“Why White Kids Love Hip Hop” Preview
Michigan Union Ballroom
February 5, 2008
The answer Bakari Kitwana has found to explain the many Caucasian fans one is apt to see in staggering numbers at virtually any hip-hop venue has little to do with “Yo! MTV Rap.” Nor does it have anything to do with the idea of “urban” music (read: black music) as an enduring trend that has, like many trends, managed to capture a mainstream (read: white) audience.
Writer and co-founder of the National Hip Hop Political Conventions will address the many facets to this perhaps long-disputed answer in his lecture “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop,” tonight from 8:30-10:30 p.m. in the Michigan Union Ballroom.
In his lecture Kitwana will explore existence of hip hop as a political weapon that has been capable of uniting young fans regardless of race, regardless of individual journey to Hip Hop esteem.
“Initially, I had written a book called the ‘Hip Hop Generation,’ and my point was to write a book about young black Americans born after civil rights movement,” Kitana said. “As I started getting into the book more, I found many Latinos Asians, Whites, and Native Americans that also identified with Hip Hop, but each of these needed their own investigations.”
When Kitwana geared his investigations towards white audiences, what he found was a far cry from the laughably misguided white youth a la actor Jamie Kennedy in “Malibu’s Most Wanted,” a character who seemed to be emulating an aesthetic rather than attempting to understand a message.
“As people began to talk about white Hip Hop kids in a public realm, I felt that often it was a form of ridicule, an outdated caricature.” Kitwana said. “And I thought the white hip hop kids were a lot more sophisticated, not just about hip hop, but also about race.”
This relates to Kitwana’s idea of white hip-hop kids, as he calls them, following a “concentric circle” pattern. On hip hop’s peripheries -that is, the party mongering, lyrically vapid music played non-stop on Top 40 stations – Kitwana believes white fans are less inclined to possess this sophistication. But at its core – for example the more politically and socially conscious hip hop, that has recently had trouble scratching the surface of mainstream success – white fans are more inclined to care about issues surrounding race and politics. He also notes the difference in location, with many of these enlightened white hip-hop enthusiasts being a part of university culture.
“If you’re living in a college town, how many Atmosphere concerts can you go to?” Kitwana quipped.
But it isn’t all science and progressive MC’s. Kitwana also speaks to the notion of hip hop as a perpetually pioneering art that’s a form of unabashed expression which speaks for those who are disenchanted with the norms that have been put upon them. Where does he find this dynamic play out especially? The rural Midwest, of course.
“I interviewed this Radio DJ from Eugene, Oregon,” Kitwana said. “He felt like his school, his church, his religion never validated who he was. With hip hop, he found his voice, he found what it meant to be an outsider to be misunderstood.”
Indeed, although many find art, in any form as a mode of self-expression and escape, Kitwana hopes that today’s youth will add hip hop as a means to establish political competency. This is not only the answer to the question posed, it seems, but the precursor to it.
“I view hip hop as a cross-racial political phenomenon; hip hop political organizers use the power of hip hop to affect politics,” Kitwana said. “All of (our) work is converging right now – we see in the elections young people are playing a prominent role.”
In terms of current elections, presidential candidate hopeful Barack Obama hasn’t shied from using hip hop songs during his campaign. To Kitwana, occurrences like these signify a crucial shift.
“Young people really do have the power to change this country,” Kitwana said. “I feel as though my responsibility is to give directions to the tools – the tools are out there, you just have to know how to find them.”
The tools? Hip hop, enthusiasts of all races (sans hackneyed stereotypes) and a steadfast, refreshing political movement.