The Future Of Hip Hop History
Hip Hop’s past entertained humanity... Its future can help save it.
Welcome to the first official edition of ‘Words I Mannyfest’. There will be three segments in this issue: “THE MANNYFESTO,” “STOP, LOOK & LISTEN” and “QUICKIES”. If you’re new, here’s an introduction to who I am and why this newsletter exists.
The Future of Hip Hop History
In 2021, the United States Senate declared November 2021 to be “Hip-Hop History Month,” a nod to the artistic and social impact made by the genre and its associated culture, now nearing its fifth decade of existence.
Notably, the resolution states, in part:
Whereas the art and culture of Hip Hop have been adapted in many innovative forms…
Whereas Hip Hop art, education and culture have positive effects on society.
Indeed, during the past half century, Hip Hop has made increasingly valuable contributions to important aspects of society including music, dance and fashion..
And education of course. And science and technology. And health and wellness, politics, social justice and activism, the fine arts, spirituality, commerce, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution, international diplomacy, architecture, forestry...
[Record scratch] Wait. What?
Yes. All facts. Yet for many, these statements might stand in stark contrast to general public perception and media representation of Hip Hop, typically centered on entertainment—music, specifically—and even more so on the characters and characteristics within that artistry evoking uneasiness or controversy, not on its use, for example, as a pedagogical tool to improve the educational output of K-12 students, or as a therapeutic approach to ameliorate the mental health and wellness of young people.
Or as an introduction to computer coding.
…a gateway to financial literacy…
…a pathway to civic engagement…
…a form of journalism…
…a platform to reduce carceral recidivism…
…a source of inspiration for entrepreneurs and business owners…
…a catalyst for climate justice…
And so many more good things.
Such applications are not theoretical. I have personally interviewed dozens of individuals undertaking these and other intersectional activities across multiple disciplines. I have read their academic papers, attended and participated in their conferences, workshops and symposia. I have listened to educators, therapists, teaching artists, parents and young people themselves talk about life-affirming, long-lasting, positive influences that emerge from these interactions. These programs are taking place in universities, schools, community centers, nonprofit spaces, homes, and in the streets, parks, and playgrounds. They are inclusive of all citizens, no matter their locale, age, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion—and particularly effective within communities from whence Hip Hop came, communities that have been historically underserved, underrepresented, and under-resourced.
History is important. The telling of narratives behind art and culture birthed from America’s communities of color has often been ceded to those who lack understanding, nuance, and empathy, as well as others with more nefarious intent. Thankfully, Hip Hop’s coming of age during a period of documentarian awareness has opened the door for practitioners themselves to participate in preservation efforts, including physical and digital archiving, teaching Hip Hop in academic settings, publishing books, crafting documentaries, gathering of oral histories, and more. These endeavors are of utmost importance, particularly while originators and pioneers of this highly influential, worldwide phenomenon still (mostly) walk among us.
Just as important, however, is the fact that Hip-Hop is dramatically improving lives, livelihoods and communities in the present—a fact unknown to so many people, and often drowned out by the attention given to its more flashy and lucrative aspects, or, particularly during Hip Hop history months, retrospectives and museum exhibits.
Throughout its past, Hip Hop has often been blamed for adversely affecting the lives of young people. This is not the space to re-litigate decades worth of arguments which suggest this perception doesn’t reflect the entirety of what Hip Hop has to offer to the world, but that such opinions even exist helps make the following urgent point:
Hip-Hop is being used to improve lives. Today. Advocacy of the positive must be given the same oxygen as criticism of the negative. Guidance for the future must be given the same dedication as celebration of the past.
To be fair, this must include honest introspection and self-awareness, as all that Hip Hop glitters is not Hip Hop gold. The culture is not utopian. The genre has problematic aspects, though many are driven by forces greater than itself—capitalistic, social—there are issues, nonetheless. Even within intersectional areas of innovation, there are factions. Academics differ on pedagogy, therapists on methodology, organizations on authority, artists on authenticity, and fans on everything. Impartial voices are needed to help guide this nearly boundless, rollicking ship. Research determining which of these practices are trustworthy and effective must continue. Institutional and governmental agencies must always meet cultural participants halfway. All of this work must center equity and inclusiveness, allow room for dissent, exude professionalism without pompousness, cultivate leadership without authoritarianism, and agree to a mission that puts people over profit and culture over capitalism.
These are just some of the considerations that I think are important to research, discuss, document and advocate for.
They are the building block ideas of what I believe a true Hip Hop advocacy framework will look like. There is a lot to do on this front, and while much of the innovation will come from within “the culture,” Hip Hop deserves as much institutional, corporate, philanthropic, and governmental, support as any other legitimate artistic or cultural movement. Not for profit. Not to pander. To help protect, preserve and promote this cultural treasure for all the ways it can improve society.
It remains to be seen exactly what those same politicians who legislatively acknowledged Hip Hop’s storied history will do to ensure justice for the communities that birthed it and continue to expand its legacy.
However, knowing that effective tools exist which can address, alleviate, and in some cases, help eradicate societal inequities, particularly within those communities, it is hopeful that these representatives, along with educational, charitable, and cultural institutions that have proven eager to sell tickets, accept donations and elevate their social media presence by celebrating Hip Hop’s ability to entertain in the past, will be equally interested and engaged in working with those who are advocating for Hip Hop’s ability to innovate, inspire, and uplift humanity in the future.
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN
‘You’re Watching Video Music Box’
I’m using this space to bring something to your attention, so that I’m sure to share something valuable and actionable.
For this edition, despite my focus on making sure we consider Hip Hop’s future as much as its past, I do want to bring attention to the documentary You’re Watching Video Music Box, highlighting the iconic New York City-based rap video show that launched in 1983, pre-dating other well known entities such as Yo! MTV Raps in both timeline and influence on the growth of Hip Hop music and culture.
Heads outside of the New York tri-state area might not realize just how important VMB was to the genre, in the same way that it took the documentary Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives to help the public understand the vital role that local, largely independent New York media had on gestating the artistic and cultural embryo of Hip Hop.
I was recently interviewed on the The Culture podcast, before the VMB documentary dropped, and was asked if I could pick one person that I felt had the most influence on Hip Hop becoming the worldwide artistic and cultural phenomenon it is.
Names were bandied about, from visionary executives like Sylvia Robinson and Russell Simmons, DJs like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, artistic foundation layers like James Brown and The Last Poets… All respectable choices, yet for me, I chose Ralph McDaniels.
Watching You’re Watching Video Music Box and knowing everything and everyone McDaniels’ vision inspired, reminded me just how right I might have been.
I’m lucky enough to know Ralph personally. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, and I’ve run into him on a couple of occasions. (I’ve even appeared on an episode! Believe me, to a kid growing up on Long Island, falling in love with Hip Hop, rushing after school to watch Video Music Box on a fuzzy UHF channel on the living room TV, this was one hell of a milestone.)
You can never really know someone — and we are warned all the time to not meet our heroes — but I think we’d be hard-pressed to find many who don’t consider Ralph McDaniels to be a great guy. He exudes humility, even as he knows full well he holds a significant place in the annals of human history.
So if you haven’t yet, give the documentary a watch. Meet our hero, Uncle Ralph, the way we first did, on a television screen, mic in hand, not just playing videos, but being at the concerts, large and small, among the people. The approach made young Hip Hop fans feel special. Giving a shoutout was five seconds of fame. Sharing the screen with musical and cultural icons meant you were in the place to be. That you were cutting edge. Fresh. That you were a part of something dope.
That you were seen.
There was nothing like Video Music Box. It was a touchstone for New York City culture, protecting Hip Hop when it was still an adolescent, while establishing what authentic documentation and archiving of the culture looks like. I wanna give a shout out to executive producer Nas and media company Mass Appeal for continuing that legacy, and for starting with the most deserving of subjects.
Links to notable stories of Hip Hop innovation, inspiration and insight
Charleston Gibbes Museum’s first-ever hip-hop show inspired by art of Romare Bearden
Report: Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” Helped Prevent Suicides
Chicago's Coffee, Hip Hop & Mental Health helps people access therapy
San Diego artist Miki Vale: focusing on lifting up Black voices, stories at the Old Globe’s Powers New Voices Festival
Could be you. Reply and let’s talk.
Hip-Hop Can Save America! aka ‘the world’s smartest Hip-Hop podcast
Thank you for reading Words I Mannyfest.
- Manny Faces