Having read a letter written by Alex Rogolsky (“Blank Verse” 02/27), I feel compelled to respond. Alex, your letter was insulting. I am a 32-year-old black woman who was born and raised in Alaska. Being at times the only black student in school, I struggled in every way to find a comfortable familiarity in the community surrounding me so I could nurture a peace within myself. As I grew older, my struggle transformed until I was battling to find my peace within the world.
Although hiphop began subtly long ago—in the lifestyles of urban blacks surviving in America—most people still misunderstand hiphop to be strictly music. Especially after the introduction of MTV, when hiphop was projected into the living rooms of anyone who cared to take advantage of the rare glimpses they were given. But hiphop is a culture created by young black Americans forced to develop their identities from scratch and demand their place in society. You are mistaken in referring to hiphop as just music.
For my generation, hiphop is how we speak, what we wear, what we drive, what we eat, and where we live. Hiphop is who we are. When you insult hiphop, you insult a people used to mistreatment, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities in a world overflowing with privilege for only a select group. The sometimes violent, overtly sexual, and recycled hiphop songs you hear on television and radio representing hiphop music do not necessarily represent the music of the hiphop culture. The hiphop music conveyed through the media is largely supported by people outside the hiphop culture, whose vast financial support has influenced the forms of hiphop music marketed by record executives.
But there is a massive underground hiphop music market. The socially powerful messages and originally creative beats of the hiphop underground sound may not appeal to the privileged rebellious suburban teenagers driving the hiphop music industry, but members of the hiphop culture do not allow popular music charts to dictate what is true hiphop music.
Make no mistake though: Hiphop was never just the music. Hiphop existed long before the first rhyme to music was ever recorded. What you see projected on your television screen is the hiphop culture put to music. Culture operates on many levels, and just because artists are not flaunting their wares to a public that may or may not understand the personal creation it’s being offered does not make them unsuccessful.
Either you have no idea of what and whom you’ve insulted, Mr. Rogolsky, or you don’t care, or both. Your words feel like an intentional assault on who I am. Although my culture may not be perfect, it is certainly not regressing. Hiphop culture has ingrained itself into the lifestyles of people all across America and beyond. Hiphop fashion designers are striving, and hiphop music has just for the second time been awarded the highest honors at the 2004 Grammy Awards with OutKast’s Album of the Year. From your comments you appear to have a limited view of hiphop, and I suspect your derogatory assessment of hiphop comes from personal experience, watching others within your culture become mesmerized by the powerful influence of the hiphop culture. Whether one is part of the hiphop culture or merely part of its audience, it is impossible to miss its tremendous effect on communities. Possibly you feel your community is being invaded by a culture that is growing stronger and more confident. Unless you can idly accept others speaking so profanely about your communal identity indicators or your personal lifestyle, as you have done about mine, let me suggest that the next time you choose to respond to a subject you view as “trite”—because, I suspect, you can’t relate—you should expand your knowledge of the subject beyond what you can see from your couch.