Hipping andHopping Our Opportunities Away
“If music be the food of love, let it play on.” — William Shakespeare
In spite of the temptation to let today’s hip-hop music environment “play on,” might I suggest that we pause and ask ourselves a few critical questions about its negative influence on a disproportionate number of the most vulnerable among us — our children and our college students — especially Black males.
If we at Black Issues didn’t think that this
issue was so critical to the higher education community, we certainly wouldn’t be dedicating an edition to it. On a daily basis, we see and hear reports of the tragic consequences of the hip-hop campus culture. Included are poor grades, decisions to pursue weak or unrealistic academic majors, defiant attitudes toward proven academic success norms and low graduation rates. As Dr. Rick Turner of the University of Virginia attests to on the back cover of this edition, the hip-hop culture can take its toll even at elite institutions, with their outstanding Black student achievement and graduation records.
Many argue that what they hear — and see, thanks to music videos — is no different than the musical influences of past generations, whether it be the blues, jazz or rhythm and blues. And young people constantly remind me that not all hip-hop lyrics are perverse and harmful. I agree. I applaud the socially responsible entrepreneurial successes, economic breakthroughs and affirming lyrics that are sometimes found in the expansive world of hip-hop. But it seems that the majority of today’s artists cavalierly embrace profanity and outrageousness as acceptable tools to increase record sales.
Admittedly, some of the songs I grew up listening to contained very graphic lyrics. I well remember Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” But Marvin also
reminded us to look after the environment in the “Ecology Song.” He also questioned the killing of all of those young men in Vietnam and here in America in his classic “What’s Going On?”
Fittingly, the contemporary question for us is also what’s going on? Lest we forget, all of us need to be constantly reminded that half of all prison inmates — one million — are Black men. Black women are literally and figuratively being denigrated in unprecedented ways. Most of our children are being raised without the presence of their fathers. And the college matriculation rates of young Black men are bad and getting worse. I could go on. But we know that in spite of athletic and musical illusions to the contrary, this is what’s going on in our communities.
We do ourselves and those we teach a tremendous disservice by minimizing the impact that the combination of nonstop visual hip-hop images and lurid lyrics are having on our children and young people. The tragedy is that in spite of the booming economy and all the barriers that have been painstakingly broken down, too many of our young people continue to miss out on this golden era of educational and economic opportunity.
Indeed, we all need to pay attention. We all need to get serious about helping these young people discern the inevitable consequences of hipping and hopping their opportunities away. Believe me, if we don’t, the unsavory pied pipers of hip-hop will lead them to a place that none of us wants to see them go.
“Music is a gift and a burden I had since I can remember”— Nina Simone
Frank L. Matthews
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