Hip Hop Scholarship Should Show You Your Most Authentic Self: A Review of KRS One’s 40 Years of Hip Hop Documentary

There has always been a desire of those outside the culture to capitalize and replicate the culture of hip hop. Rappers like Vanilla Ice and Macklemore emerged and received praise for dominating the charts in a category that was given and not earned. In his 40 Years of Hip Hop Documentary, KRS One discusses the phenomenon of hip hop scholarship. He starts with the proclamation that hip hop is an idea. Hip hop can not be worn. Hip hop can not be drunk. Hip hop is not something that can be bottled and sold. Hip hop is essentially a learned essenced and aurora that you only achieve through completion of scholarship. This conceptualization of hip hop immediately shatters the misconceived notion of hip hop by those outside of it including the media. For so long whites have coined hip hop as a clothing style, a music genre, and a type of dance when all those things are simply benefactors of the idea of hip hop. 

Hip hop is not only a community but a culture and for the first time, I’m being introduced to the idea of having to learn the culture as a student  while watching this documentary. It’s not about simply picking up a pen and paper and being able to make a hit. It’s about living “hip hop”.KRS says “You have to have courage to be a hip hop artist at all times,” resonates as in my era we see many who write hip hop songs yet they conform and lack the defiant nature against authoritative figures which encompasses the very essence of hip hop. It takes courage to speak what you believe and accept the consequences of defiances. Many artists of our era look up to figures like Tupac and Krs and Ice Cube and coin them influences in their music and yet they show no true signs of these artist’s nature outside the booth. KRS said when you truly become a scholar of hip hop it should change you. You should see your most truest form. As you begin to change you should become more misunderstood by your peers , you should face more sacrifice whilst trying to obtain the true essence of hip hop. Hip hop is the story of struggle,defiance and sacrifice. It would make sense that you begin to emulate these very things as you master the craft.

KRS also challenged us to think of the stars that we don’t see instead of the ones that we do, as those are the true scholars of hip hop. This resonated with me deeply because we often talk about and speak on the evolution of hip hop artists as they progress in fame and become more conformity to  the music industry. We never pin it to the loss of scholarship. If Hip hop is a way of life and means to stay true to one’s voice and combat conformity at all costs, those hip hop artists that we see rise to fame so quickly and do cross over tracks have truly lost the right to be considered hip hop. Very few artists have been able to remain true to themselves without sacrificing their truest selves. Rappers J Cole and Kendrick Lamar are often compared in ability and mastery of hip hop however Lamar is the only one able to truly reach that significant height of commercial success. J Cole on the other hand created his own label and chose to push the reset button on his career as he found himself losing himself when signed to RocNation. The idea that society has essentially created a catch 22 for authentic hip hop to thrive is an example of yet another way in which the black voice has been silenced by the higher ups and how our success is capped off and marginalized. Hip hop was created to defy the disco. I’d love to see what emerges to defy the new pseudo hip hop community currently in place.

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Erika Grimes

Erika Grimes

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