Take an African-American entrepreneur promoting a Polish vodka owned by a French corporation using Chinese performers practicing an Afro-Latin-influenced art form that originated in the inner cities of the United States and you’ve got 32-year old Detroit native Dana Burton’s business. Welcome to hip-hop’s new world. In the process, Burton has become a marketing machine, the uber-influential partner of multinational corporations who want to reach young people in China.
Is hip-hop so different from blogging and social media?
This culture has become one of the most far reaching arts movements of the past three decades. According to Jeff Chang in it’s a hip-hop world, Foreign Policy (emphasis mine):
The best artists share a desire to break down boundaries between “high” and “low” art—to make urgent, truth-telling work that reflects the lives, loves, histories, hopes, and fears of their generation. Hip-hop is about rebellion, yes, but it’s also about transformation.
At the core of hip-hop is the notion of something called the “cipher.” Partly for competition and partly for community, the cipher is the circle of participants and onlookers that closes around battling rappers or dancers as they improvise for each other. If you have the guts to step into the cipher and tell your story and, above all, demonstrate your uniqueness, you might be accepted into the community. Here is where reputations are made and risked and stylistic change is fostered. That this communitarian honoring of merit—whether it’s called “style,” “hotness,” or whatever the latest slang for it is—can transcend geography, culture, and even skin color remains hip-hop’s central promise.
As the message of hip-hop transcends borders, one thing has remained consistent: a vital progressive agenda that challenges the status quo. What could make Blog Action Day even more influential in the communities where it is celebrated? How could we make the message leap off the page and the online tools to reach our physical communities?
Hip-hop is also a booming business, with estimated $10 billion worth of trend-setting luxury and consumer goods every year in the United States alone, in addition to the 59 million rap albums sold. There is indeed a much larger potential looming on the horizon — Packaged Facts research estimates the purchasing power available to this market in the US at $780 billion. We’ve been reading the headlines on Microsoft Facebook deal — for a mere 1.6 % stake the software giant paid $240 million.
The commercialism is often at odds with hip-hop’s outsider ethos, yet in many places in the world it is creating opportunity and possibility that was not there before.
Hip-hop spread so quickly, globally, thanks to powerful media houses — Universal Music and Sony have packaged and sold hip-hop with a gusto that is as fierce and aggressive as the movement itself. The attitude and culture were there first, then the distribution came as the appeal of influencing young people who embraced it became a marketing bonanza. Do you see any similarities with MySpace?
No matter the culture or the business motives, hip-hop always returns to its roots — competition and community that feed each other. It’s the give and take of something that both participants can relate to and in the most dramatic forms, it becomes the deepest kind of communication. Has anyone here experienced rapid fire conversations among bloggers? The ones of the connective kind are about things we can relate to, separately and together.
Hip-hop matters to those receptive to it because it is the language of the streets — nobody can control it. Why do you blog? It’s late at night and you’ve had a full day of work, yet you’re here reading this post. It’s the lure of independent thinking, the search for truth-telling and possibly transformation. True, many of us don’t engage in social justice through our blogs — many others do write about social transformation.
Social media has connected with many regardless of their title, status, or occupation — it’s a way to self-expression and a path to joining a community of like-minded people, globally. We probably ask ourselves the same question: can we?