If I were a betting man, Id wager that neither Bill OReilly nor Don Lemon is a good dancer. Like many who go to soulful music concerts and experience the rhythms yet are unable to move to the beat, OReilly and Lemon have heard hip-hop (allegedly) and completely missed the literary prowess of the music.
Not long ago, pundits OReilly of Fox News and Lemon of CNN asserted that hip-hop music and children raised out of wedlock are root causes of all ills in the black community. The lack of employment opportunities was strangely absent from their analysis. Neither man noted that, of the 25 million children being raised by a single parent in this country in 2011, the largest share by race, 9.5 million, were white, according to the National Kids Count Data Center.
The real issue is that men, both black and white, are no longer able to support families like they used to when men actually built things in this country. Economics should be the focus, because the effects of music are varied.
For the past year, Ive worked with young black and brown boys and girls in the Washington area and watched them consume, comprehend and codify literature ranging from Beowulf to Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream to Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Ive developed an entire curriculum, Words Liive, that teaches Common Core State Standards texts through the literary genius of Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Tupac and others.
Socrates is credited with saying that the unexamined life is not livable for a human being. There is unexamined genius in the literary work of hip-hop. Hip-hop is replete with literary techniques that have largely been elided from the historical canon of great compositions.
Hip-hop compositions are masterful poetry: The form of the standard hip-hop song is three verses of 16 bars written to various beats-per-minute patterns, which mirrors Shakespeares use of iambic pentameter. Other literary techniques can also be found in hip-hop. The character-building methods of Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G., for example, resemble those of H.G. Wells.
Unfortunately, comments such as those by OReilly and Lemon remind me that our country also has a long-standing pathology of dishonesty. Similar to writing a Constitution that ignored the institution of slavery, ignoring the literary genius in hip-hops 40-year-old body of work is so negligent that it is as flagrant as a bald-face lie.
Detractors ignore the structure and criticize the content. I wonder where this criticism of content is articulated about other folk music. Country star Toby Keith, reported by Forbes to have a net worth of more than $500 million, has out-earned almost everyone in hip-hops history. Five of his 10 most popular songs on Spotify celebrate or make direct references to alcohol consumption.
Wheres the debate about Keith contributing to U.S. substance-abuse problems?
The United States has a double standard when it comes to black peoples license to express themselves. Hip-hop is more than just sounding bass and twinkling similes. It helps us.
I was 26 when my mother died. I kept three songs on repeat, and the lyrics cradled my broken heart to sleep at night: Dance by Nas, Kanye Wests Hey Mama and Slum Villages Keep Holding On.
These rappers expressed their love for their mothers in a way that was familiar in its articulation. Hip-hop helped heal me.