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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hip-Hop Evolves at Vertigo


"Can I get the Tyrone discount?"
This was the question from this brother at a DT event at Vertigo Books in College Park, Md. on Saturday 10/28. It is the least we could do, being that he single-handedly inspired our book and all. But seriously, thank you, Tyrone Stewart, PhD student at Maryland, for coming out and supporting us Saturday 10/28. Meeting Tyrone was just one of many pleasant surprises that came out of the panel discussion "Mic Check: Hip-Hop Evolves." The Natalies were on a panel featuring Spelman history professor William Jelani Cobb who has caught fire in the past several months over his Essence story telling the open-secret about Black men and the sex trade in Brazil and has a new book on hip-hop coming out early next year. We were also looking forward to seeing our old BFF and Hilltop alum Ta-Nehisi Coates, who now writes for Time magazine. Unfortunately Ta-Nehisi had a last minute family emergency and was not able to make it but the incomparable DC poet,DJ Renegade took his place instead and as always, represented. It is always a treat to hear Renegade's perspectives on being a hip-hop deejay in the 1980s, among his other vast pools of knowledge. Moderator Esther Iverem of seeingblack.com did a great job of not only neutralizing Renegade's love affair with his own voice (love ya renegade!), but also steering the discussion beyond the woes of contemporary hip-hop which we are frankly tired of preaching before the choir about.

Instead we had a provocative discussion about the evolution of one of the most important cultural movements of our time. We all shared our Brown Sugar moments. Nat M. read from the "hip-hop" chapter in DT about her adventures hanging out with video vixen Melyssa Ford in Chicago. We heard Renegade's theory of hip-hop as the "Age of the Gilded Ghetto Pass." Hip-hop has taken a similar trajectory of other art forms, such as blues and jazz, Renegade explained, but the inversion of class values may be one legacy that rap can call its own. Esther allowed the last word to go to the Natalies who urged the audience not to accept external definitions of hip-hop (usually ones ignorant and sensationalist), and also, remember that hip-hop at its best is an art form not a business. By that measure, artists such as Jean Grae, are the most successful hip-hop artists working today. Also, in the rapidly changing media landscape, a shakeout is going on which is allowing more consumer choices, so that means that despite the challenges to the integrity of the art form, there is only one direction to go...Up, of course.

Other evidence that hip-hop has evolved was sitting in the audience. First there was of course Nat H's two children, Maverick and Maven, but also the Parker kids, the Brown-Andrews kids, and Crooms-Porter child, and Marcia's son Dave. Afterwards, at Nat H.'s husband Rudy and Renegade's insistance, we took everyone out to eat at Famous Dave's restaurant with Nat M.'s sister Megan, and Kyle, who comped us a copy of the new Callaloo journal's amazing Hip-Hop issue which he edited. Thanks Bushead Ed for filming the event for us and thanks to everyone else who came out: Steve from the PG Arts Council, Jared, Lezli, Shani, Allison, Lonnae, Ralph, Natasha, Yolanda,Cousin Kim with Robert and Derek & Tracey. Thanks also to Delece & Ben, two Maryland journalism students who came out to cover the event for the Black Eclipse and the Diamonback student newspapers. Thanks Bridget for organizing!

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