Monday, July 10, 2006

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of Netflix. The coolest part is that when you watch previews and see a movie you might like, you can immediately put it in your queue. Last week was Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Fantastic flick about what looked like the hip-hop show of the century. I know it's a long century, but given where hip hop is going, it's a safe bet. I know my previous posts and profile may not give away the fact that I am a fan of hip hop, I am. I became a fan working at a high school because of Jelani Haynes and Spike Lee's Bamboozled. Jelani was one of my students, an intelligent, good natured, top notch African-American kid whose flow was mad nice. He was (and is, I assume) neck deep in hip hop culture. I was not impressed by most of the stuff he was listening to, so I was bandying about, looking for something that might be better. After watching Mos Def in Bamboozled, I began my search with him and his family.

I could not have hit on a better time to check out what is known as concious hip hop. 1998 and 1999 were the zenith of concious hip hop. In those two years Black Star put out their album, Mos Def put out Black on Both Sides, the Roots dropped Things Fall Apart and Common put out Like Water For Chocolate. All amazing albums that had something to say. Can you imagine Young Dro or Cam'ron saying things like: "you stopping us is preposterous like an androgynous misogynist?" Or DMX coming up with Mathematics (or a different title for his albums for that matter)? The beats were banging, the flow tight, and the lyrics had meaning.

Block Party is a reunion of sorts of the 1998 generation, plus Mr. It, Kanye West, and a reminder of what hip hop could be if it wasn't so exploited by the big media companies. Fred Hampton Jr. takes the stage to plea for action on political prisoners. Dead Prez, clearly the most dangerous duo in the business rap about turning off the radio. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu bring down the house. There are more postive images of black women at the show than within 50 miles of a Nate Dogg or Eminem show. Chappelle's own comments throughout the show, combined with some searing commentary from ?uestlove and others is dead on and really dangerous, not "studio gangster" (to quote Huey Freeman of the Boondocks) dangerous.

I realize the fundamental inappropriateness of a white man to comment on how a predominantly African-American art form should be. But please, don't tell me that hip hop is not manipulated for its mainly white audience. Do we really need 7,000 crunkers degrading black women and reinforcing thug life stereotypes? Biggie was real. Tupac was real. They were legitimate expressions of what their lives were like, not prepackaged exploitation of a not-so-postive life. People like me and my co-workers have to deal with the consequences of media packaged stereotypes of black life everyday. Chappelle's Block Party is a reminder that it doesn't have to be that way, that hip hop can be a vehicle for making folks feel proud of being who they are and incite them to something else besides wear a platinum chain around their neck.


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