Has the Commercialization of Hip Hop Made Racism Trendy?

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By: Kathy Iandoli

Is racism ever in style? Your response is more than likely an emphatic “NO!” but ask your teenage daughter or your younger brother that question, and their answer might be different. We’re living in a skewed society, where our President is Black but our greatest rapper is white. For most of us, the aforementioned existed in reverse for as long as we can remember. The generation after us, though, has a different reality.

The Millennials, as they’re called, have no specific religion, no specific race, and no specific sexual orientation. They pull from their parents’ Baptist beliefs, sprinkle in some Buddhism learned in hot yoga, and add it to a mosaic of atheist sensibility to form what they think is God or at least what She would want them to believe.

The wounds of slavery and segregation have been replaced with a new ideal of biracial love, and the result is a cultural amalgam. Meanwhile, anti-Bullying campaigns and shows like Glee are allowing sexual liberation and free love without the psychotropic ‘70s.

Did we cause this? You’re damn right we did. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Why shouldn’t the generation after us be allowed to express themselves in any way possible? Why should they have to live within the confines of things like Catholic guilt if they don’t have to? The problem lies in the idea of wiping away the past, to the point where everything is forgotten. Even slavery, apparently. Has Hip Hop contributed to this problem? Probably.

Since its 30+ years in existence, Hip Hop has inched its way into the mainstream. In the ‘80s, Hip Hop wasn’t exactly omnipresent in commercials. However, brands like Sprite had Kurtis Blow rhyming in the name of soda (25 years later they had Drake), making the culture in its infantile stages really feel like it was going places.

Kurtis Blow Sprite Commercial, 1986

Then McDonalds swooped in with the McDonalds rap (“Big Mac, McBLT, a Quarter Pounder with some cheese…”) and eyebrows started rising. Was Rap music the vehicle to promote some brand, or was some brand cosigning the advancement of Rap music? It was a tough call then, and it’s still a tough call now.

While things like Bboys in Starburst commercials and rapping hamsters are gut-wrenchingly offensive to most Hip Hop purists, it’s also diluted the abrasive perception of Hip Hop. In doing so, it’s left the door wide open – for anything and everything. Today, we’re witnessing the fusion of Hip Hop with other genres, film, fashion, food, whatever – thus making Hip Hop the gateway drug for a lot of offensive behavior.

Having started as a predominantly Black culture, something gets lost in translation when being okay by Hip Hop standards means being okay with things like racial humor or non-Black people’s use of the N-word. Gen-Y rapper V-Nasty of Kreayshawn’s “White Girl Mob” went under fire several times for her repeated use of the N-word, only to have it swept way under the rug once Gucci Mane cosigned her.

It doesn’t stop at the music, though.

Take Adidas launching and then discontinuing their “Shackle Shoes,” sneakers paired with ankle shackles resembling those worn by slaves.

While there was no intentional humor in the shoe release, the tongue-in-cheek aspect of taking a consistently Hip Hop cosigned clothing line and pairing it with slavery imagery is blatantly obvious. Regardless of the fact that the shoe was immediately pulled, it passed through a number of channels that okayed this design.

The photo above was taken at Urban Outfitters, and while that franchise caters to more of an indie (read: hipster) crowd, having “Urban” in your store name means there’s an element of obligation to not offend your demographic that resides in “Urban” areas. But that’s just the problem: they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re offending anyone, and the youth that support these brands don’t even understand historically why any of this would be hurtful.

As society inches further and further toward that melting pot it’s claimed to be for the last 40-something years, will we reach a point where the past is really that forgotten? Let’s hope not, or else we’ll be bowing before a new generation who would much rather abolish sleevery than slavery.

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About Author

kathy iandoli

Kathy has an unhealthy obsession with Marc Jacobs, Mercedes, and Moleskine. When she isn't writing about rappers or British Folktronica, she's drinking unsweetened iced tea in the New York metro area.