The Problem With Hip-hop
by Jason Toney

After all the anthem for the new millennium was...Big Pimpin'? And it all seems a bit surreal, cuz when I was dancin' around I didn't know the damage my soul was going to feel. - Bridget Gray, my letter to hip hop

I love Jay-Z's music. I've been banging Jay-Z's Unplugged CD practically nonstop since the day I bought it. Its perfect for me. The Roots are the back-up band, there's a full string section with a Cello and a Double Bass (yay String Instruments, Suzuki Book 1!), Jaguar Wright is blowing up the spot with vocals, Mary J. does a guest spot, Pharell Williams proves he a total studio singer by destroying the chorus to Give It 2 Me. Its beautiful Hip-Hop. I bob my head, I dance my ass off. If Big Pimpin' or Can I Get A... or Ain't No Nigga or The Izzo (H.O.V.A.) gets dropped into the mix at the club, I'm throwin' 'bows with the rest of them, probably got the circle around me while I drop a little Harlem Shake or Crip Walk or go old School with a lil Running Man/Cabbage Patch/Kid n' Play medley that will fuck everybody up.

But what am I so celebratory about? Music, for me, has always been about celebration. I want to shake my ass, watch myself, show you what I'm workin' with. I want the music to make me think about what love feels like or what that perfect spring day is or how it felt when it was dark and quiet and the only sound was me and her...exploring...and sweating. I want the music to be the soundtrack to my spirit at its highest or lowest. But always in celebration of it. And so I bob my head to the music. I react powerfully, unable to contain myself with the joy that I feel when the beat is tight, the song is hot and damn I'm singing out loud and my shoulders are moving up and down and I might be swerving in the street because I feel it like I feel nothing else. I'm all over the hook, singing every word. I'm trying to hit every lyric, not really thinking about what I'm saying.

But I am thinking about it. I intentionally swallow the 'niggas' 'the bitches' 'the hos' almost unconsciously. I know the words aren't right. I know the meaning behind them isn't cool. But I'm listening and I'm loving it anyway. What's that all about?

And there are times that I'm still compelled to move, but I swear to you its that old school groove that's playing above the lyrics. Because if the music wasn't there, I definitely wouldn't want to hear it. - Bridget Gray, my letter to hip hop

Why do I accept it from Hip Hop? Is the beat really that spectacular? Why will I dance my ass off to a brotha talking about pouring liquor on his hos but if I actually saw it happen in real life, I'd be beating down a motherfucker because you don't do that to a lady? Why am I so willing to chastise a Video Ho about selling herself on the screen, when I should really be complaining about the no account, shiftless fool who thought that it would be cool to treat her like that to sell another record? What is it about this music?

My favorite hip hop album of all time? Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek, Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought. Not a bitch, a ho, a use of the word Nigga without purpose. It features songs about Love, about celebration of history and family, about how we treat our ancestors, about self worth and determination. All over banging, creative tracks. I wonder why I love the album? I wonder how I can love this album so much and then pull it out the CD player and drop in Eminem screaming about "Bitch I'm a kill you, you don't wanna fuck with me" Why does the beat give the words a free pass?

I love that Jay-Z CD. I'll probably listen to it on my way home from work today. My feet will be moving, my head will be bobbing, I will be singing along. But is my heart crying? Is my soul ashamed?

What does it say about hip hop? about us? about me?

I thought Hip Hop was supposed to be a means of poetically expressing yourself. But it seems these days, you'll say anything to get your CD off the shelf. So let's toast to champagne and blunts for your health, but first...tell me why? - Bridget Gray, my letter to hip hop

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