7 June 2006

Is international Hip Hop an American sound coming back?

Besides the article I linked last time, Open Source has also done a radio broadcast on the globalisation of Hip Hop music and culture. The show, which can be downloaded from here, has some great minds analysing the culture of Hip Hop and merely why does it speak to people regardless of their geographical location. I have never studied any of these matters on an academic level nor have I any kind of special knowledge on the motivation which drives people from Americas to Australasia and Oceania and Southern region of African continent to back home to Scandinavia to, as KRS-One would say, live the Hip Hop. I am merely a appreciator of this culture and quite frankly it has taken a long time before I even acknowledged that as a global movement Finnish or Swedish Hip Hop is just as relevant as Brazilian or any other for that matter.

The presenter of the show, Christopher Lydon, raised an interesting question few times during the show. When he played songs from Japan, Brazil, France or South Africa, he asked “is this an American sound coming back?”. I am not completely sure what he meant by it but I still attempt to give my opinion on it.

Although African American culture surely has been an underdog in the American life for long and even now, when it is so popular and profitable, the political economics are not always benefiting the areas which would need help, it still is a part of an American life. When this culture, whether it was musically represented through Soul, Rhythm and Blues or Rap got its breakthrough to the mainstream America, it inevitably became a part of American cultural imperialism which has stretched its long arms to the furthest corners of our globe. This by no means is the fault of an African American culture nor an individual who represents it but the way I see things, it is just something that happens quite easily. It is obvious that there has been more elements to it than this, very simplifying logic mentions as for instance it is obvious that country music never had the same influence although being a core part of American music consumption. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am not talking about the might of African American music, which has had such an impact in my life, but I am rather talking about is an international Hip Hop, American sound coming back.

Quite frankly, musically, it probably is, but to me that is completely irrelevant. Firstly, often enough it is made for local people and although there are exceptions to this rule, at least the artist that I listen to are not even trying to go and conquer United States and secondly, when something is part of this massive cultural imperialist movement of American culture, which I for instance started digesting at very early age through music, films and most of all Cosby Show, it does reach such an audience globally that it will attract many people in being part of it. Like myself for instance. I never made any music, because I know what I can and what I cannot do, but if something is thought by millions of people around the world, it will get better and even more attractive than something that is done in, say Albania, and nobody has heard off.

What I mean is that there could have been millions of different sounds that could have been that sound of resistance. I know Hip Hop in a radio does not really sound like it represents resistance, except to gender equality, but globally, that is what it is supposed to do.

I do not mean to take anything away from Hip Hop as a part of American culture. Yes, it started there by African Americans and then spread throughout the world. We all tried to be like Americans when we were young, well I did anyway for a short while, and that is because the music, the TV and the cinema that comes from there is almost impossible to resists especially on a younger age. Young kids around the world learn to speak English like 50 cent does, or in my youth as Bart Simpson. Yes, it does sound silly but what can we expect. This is not necessarily about media ownership as our news are more influenced by Britain than a America but it is about cultural imperialism. It is about the fact that Hollywood films are made to be more attractive than national cinema, not to even mention the one from the other countries in the region, radio plays awfully lot of American music and TV is full of Friends, Baywatch, CSI – you name the place, Lost and all these other shows.

So in my humble opinion it is irrelevant whether it is American, or rather African American sound that took over the world. That happened for different reasons and that is just fine. Hip Hop definitely is attractive culture but most of all it is something that you must think globally – and then act locally.

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