I don’t trust white people. I have lived long enough to know that feeling any empathy for them can and will kill me. The stakes are high for Black folks in America and I don’t have time to waste. Hip-hop works in similar extremes, with little grace and generalizations that serve its own survival. Hip-hop works to find ways to reinvent itself all the time; whether it be Gogo music, mumble rap, or random subcultures, Hip-hop has always meant varying things to Black people—all made at the expense of needing to find joy and a voice out of the muck of this world. Hip-hop at its core is about Black culture and the ability to subvert the systems that work to try to kill us.
Yet, it would be naive to think Hip-hop doesn’t exist in a world of labor exploitation. A world ready to make any song, person or trend cultural capital for the next ad agency, all the bite pulled out with the bones barely hanging on.
I read The Tanning of America by Steve Stoute when I was 16 years old. At the time, I thought I wanted to do the same thing as Stoute. I wanted to break glass ceilings and get into those boardrooms that made the big decisions. It took 4 years and some life experience to realize Stoute was wrong; that Hip-hop is, in fact, Black in every way possible and is an act of resistance in its primal state. However, it is still, in many ways, a good ol’ boys club. I began to realize that Hip-Hop throughout history wasn’t growing to hold more ideas of blackness but that it was simply becoming a beacon of capitalism that I never knew to fear.
It feels like blackface in action to see a white person rap and be given more praise than the people who put bone to concrete to build this thing we call hip-hop culture. How did they learn to speak our language? To steal a thing we kept hidden? To have successfully stolen our tongue and I have to bob along to the music. Not because I want to but because I could be killed for questioning why the white person is even allowed in the room…most times by the black men in the room. Rap is a sport—a sport that favors those in power; one where I have to write about how we should give Macklemore another chance while black queer artists are still ignored regardless of their talent. It is a balancing act, to be in the culture but also on the chopping block.
I can never really tell if white artists care about the culture or are simply good at avoiding questions. And If I’m being honest that’s what it feels like…a convenient costume that can be altered to make it in this industry. Where they can be on a Coachella stage one year and then next defacing the thing that put the silver in their mouths. Normally it takes an EP or at least a solid project until I can buy into the idea/notion that a white artist isn’t repeating the legacy of colonization that has plagued black and brown folks for centuries. But most times my cynicism stops me from giving most a second chance because I know the culture will praise them regardless of my opinion.
That white boys with grills in their mouth, humble beginnings and enough lyrical talent to make it to the stage are praised for doing the bare minimum. A bare minimum that gets lower day by day. White supremacy shows up in how little grace we give to women in rap to fail, it’s about who we let in the door and most times it is never black queer artists. We can see it in how whiteness is centered even when it isn’t in the room. It shows up when you try to pitch to publications about black queer rappers but editors only want to hear about Lil Dicky’s latest single with Chris Brown.
It is exhausting but I can’t run away from it.
Capitalism and White supremacy are big words but they show up in similar ways. Capitalism tells us we can only work with what makes the most money and that thing is always whatever is closest to whiteness or has the most cultural capital. Capitalism is always looking to silence those of us who have no choice but to have to write the thing anyways. Who have bills to pay and not enough clout to say no. There is no space in hip-hop to question white rappers, to ask why they are here? To ask why they can spit 16 bars on Hot 97 but can’t speak on their own privilege? To take and never give back? To critique why we feel awkward questioning the racial elephant in the room that we didn’t create?
That’s the joke of it all, that black folks have ownership of anything, that even the black folks running the culture are also selling us down the river. The world tells black folks that we have to be accommodating. That we have to let white folks get a piece of the pie even if we never asked them to join in. White supremacy looks like white men running hip-hop critique, looks like only using black writers when it allows the most clickbait but never a staff position, it looks like black women in rap supporting abusers in order to stay relevant, it’s a 17-year-old black rapper falling for the lie of upward mobility while sitting in an empty mansion.
It’s all a joke really if you think about it, a system set up for us to fail, a tragedy in many parts, white women becoming hip-hop influencers as they step on the backs of black women, realizing most of the best rappers in history have all abused the women in their lives.
It’s hard when you realize the culture you love will never love you back.
It’s all a joke I never get to laugh at.
Clarissa Brooks is a Staff Writer with Dead End Hip-Hop. You can tweet at her here