People have rap all wrong. Well, mostly wrong, anyway. Rap is not synonymous with hip hop. Hip hop is much bigger than rap; and rap is just a part of hip hop culture. Rap didn’t start out from thugs and gangs. Contrary to what you may have heard in the nineties with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and DJ Screw, a lot of socially conscious rap exists, within an underground hip hop culture that is still alive and strong.
Among the live MCs around today are J-Live, Common, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. Even some of the artists that made it big, such as Kanye West, have humble beginnings and are what I would consider true practitioners of an important American art form.
There is an expression of a group of people for whom life isn’t yet satisfactory. These are a people oppressed by a powerful minority, whose history is marred by injustice and prejudice. This group of people is not confined to persons of color; it is the Everyman’s struggle.
This is not to deny the strong racially conscious element that exists in a music dominated by African Americans. Yet these are merely the poets of a generation, telling their story to anyone who will listen. Most are making a valiant if not understated effort to lure the next generation away from the loud, pompous, denigrating yelling that too often parades as rap.
The culture of hip hop is about the emcee. It’s about the taggers and the break dancers and the DJs. It’s about people getting together to create unique music and a positive community. In the tradition of jazz, there is a huge element of improvisation in every aspect of this rich culture that I definitely have respect for.
The work above is by an artist out of California named Justin Bua, who’s definitely among my favorites. I had two of his works, “Piano Man I” and “Jazz Trio” hanging on my walls for years. The one shown is entitled “The DJ,” and typical among Bua’s work, it’s an intimate portrayal of an agent engaged in his craft. I dig almost everything Bua does! Check it out.