Thursday, 6 October 2011

STC - A Brief History: The successes, Failures and Figureheads of Communism and Hip-Hop

 Ideals, bad reputations and powerful leaders are just a few of the things that tie communism and hip-hop together. The first takes it’s stand on a mostly political level and the second on a mostly artistic level; despite this difference, both have had significant, worldwide impact through their respective methods of creating social change.
 Communism was originally a concept birthed out of the French Revolution in the early nineteenth century when the idea of equality for the working classes was very appealing. The actual term, Communist, was coined by Goodwyn Barmby to describe the followers of a controversial French journalist Francois-Noel Babeuf. It was then cemented by the delineation of Karl Marx’s socialist philosophy in his work The Communist Manifesto. The basic concept was for social classes to be abolished and for the common man to essentially follow a sort of instinctual self/communal democracy where everything from tools to land is shared without exception. Marx himself was also a newspaper man who was born into a wealthy middle class family, but whose strong political opinions and controversial worldview resulted in him being exiled multiple times from multiple countries. His life ended in poverty and one can only presume how much of an effect his personal experience had on his work. Most of the funding for Marx’s work came from Friedrich Engels who also edited the Manifesto and had an astoundingly large moustache.  If Karl Marx solidified the idea on paper, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky fleshed it out. Leading the Bolshkeviks in a revolution they overthrew the Russian Czar and here’s where everything started straying from the idea of a country led by a common democracy into a sort of dictatorship. The majority of Russia’s citizens were never empowered to lead themselves, but instead had Lenin’s, and after his death, Joseph Stalin’s ideals forced upon them with a method that was often much worse than their original situation. While Stalin did help the Russians in many ways (by industrializing the country, creating a unique style of architecture, and putting them on the world map in terms of nuclear power and space travel), it could be said he did more hurt than help. The same was also true of Mao Zedong’s efforts to bring communism to China. During the time of his influence he educated millions of Chinese people, made health care readily accessible and increased the overall life expectancy of the population. The problem was that he simultaneously exposed them to violence and famine caused by revolutions and also pushed his ideals by means of torture and extreme persecution resulting in the deaths of millions.
 These men were what originally gave communism the negative connotation that it has today and it’s a huge question as to why a philosophy based in communal leadership, when acted upon, nearly always ends in singular dictatorship where the leader has to defend their position with strict laws, secret police, and murder.
   Our second topic is one of the newest music genres, and has gone beyond that singular industry to become an entire social movement of it’s own. Birthed in the poverty and violence riddled area of South Bronx in New York City the Hip-Hop movement was pioneered in the 1970’s by a group of artists who took samples of existing songs and mixed them together using a pair of turntables and a guitar amp to create new, danceable beats (called DJing) while simultaneously speaking over the music in a manner based on the Jamaican tradition of spontaneous toasting and West African folk poets (called MCing). This music was also paired with a new style of spontaneous energetic dance (called Breaking) and a type of street art/marketing using spray paint to “tag” various objects (called Graffiti). A Jamaican born man who went by the name of Clive “Cool Herc” Cambell created the blueprint for what we know today as Hip-Hop, while his friend Grand Wizzard Theodore invented “scratching” records, and Grand Master Flash coined the term “Hip-Hop” in a rap he performed and was the first person to be called a DJ. Toward the end of the 70’s, one of these original artists, Jazzy Jay, realized the potential of taking the local gang’s competitive energy and pointing it toward this art rather than violence. It was at this point that he created an affiliation called Zulu Nation. In many ways this was a very successful endeavor. You could now see gang members dissing each other in a rap competition, or B-boys and B-girls having a break dancing competition in the alley instead of fighting and killing. The problem with Zulu Nation was that it worked almost too well. It took a localized trend and brought national attention to it. What followed was a series of films in the early 80’s that launched the style to an worldwide audience, but also shifted the focus from social issues back to the original problems of drugs, violence, and the victimization of women. It’s founders focused their creative energy and personal influence on giving kids an alternative to violence, while the current leaders of the industry (e.g. Eminem and 50 Cent) use their influence to promote a personal lifestyle of violence and drugs - that is now even being marketed to people living in a healthy home environment and neighborhoods that don’t have daily shootings.
 While Hip-Hop has always been obscene in one way or the other, what once challenged and empowered it’s performers and listeners to rise above less than ideal circumstances has now done the opposite, and in the name of honesty, encourages it’s audience and artist alike to take a negative perspective on their situations and elevates the victim mentality.
 In the end, Communism and Hip-Hop are both powerful movements that were started with the ultimate goal of bringing peace to the oppressed and providing a solution to real problems and they have both digressed to the point of creating the problems they were aiming to solve.

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