I own hip hop, and you do too

Another day, another person having a go at Iggy Azalea. I’m not opposed to that, she’s an awful pop rapper, but then again it’s that hypocrite Q-Tip trying to lecture a rather skewed picture of hip hop history, pretty sure him and Tribe were middle class kids from Queens? Anyway I’m sure those that grew up in the Bronx in the 1970s would be surprised to find it was all black, no latin or white people at all. BTW I used to LIVE and BREATHE ATCQ until I heard Georgie Porgie and then had the gall to turn that into a moan about how their record label ‘censored’ them (saved their careers from being immediately stillborn, more like). Iggy is no great rapper but he’s not in a position to lecture anyone. So ‘Hip Hop was for EVERYBODY’ apart from Georgie Porgie and us (and I quote) ‘fucking faggots’, eh Tip?

It’s all come from the Azealia Banks video I had a big row about on Facebook. Apart from the whole ‘I’m done with cursing people now’ (that lasted ooh, all of 5 minutes, Azealia? :-P) those comments about TI I had to stop the video and take a sharp intake of breath – it’s obvious she gets really upset with Iggy & co. taking ‘her’ culture away or getting fame and fortune with what she sees as a purely black art-form. Also as an aside, I’d really not use Nicki Minaj as a role model, who created the worst video and the worst song of the year by far and along with Meghan Trainor, Iggy and others are just setting up more body image issues for teens (now it’s big butt, and skinny hips?).

But I digress: It raises the question: how long does a culture have exclusive ‘rights’ – if at all – to what they create? In a sentence, who owns hip hop?

Mashup artists and DJs we know about cross-pollination, sampling, inspiration. Hip-hop is nearly 40. FORTY YEARS OLD! Does that still mean certain communities have exclusive rights to it? If black artists paint impressionist pictures can I say ‘no, that’s a white French thing. Are you white and French? Well, then get the fuck out’? If that’s ridiculous, and it is – then why is it still OK for others to try and earmark today’s and yesterday’s popular culture? They can critique it, point out where it’s stealing their style, promote their versions, and bring the forgotten history to light, I’m all for that. I’m usually the first to point out blatant steals that don’t really add anything, and to point out the history of those dusty, sneaky samples, or the origins of the iconography.

But it worries me when people say ‘don’t do it’ since so many things, from rock & roll and popular music culture to mashups, drum and bass and DJing/scratching wouldn’t exist without cultural crossed-wires and blatant appropriation. In fact hip hop is ALL about the appropriation, is that one way only? So should have Joe Cocker (RIP) told Dr Dre to fuck off sampling his funk track for California Love? Or someone told Joe not to have done it in the first place, because he was white, and it’s a bit funky?

I do have sympathy cos I hate the commercial, usually white rip-offs from Elvis to Miley, as they tend to be poor copies with no soul of the original, but I don’t think you can play the cultural appropriation game forever, especially we’re not talking ritual headdress or sacred religious icons, we’re talking an art-form created in a racial melting-pot of a city and an ex-colonial island? There’s a lot of erasure of other identities in that idea of black history also – that toasting came from Jamaica where it was a mix of African, British, Chinese/Asian (Leslie Kong for instance, African Chinese owner of a studio) and Latin, and that the Bronx was also a mixture, as was the whole of New York. The four elements had a rainbow of people, especially in B-boying and graffiti, and I suspect the others in the story of rapping and DJing has been erased to create this history (It’s fairly improbable like the supposed ‘lack’ of female MCs there were no latin, asian, mixed or white DJs or rappers AT ALL? Not even when it spread uptown? REALLY?). I totally understand why it’s there, and why it’s important. It’s important to feel like you own something when it’s all been taken away, but it’s even better to share it, and accept that you can’t expect to keep a strangle hold on anything forever.

A good example of the benefit of sharing culture is bastard pop & bootlegs (later became mashups), which I was part of when it started . If this idea of appropriation and ‘owning’ culture was an enforceable rule, it still would be a few 40-something white geeky British blokes playing to each other in a basement, probably. It would have been smothered by us keeping it so close to our chests and not allowing anyone else to play, and it would have fizzled out. Not sure I’m totally down with how it’s gone now, but it’s a hell of a lot healthier for the fact that people ‘appropriated’ our culture, spread it and made their own, from different races, cultures and countries. That made it stronger and helped it survive, and new forms popped up (not sure you can blame us for the multimash though!).

The way I see it hip hop is the same…I think people have taken for granted that hip hop will not die, but for a long time this was a real issue, in the early years the support was precarious and small from all sides, and everyone was welcome because it was ‘all hands to the deck’ – now it has the luxury of turning people away, or trying to. It could go that way again, and if you make people feel that they are guests in their own culture, what they grew up in (as I did in my teens listening to hip hop in the charts, hip-house and the like) then they might not stay to help it grow. It’s my culture too, for many years I didn’t feel confident in saying that I also am a part of hip hop – in fact for a long time the widely accepted homophobic and misogynistic language shut me out…it makes me so sad when people throw out insults like faggot as Azealia did (yeah sadly Tip isn’t alone in that one), and makes me alive when I listen to Run The Jewels or Kate Tempest or B.Dolan or Sage Francis or whoever.

I decided a while ago that I wanted to fight for my place, and screw anyone who thinks a queer white man can’t be a hip hop lover. I should be embarrassed to be proud and part of something I love? I shouldn’t be a guest in my own House? So I say: I own hip hop, but we all own hip hop. Deal.

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