I've been watching the latest season of Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix. Such a great series, whether you like Hip Hop or not. For me, I now have a whole new appreciation for it both as a cultural movement and as a genre. It's the cultural movement aspect that I'm thinking about today.
Season three is about the 90s/early 2000s and starts with the East coast vs West coast issues which came to a head tragically with the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. Maybe not as neatly as that description but you get the idea. Arising from that was the 'jiggy era', where hip hop became popularised. People like Puff Daddy in shiny suits with casts of gyrating women. It's not that this was inherently bad. It's a good part of the reason why they were able to move forward after Biggie died, because they chose joy and ridiculousness over spite and revenge. Incidentally, if you want a tear jerking moment watch the bit about the song Missing You. I knew Puff Daddy was Biggie's best friend but I didn't know Faith Evans was his wife. I think that song's going to be on my 'hits me right in the feels' list from now on.
So it's not that they were doing something bad, but to a lot of people this sort of music did not reflect the culture. And the culture really mattered to them, that's what it was all about.
In New York groups of freestyle would gather in Washington Square, but that no longer became an option for them when Giuliani started to clean up the city. So a couple of guys thought they would find a venue, stick up some posters and see if anyone would come. They did and it became a place called the Lyric Lounge. On the west coast, the elders of the community thought the people needed a meeting place so they opened up a health food store after hours to host rap battles. In Detroit they were held in a shop that sold jeans. All different people who wanted to support the culture, proving a meeting place for the artists to do their thing.
What I find most interesting about this, is that of all three instances, the action came from people who wanted to make an active contribution to an outcome. It was the cumulative effort of the artists, the audience and the people who made the venues available to act as gathering places for the underground hip hop community to flourish. Should you feel bad about yourself if you were just a regular member of the audience and not one of the MC's? Well, the rap battles wouldn't amount to much if there wasn't an audience there participating in the action. Everyone plays their part in different ways, and it's not all about the glory. Being part of a culture that you're proud of is what really matters, whichever role you play.