Obama, Grant, and Tolan
We will not go through a laundry list of oppression here. But as hip hop "heads" we know well the role culture plays in spaces of oppression and inequality. Where there is injustice there seems to always be a cultural response/expression that challenges injustice: music, dance, storytelling, language, paintings, etc. Hip hop is one mode of expression here in the States and is arguably employed with more political intensity among heads in Cuba, Germany, the Philippines, Kenya, etc.
However, the homey M.dot argues in the "Model Minority" blog: "Hip Hop isn't political. A Hip Hop show isn't political. An album isn't political." Please read her entry.
How important does cultural production (art, language, music, poetry, theater, etc.) play in radical/progressive political mobilization?
It's been more than a decade since the making of the documentary film "Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance: Pilipinos and Hip Hop in Los Angeles," which features some influential Fil Am hip hop artists (in their "younger" years!) such as Kiwi, Babu, Faith Santilla, DJ Symphany, and Icy Ice, and many others. It highlights the "cultural liberation" (as Faith Santilla says in the film) that hip hop brings to Fil Ams...the radical expressions that hip hop cultivates. "Hip hop," as DJ Dwenz says in the film, "is the voice of inner city youth." In this sense, hip hop is seen as a motivating "force" in political struggle...hip hop is political.
"Beats, Rhymes, and Resistance" is probably the first work that seriously tackles the topic of Filipinos in hip hop. Lakandiwa de Leon's "Filipinotown and the DJ Scene" (here) resonates with the film (as Lakan is a co-director) and goes into more depth with gang culture and colonization. For those who have watched "Hip Hop Mestizaje," you can see how much the film influences my own work. It has paved the way for many young folks who are seriously interrogating this subject.
But, how relevant is this film today?
Given the state of hip hop in 2009, is the film's focus on hip hop's political role still applicable?
Or is M.dot right, hip hop is really less political than people may think?
Peep the film here (thanks to Lakandiwa de Leon):
For Palestine, for the family of Oscar Grant, for all people looking for justice, in whatever mode we strive for a better society (whether it be hip hop culture or not), may we always move forward to love and justice.