Aesthetically Speaking

Civil rights dead: Hip-hop new strategy for Black liberation?

“It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to. Thinking of how many rhymes you slept through. Time’s up, I’m sorry I kept you.” —Eric B. and Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul,” 1987. “It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to. Thinking of how many rhymes you slept through. Time’s up, I’m sorry I kept you.”
—Eric B. and Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul,” 1987.

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—Hip Hop is a movement. It hasn’t spawned sit-ins or marches, it hasn’t broken down racial barriers and it hasn’t opened previously closed doors. But if you believe Todd Boyd, an associate professor of cinema studies at the University of Southern California, hip hop has supplanted the Civil Rights Movement.

In his recently released book, The New HNIC: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop, Boyd argues the Civil Rights Movement is dead and that hip hop, a popular music genre, is brimming with life.

“I decided on the title for the book because of all that was going on in hip hop and I started to think about what we had going on in Hip hop that had replaced this new generation of people,” says Boyd, 38. “I truly felt that the title best summed up what was going on right now in Hip Hop.”

When pressed about his premise, Boyd refuses to back down.

“I believe that hip hop has replaced the Civil Rights Movement because a new generation has emerged, and being Black now is a lot different than it was during the Civil Rights Movement,” Boyd contends. “Hip Hop to me is the sort of thing that cuts across all boundaries and races the way the Civil Rights Movement did.

“I’m not denouncing the Civil Rights Movement for what it stood for, I’m simply saying that it was useful in some ways and in some ways it wasn’t—it’s played out now.”

But Esther Iverem, cultural critic, author and editor of, disagrees.

“The Black social movements of the past were rooted in grassroots organizations and while Hip Hop in its infancy may have had the potential to speak to racism of the times, now it’s become an entertainment venue,” Iverem says.

The Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., sees an element of truth in both positions.

“I agree that hip hop is most definitely a cultural movement, but I don’t think it’s as prophetic as the Civil Rights Movement is,” says Moss, 32, a Morehouse College graduate who considers himself a part of the Hip Hop generation. He does see a gulf, however.

“The problem that I see is that my elders and those associated with the Civil Rights Movement have no problem supporting missions, but the younger generation doesn’t,” Moss explains. “We’ve [young people] got to learn how to be critical of class and color issues, we can’t be afraid to speak out about certain things.”

Kevin Powell, a political activist and former Vibe magazine writer and editor, sees a clear connection between the Civil Rights Era and Hip Hop culture.

“As you know, it was the poor who created Hip Hop in the first place and it was the poor that Dr. King was trying to organize in a sincere way with his poor people’s campaign near the end of his life,” Powell says. “So in a sense, the Civil Rights Movement literally spun into the Hip Hop movement.”

And while Powell agrees that the Civil Rights Movement is meaningless to most young people, he doesn’t see Hip Hop as a social or political movement yet.

“Because Hip Hop is a music, a culture, an art form, it has not been able to transform all that material and commercial influence into my generation going to the polls, participating in civic or community-based organizations or taking a keen interest in the issues of the day,” he says.
Boyd feels that the older and younger generations can learn something by coming together.
“We need to sit down as a community and discuss the good things about the Civil Rights Movement and those things that are bad and discard them,” he says.
To Iverem, it’s not that simple. “There is no c

January 6, 2003
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