An Open Letter to Russell Simmons

11 Nov

This letter came about after reading Russell Simmons’ latest post on Huffington Post.  Actually, it was a comment that I wanted to post but I exceeded the commenting word limit by 397 words.  So I decided to make my own post about the topic of the new hip hop community’s role in an Obama era.  While I appreciate Russell’s intentions, I think he’s dodging the overall point, and I think it’s done intentionally because he wants to preserve hip hop’s legacy in our culture.  Fair enough.  But what he fails to realize is that hip hop can last if it can admit to itself its own failures and shortcomings.  Once in a while, we have to admit to ourselves that we got it wrong.  Only then can change and transformation actually happen.


With all due respect, I understand that hip hop is an angle that you claim uniquely, but I don’t quite understand the connection you’re trying to make by inserting lines like “Hip Hop is about perseverance” and “Hip-hop is the culture of transformation” into this post about a progressive movement. Besides these lines being completely obscure, I also question how “hip hop” in the 21st century can contribute to an entire progressive movement on the brink of transformation. As one who is willing to be apart of this movement, I find it very difficult to see how SOME within the hip hop community can shout progress while purporting some of the most non-progressive ideals (i.e. stereotyping and exploiting African-Americans, Latina/os, women, and urban youth). If the new hip hop generation wants to march with me in this progressive movement, I think some serious reconciliation has to happen first.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Run DMC (your brother), Nas, etc., and I can say without hesitation that hip hop then is not the same as it is now (which can be a good and bad thing). Yeah, the message might be just as politically incorrect, but at least it was political – at least we heard our fair share of social justice messages and weren’t inundated with messages aligned with poppin’ bottles in the club. Sure, some can argue that hip hop back then was just as misogynistic as it is now, but at least we had voices like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and MC Lyte to counteract these stereotypes. What do we have now? A bunch of one-hit wonders for people to bang out to in the club. Club-bangers are cool, but if that’s all a genre of music can produce then it’s very difficult to swallow the “Hip-hop is the culture of transformation” pill. What type of transformation, exactly, are you talking about?

For those of us who grew up during a generation when hip hop was more about cultural expression than cultural exploitation, we’re going to need clarification on what you mean by “hip hop” now and how your vision of hip hop relates to the ideals of an Obama administration. Race aside, how can a 50 Cent, Jay-Z, or Young Jeezy help with securing Universal Health Care and reforming labor rights? Are these issues that “hip hop” in the 21st century really want to confront? If not, cool. Then let the role of the hip hop community be for entertainment purposes only and escapism.

Though I’m hopeful that the hip hop community will confront these issues head-on, I’m realistic that it won’t. I hope that the hip hop community can band together to work in efforts to pass progressive legislation and help inspire a generation of people toward a progressive movement (online AND offline). However, I’m a bit worried that the hip hop community will in fact largely turn apathetic toward these efforts and instead do what’s in the best interest to preserve itself.

I believe hip hop in the 21st century is experiencing it’s own shift and identity crisis. So before the new hip hop generation (artists, Executives, consumers, critics, etc.) decide to lend itself to a progressive movement perhaps it should take a serious look at itself and ask if/how it is helping the movement. The way I see hip hop now is just like any other ‘radical’ practice that falls victim to the american (hyper) capitalist system; it’s becomes that which it proclaims to critique. The only message I hear coming from the new hip hop era – an era of excess – is “Get Rich or Die Trying.” And honestly, I don’t care too much for that message in this progressive movement that we’re trying so desperately to build.

2 Responses to “An Open Letter to Russell Simmons”

  1. Wade November 13, 2008 at 9:45 am #

    I think main-stream hip-hop is in the same state the Rock N’ Roll was in back the mid-80’s. Come to think of it, main-stream rock n’ roll still sucks, but there was a time in the 90’s when it was pretty good.

    Underground music is where it’s at if you ask me. If you’re looking for creative, intelligent, socially conscious music, I would stay away from the mainstream.

    Personally, I prefer that musicians stay out of politics.. Sure, I dont mind socially conscious music, but I’m not interested in hearing the political opinions of P-Diddy or the Dixie Chicks… Same goes for Actors..

    Actors and Musicians are usually complete fuck-ups, and they often do more harm than good if they attach themselves to a particular political movement. There are very few exceptions..


  1. What is a Progressive Movement? (A work in progress…) « The Life & Times of a Blogger - November 12, 2008

    […] cyber buddy of mine asked me an important question today via Facebook.  He wrote in response to my open letter to Russell Simmons: “Hey Tara. I totally agree that it is silly to suggest that hip hop will be a serious part […]

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