Musings of a Postmodern Negro

"During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism."- Howard Thurman

Location: United States

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Everyday Apocalypse of Hip Hop

As a hip hop junkie I often find myself seeking the grace of God in this beautiful genre. I remember when I first fell in love with hip hop. It was the first time I heard LL Cool J's hit single Rock the Bells (opening verse):

L.L. Cool J. is hard as hell
Battle anybody I don't care who you tell
I excel, they all fail
I'm gonna crack shells, Double-L must rock the bells

I remember the celebration...the joy of hip hop in the old days. Why the nostalgia? I have been reading David Dark's book "Everyday Apocalypse". There is a quote in his book that got me thinking of the good old days of Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Africabambata, and many many countless others that represent a stream of hip hop I believe is what Darks describes as "apocalyptic". He says:

Hip-hop, which often regards women contemptuously, romanticizes violence, and celebrates material wealth as the height of success, has largely renounced its apocalyptic birthright, but Blackalicious, Jurassic Five, Lauryn Hill, and the Beastie Boys are inspiring exceptions. (Dark, Everyday Apocalypse p. 20)

I think there are hip-hop artists today that wax apocalyptic. Such as Talib Kweli, MosDef, Common, Kanye West, and recently The Game, to some extent, waxes apocalyptic with his hit single "Hate it or Love it". In it he describes life on the underside of the American Dream:

Used to see 5-0 throw the crack by the bench
Now i'm f!@#$% with ~5-0~ it's all startin to make ~sense~
My moms happy she ain't gotta pay the rent
And she got a red bow on that brand new Benz
Waitin on Sha Money to land sittin in the Range
Thinkin how they spend 30 million dollars on airplanes
When there's kids starvin
Pac is gone and Brendas still throwin babies in the garbage
I wanna know what's goin on like i hear Marvin
No school books they use that wood to build coffins
Whenever I'm in the booth and i get exhausted
I think what if Marie Banker got that abortion
I love ya Ma'

What does apocalyptic mean?

Apocalyptic shows us what we're not seeing. It can't be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of "the way things are" whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as "the way things ought to be" and whose greatest virtue is in being "realistic". Thinking through what we mean when we say "realistic" is where apocalyptic begins. If these powers are the boot that, to borrow Orwell's phrase, presses down upon the human face forever, apocalyptic is the speech of that human face. Apocalyptic denies, in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, the "forever" part. (Dark, p. 10).

There is something about hip-hop when it waxes apocalyptic. Its like Flavor flav when he used to wear those large clocks around his neck. I used to do that back in the day. My friends thought I was crazy, but many didn't catch the metaphor of wearing a clock around your neck in those days. You were basically saying you knew what time it was. What was really going on...hence the large clock around your neck.

Hip-hop told you the forever told to you by the powers was not really was a false forever. But here's the rub. I think hip-hop is missing something when Jesus Christ is not the center of its apocalyptic or atleast in its proximity. I cannot help but interject this as a Christian. Especially when the strongest apocalyptic every thrown down in speech in America was by a short black prophet by the name of Martin Luther King Jr.. His prophetic speech to the soul of the American nation was apocalyptic. It uncovered the "forever" of Jim Crow...and offered a more imaginative vision. And at the end of his life he waxed apocalyptic about the "forever" of poverty. Which is another whole subject altogether....the forever of poverty.

But to not get off too much here...cause I am just ramblin on here. I am kind of like (as I am writing this) doing a little apocalyptic free flow. The recent craze in hip-hop is dirty south crunk music. I have often wondered if there is an apocalyptic residue in this stream of hip-hop. I think there is. There is a raw energy there...untapped but cannot be seen by Christians in close proximity to it. We are blinded by our Victorian sensibilities to not see Legion in our midst. Why was Legion Legion? Ah...the parable of hip-hop culture. I think Franz Fanon could tell us why Legion was Legion. Legion bore in his being the wounds of systemic and personal oppression. Not only was he scarred by his own self-inflicted wombs he was scarred by Roman Occupation. An Occupation of the mind...a Colonization of the mind. And in a hip-hop apocalyptic do I see the Occupation being exposed for what it is...a false tommorrow.

A true apocalyptic says, "Jesus is our peace...that world is without end."


Blogger St.Phransus said...

aw man, i'm hearing you on this post: groups that capture that apocolytpic image for me:
1. Digable Planets
2. Public Enemy (It takes a nation)
3. Del the Funky Homosapien
4. A Tribe Called Quest
5. Rage Against the Machine
6. X-Clan (to the east and blackwards)

thanks for opening up space for remembrance- jr. high, sitting outside with friends, a loud radio, and hip hop. yeah.


May 03, 2005 6:07 PM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

aw man, i'm hearing you on this post: groups that capture that apocolytpic image for me:
1. Digable Planets
2. Public Enemy (It takes a nation)
3. Del the Funky Homosapien
4. A Tribe Called Quest
5. Rage Against the Machine
6. X-Clan (to the east and blackwards)

thanks for opening up space for remembrance- jr. high, sitting outside with friends, a loud radio, and hip hop. yeah.


May 03, 2005 6:08 PM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...

If I ever make it to an Emergent convention...I will bring out my boom box. Thanks for goin nostalgic wit me bro.


May 03, 2005 6:17 PM  
Blogger SWK 254 Understanding Diversity said...

Tribe Called Quest in their early days, De La Soul and Brand Nubians...they were pretty subversive/apocalyptic...

Kool G Rap had his moments too, but I guess he would fall along the lines of supreme lyricist. I was at San Diego with wifey last year and caught Speech from Arrested Development. Besides rhyming over acoustic, the brutha was singing some Bob Marley...we defenitely we're feeling it...



May 03, 2005 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some thoughts:
* I appreciate the simple defintion of apocalypse as revealing what is present but unseen

* It helps me to see my jazz and blues in a new light

* I have never listened to rap or hip-hop, but I am really blown away by the reference to Marvin Gaye in those lyrics

* I'm now thinking of the apocalyptic references in all of my classic rock; I already knew of the old Chicago song, "Does anyone really know what time it is?"--which your Flavor Flav reference reminded me of--and of all the references in Jackson Browne's music. But with this more present definition of apocalypse, a lot of other stuff fits the bill.


May 04, 2005 12:12 PM  
Blogger Bill Bean said...

did you happen to read "Jesus and the Hip Hop Prophets" ?
check out

May 04, 2005 7:28 PM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...


I will have to check it out.


May 04, 2005 8:28 PM  
Blogger glenn said...

man, you know, the more i re-read this post, the deeper the meaning i get out of it: it's trippy. i guess you can say that according to the bear parameters of your definition of apocalyptic, hip-hop fits the bill.

i think of boogie down productions (krs-one) as the (arguably) dominant voice of apocalyptic. they called into question everything from caffeine to cops.

one thing that this discussion is missing, however, is the incorporation of the other three elements of hip-hop as being an apocalyptic. most people (i'm sorry to say, but who in all reality probably only enjoyed hip-hop from the surface) would merely comment on different "rappers" and "rap groups"--the emcees--but that wasn't and isn't hip-hop en toto. that's just one element of hip-hop. i think of the three other voices of hip-hop that speak apocalyptic from the b-boy's scuffed shell top adidas, the turntablist's 12" techs, and the bomber's top-2-bottom throw-up with a fat cap on tin fencing--all speaking against this false reality you so succinctly captured in this post.

my full partaking of a certain element of hip-hip, namely graffiti, became my baptism into the heart of the culture. i was there by my boys as they busted mad combos on laminated floors; i was there at the functions, hands in the air, feeling the roots, souls of mischief, krs-one himself, etc.; i was there at the walls, hands cold, krylons half empty, tips almost clogged, rockin it for my crew.

although our voices were heard and even felt, i agree with you that something was missing. yes we heard the call to another way of things, but it was a call to no end. it really didn't lead us anywhere . . . eternally. and at the end of the road, after we've put it down for hip-hop in the truest sense, in it's rawest form, we were still left empty handed.

how do i say these things and be understood? to many and most i can't. but i know that since those days i've come to grips with something more real, more true, and more meaningful than any hip-hop apocalyptic.


May 06, 2005 1:23 AM  
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