By Stanley Crouch
The New York Daily News
Monday, December 1st 2008, 4:00 AM
It continues to appear that the cool and highly intelligent Barack Obama is going to have a powerful impact on debilitating black popular culture, particularly hip hop. The signs are everywhere.
In the wake of Byron Hurt's searing documentary "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," hip-hop fans have questioned the retarding effect that hip hop has had on young black men through encouraging thuggish violence, misogyny, clownish behavior and crude materialism.
Barack Obama and Ludacris
Hurt's documentary is most powerful because the filmmaker himself is a fan of the idiom but, as a grown and responsible man, he felt it was necessary to call out hip hop's many shortcomings because the idiom had moved from clever rhymes and dance beats to advocating personal, social and criminal corruption.
Those who pretend that they do not know what Hurt is investigating because "that is not ALL of hip hop" need to take note of the fact that Russell Simmons, the godfather of hip hop, recently blamed the deep vulgarization of the genre on producers who would do anything for a buck. "Some producers have found that dirt sells," says the godfather. How now, brown cow?
Simmons is nothing if not clever and senses that the arrival of Barack and Michelle Obama could mean things are going to change. One would not at all be smart to defend the "authenticity" of pimps, supposed whores (all women, actually), misogyny, thuggery and the rest. Pimps up, ho's down, as they say.
Before he was elected President, Obama said in an interview with MTV News that there was no need for laws against teenage hip-hop dress but that young black men "should pull up their pants."
A friend of mine who lives in California remarked to his grandson that he did not like the way rappers dressed or carried themselves. His grandson told him that he needs to stop living in the past and catch up before the plane leaves.
My friend noticed, as usual, that his grandson did not dress or carry himself in the style or manner he was defending. So he decided to ask him some questions. Shoot, said the young man, ready to straighten out his grandfather.
If you were on a plane waiting to take off, my friend asked him, and the pilot and the co-pilot came on with their pants sagging to the ground, covered with tattoos, mouths full of gold teeth and wearing braids, what would you do? His grandson told him he would get off the plane as fast as he could. No doubt.
My friend then asked if his grandson's baby daughter had been hurt and she was taken to the emergency room, how would he feel if the doctors on duty looked like the men about to fly the plane. "I would," said the younger man, "get her the hell out of there."
At that point, my friend wondered what would happen to young black men who showed up looking for work but seemed more ready for a hip-hop performance than for a job?
The answer: They probably would not get hired. Case closed.
I believe our next President will elevate many things in our country, top to bottom. On the pop cultural end, Barack and Michelle Obama's worldliness and common sense will greatly diminish the national appetite for and the defense of those who proudly commit intellectual suicide by submitting to anti-intellectual stances and the surface styles that repel across all ethnic lines. We are on the way out of the muck. Ask Russell Simmons. Good hustlers always know when the game is changing.