Recently Questlove, drummer and joint front man for The Roots, penned an article condemning consumerism in hip-hop culture.
He starts with his reasoning for hip-hop’s integration of consumption:
“I’d argue that when people think of hip-hop, pretty quickly they think of bling, of watches or cars or jewels or private jets. They think of success and its fruits, and the triumphant figures who are picking that fruit. This linkage isn’t limited to hip-hop — all of American celebrity, to some degree, is based on showing what you can buy — but it’s stronger there. The reasons are complex, of course, but the aspirational strain in African-American culture runs all the way back to slavery days. Slaves couldn’t own property because they were property. When freed, they were able to exist politically, and also economically. Owning things was a way of proving that you existed — and so, by extension, owning many things was a way of proving that you existed emphatically. Hip-hop is about having things to prove you’re not a have-not; it works against the notion that you might have so little economic control that you would simply disappear.”
Questlove argues that the amount of money used to distinguish the “haves” from the “have-nots” used to be distributed more evenly in hip-hop culture. Affordable material goods (like Addidas sneakers) were used to indicate “have” status instead of the obscenely expensive status symbols used today. There was a smaller economic gap between nationally renowned hip-hop artists and rappers with more local influence. Questlove says that now, hip-hop celebrities exalt their success by rapping about unattainable luxury, effectively isolating themselves from the average American citizen.
But how has this affected the average consumer?
“For starters, it means that hip-hop has become complicit in the process by which winners are increasingly isolated from the populations they are supposed to inspire and engage — which are also, in theory, the populations that are supposed to furnish the next crop of winners. This isn’t a black thing or even a hip-hop thing exclusively. American politics functions the same way. But it’s a significant turnaround and comedown for a music that was, only a little while back, devoted to reflecting the experience of real people and, through that reflection, challenging the power structure that produces inequality and disenfranchisement.”
Questlove isn’t the only artist speaking out against our culture of consumption.
And there’s more!
Check out this hip-hop timeline to see if your favorite artists have rejected consumption in their lyrics.
Read the full article here.