Tag Archives: russell simmons

What is a Progressive Movement? (A work in progress…)

12 Nov


A 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 of the political process. I have a serious question for you though. What is the progressive movement? Can you put it into a few sentences?”

And this was my response:

Thx for commenting & asking a GR8 question! As I see it, a progressive movement is a forward shift in practice & ideology. As a practice, it’s a fluid space that looks like labor reform (EFCA), universal healthcare, energy policies that work with preserving our environment, not damaging it. I’m thinking in terms of human & civil rights – laws that give LGTBQ folks the same legal ‘privileges’ as heterosexual folks. It’s ideology (& I can write an entire thesis on my idea of progressive ideology), that doesn’t limit our scope of understanding the worlds around us. We begin to think less in terms of “us vs. them,” “this or that,” “black or white,” “moral or immoral” but consider that much of our world functions in an ‘in between’ space. By functioning within this ‘in between’ space, we acknowledge our pitfalls, failures, & vulnerabilities inspite/despite our incessant need to be right. A movement of progress means truding forward beyond what was & moving toward what can be.

I also want to add that depending on one’s ‘core belief system’ a progressive movement will differ. However, notwithstanding these core belief systems, I think folks might agree that a progressive movement is change of some sort. Now what that ‘change’ means to certain groups of people and how that ‘change’ can be accomplished will continually be up for debate.

I think asking ourselves what progress means is the $60 million question of our times.  As I continue to hash out exactly what this monster of an idea means, I wonder what others think about a ‘progressive movement.’  Can it be defined succinctly?  My guess is, probably not.

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.