after the fiascos and massacres of the Red Indians? True to their historic roots, identity and culture they conjured up the primal beats of Africa, gyrated …entranced by that rhythm, wove their stories and lives into rhymes. They sang out anthems that not only became a powerful, relevant form of free speech, but also a unique, new art form that mesmerised America with its intrinsic beauty …its ancient rhythm, cultural fusion, brutal honesty, linguistic and etymologic innovations. Worldwide, few other art forms speak as loud and as succinct as hip-hop and rap today.

At the very heart of an efficient, superficial and vainglorious civilisation, an enchanting beat emanates its origins traceable back to the forests of Africa. I imagine a solitary, black man plays his drum. A buffalo soldier: stolen from Africa, brought to America. But as they say, 'you can take the man out of his land, but never the land out of the man'.

Hip-Hop is fun. It is relaxed, down-to-earth and real. It's innate, not imposed. Evolving, not engraved. But most importantly, it is an example of non-violent resistance to institutionalised injustice: historic and on going. That too against so intricately designed, delicate, sprawling and ruthless empire! It sprouts from distilled wisdom, social will and collective action and becomes an increasingly inspirational episode in recent history. It is a modern embodiment of hope. It is a modest, but firm declaration.

We are here.


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