Hip-hop roots dissolving

Bryan Wroten

Daniel Gray-Kontar, poet and writer from Cleveland, spoke last night in the Mbari Mbayo Lecture Hall in Oscar Ritchie Hall last night. Gray-Kontar’s speech was “A Hip-Hop Perspective on Malcolm X.”

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Hip-hop isn’t what it used to be.

That’s what Cleveland-area writer Daniel Gray-Kontar said last night in Oscar Ritchie Hall. He spoke about how the work of Malcolm X influenced the formation of hip-hop as a means of self-expression in a hostile community.

He said it is important to bridge the traffic of the civil rights generation to the hip-hop generation. Each generation is responsible for the cultural connection and having a sense of what happened in the past to translate the present.

“You can’t separate the legacy of Malcolm X from street gangs,” he said. “You can’t separate street gangs from hip-hop.”

Before his assassination, Malcolm X tried to create ties to other black and black Muslim organizations, Gray-Kontar said. Malcolm X and his organization, the Nation of Islam, met in Africa with leaders of Muslim countries, he said. There, they were able to talk about the social conditions of black Muslims.

The South Bronx during the 1970s was a very dangerous place, he said, because the gangs in the area were so factioned. A person trying to walk two blocks to school ran the risk of walking through a rival gang’s territory and fighting for survival, he said.

A man named Afrika Bambaataa changed this, he said.

A member of the gang the Black Spades, Bambaataa declared himself warlord of the gang and tried to stop some of the violence, Gray-Kontar said. He said Bambaataa created sessions in the parks and community centers where people could express themselves without fear of a fight. This was the start of hip-hop.

However, hip-hop today is different from its origins, he said. The hip-hop moguls started out the same way as the culture’s founders, but they have been depoliticized and have lost a sense of community, he said.

He said they have lost their “we-we” consciousness and only have a “me-me” consciousness, focusing on making money. He said there is little content to the music now.

He said the quality is so low he “physically cannot watch a music video for more than five minutes” because it causes “visceral damage.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].