|THE DEATH OF CONSERVATISM, THE DWINDLING OF HIP-HOP|
|Written by John Marks - Author/Producer|
|Saturday, 24 October 2009 15:49|
Wouldn’t it be interesting if the two were connected? The Death of Conservatism, as chronicled in a smart, beautifully written new book by Sam Tanenhaus, and the aging out of hip hop as a musical form, as asserted by Sasha Frere-Jones in the most recent issue of the New Yorker.
Here’s how Tanenhaus describes the spectacle of the end of what he calls “movement conservatism”:
Conservatives haven’t “fallen all together mute,” he writes. “On the contrary, they continue to intone the stale phrases of movement politics. If you attended a panel luncheon of prominent conservative magazine editors, as I did in the spring of 2009 at the Harvard Club, you heard the urgent call “to take back the culture” (but from whom, exactly?), along with dire admonitions that the Obama administration had placed America’s “economic” freedom in jeopardy—this on the very morning that Wall Street had ecstatically embraced the Treasury secretary’s plan for assisting the nation’s banks.”
“What these conservative intellectuals said wasn’t just mistaken,” writes Tanenhaus, himself a conservative. “It was meaningless, the clatter of a bygone period, with its “culture wars” and attacks on sinister “elites”. There was no hint of a new argument being formulated or even of an old one being reformulated. More disturbing still, not one of the three panelists acknowledged that the Republican Party and its ideology might bear any responsibility for the nation’s current plight.”
Meanwhile, over at The New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones doesn’t come to bury hip-hop, but to praise it. Yet the tone of funerary oratory is unmistakable. Something has ended, and it’s not quite clear what will take its place.
“If I had to pick a year for hip-hop’s demise,” writes Frere-Jones, “I would choose 2009, not 2006. Jay-Z’s new album, “The Blueprint 3,” and some self-released mixtapes by Freddie Gibbs are demonstrating, in almost opposite ways, that hip-hop is no longer the avant-garde, or even the timekeeper, for pop music.”
He continues: “Hip-hop, a spinoff from New York City’s early disco culture, has been a commercial proposition since the release of “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979. That’s thirty years, a long time for any genre. If you want to be conservative and decide that mainstream cultural relevance kicked in toward the end of the eighties, with New York’s golden age and the quick follow-up of gangsta rap, the wildly popular genre from Los Angeles, that still leaves twenty years of cultural impact. This may be a fine time for hip-hop to atomize. The original form has done an awful lot of work.”
Movement conservatism and hip-hop have at least two things in common. Both occurred within history, and as a consequence both have their historical trajectories, their rise and fall, so to speak. That doesn’t make them blood brothers as phenomenon, but it is intriguing to note the timing. They both hit their stride in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, reached their moments of greatest influence in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and began to decline at the end of the last decade. That their death notices should appear in roughly the same season can’t be a coincidence.
Let’s face it, hip hop was the soundtrack of movement conservatism, even if the latter hated the former with a passion. It wasn’t the soundtrack of choice, you see, but the true, deep, organic sound of the country as it grappled with the Reagan revolution, the noise of the crack-smashed streets transmuted into protest before turning into gold. It was a coded language of resistance, desire and desperation spun up into a relentless anthem of achievement and alienated from its roots, translated into background noise, finally, just as rock and roll and rock once was.
Movement conservatism has its roots in the Eisenhower era, when a group of young writers and thinkers began to agitate against the Notorious E and E, otherwise known as the Eastern Establishment, represented by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy in the White House, and embodied by the brain trust at places like Harvard and Yale. William F. Buckley was the key name. Buckley was the Grandmaster Slam of movement conservatism, just as Dr. Dre was the Barry Goldwater of hip hop, taking a noise from the neighborhoods and turning it into a plan for action.
I doubt very much whether conservatism and hip hop have really “died”, but if they have, we’ll live a long time with their influence. Hip hop conquered the globe and seems to have invaded every corner of the global musical language. You can hear it in almost anything that moves to a beat.
Conservatism, the brand identity of Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush. Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, not to mention their countless foot soldiers, has shaped the world in which we now live. All surviving progressive ideas were molded in the heat of battle with movement conservatism.
Conservatism and hip hop: the two weren’t enemies exactly, or maybe they were—Enemies: A Love Story. So maybe their death is a kind of liebestod, and we watch in fascination as they go down together, ranting and rapping all the way.
Or to quote Run DMZ, my favorite crew from the early years of both: “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is—unnnh!”