Saturday, September 23, 2006

Is Hip Hop Going the Way of Jazz?

So back to Europe with this week's entry, and I'll try to be brief.

My friend Ajamu has posed the question, "Is hip hop going the way of jazz?"

Several years ago, maybe 10, I was in Paris. My hair was in locks. And as I wandered through the narrow streets near the Pompidou Center, a group of children began to follow me as if I was a celebrity. They thought I was an American hip hopper. Salt 'n Peppa? (or perhaps Salt or Peppa?) They flattered me.

Years later, I was in Moscow dancing in a club called Pravda or something not-so-clever like that. I recall that rather than having beer on tap, they had vodka on tap. And I could go on and on about my vodka experiences in Russia, but that's not the purpose of this entry. Anyhoo, I remember dancing to a bit of House of Pain. Before I knew it, me and my locked hair, once again found ourselves attracting a crowd. This time, it was a group of twenty-something Russian men who gathered around me in a circle, as if worshiping me, and screaming the lyrics to "Jump Around" at the tops of their lungs. JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! Later when I tried to speak to them in English, they knew nary a word.

Last month, while in Hamburg, I was walking through a street fair, by a live stage, when to my great surprise I heard hip hop in German. A few days later, I was walking through a similar street fair in Amsterdam, by a similar live stage when ironically I heard hip hop in Dutch.

It's one thing to visit the suburbs and find white, middle-class suburban kids in listening to hip hop in their Sean John and Fubu. That's one thing. It's another thing altogether to come across avid European fans, who perhaps have never set foot in the birth country of hip hop who do not speak a work of English.

So as I'm discussing this with my friend, he suggests that hip hop is going the way of jazz. Do you remember the 20's and 30's when African Americans became jazz superstars in Europe? Josephine Baker? Or later, my father's cousin, the saxophonist Clyde Barnhardt? (Okay, maybe he wasn't as big as Ms. Baker, but he made his mark). My Aunt Helen's brother-in-law, a beloved member of our extended family, the jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, headlined in Paris in the 50's and 60's. At the time, he was known more widely in France than in the U.S. where he lived in Duke Ellington's shadow as his principle songwriter. Baker, Strayhorn, and Barnhardt received the celebration in Europe that alluded them in the U.S. during their lifetimes.

And speaking of hip hop.

On that stage in Amsterdam there was also a young brother who rapped in English. He seemed as though maybe he was from the suburbs rather than Bed-Stuy or South Central. He seemed more Tiger Woods to me than 50 Cent. But he was a star at that particular moment on a late summer afternoon in Holland.

To all those aspiring rappers who for one reason or another may not splash here where the competition is quite fierce, Amsterdam is a damn nice city.

1 comment:

SimplyFefe said...

That’s the thing about blackness and everything that derives from it, it’s contagious. From our beautiful features to our creative minds, we are desired. I don't think it’s a bad thing; imitation is the best form of flattery, as long as credit is given.