Commercializing hip-hop risks the loss of its afrocentric roots

Photo courtesy of Universal Music

Written by: Youeal Abera, Staff Writer

I’ll never forget being six years old and seeing Jay-Z on television for the first time. It was July 2001, and my cousins from Toronto were over for the summer holidays. I vividly recall a muffled voice escaping my television speakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s put our hands together for this dynasty.”

I proceeded to watch this young Black man, with a large white t-shirt and shiny necklace, spit what would soon become an undeniable hip-hop classic.

17 years later, Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” transfers me to my happy place. Whenever I feel irretrievably misunderstood and on days where I miss my brother, songs like these provide me with a fortitude that I can’t seem to find elsewhere.

In 2017, according to Nielson Music’s statistics, hip-hop (albeit categorized alongside R&B) officially became the most popular genre of music in America, overtaking rock. Through the accessibility of music videos on YouTube and the mass spread of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) on social media, hip-hop has manifested across pop culture in an incredible way.

At first, I found myself happy that the creative contributions of Afrocentric people were being celebrated so regnantly. But the more I thought on it, the more I found myself scared. Hip-hop is notorious and constantly consumed, but a big reason for that is the genre’s vast whitewashing and commercialization.

A relatively recent example took place in January of 2017. Danielle Bregoli, also known as the “Cash-Me-Ousside” girl, appeared on The Dr. Phil Show, where Bregoli’s mother implored Dr. Phil to help her with her daughter’s abhorrent behaviour. This included stealing cars, cussing, and physically assaulting her mother. But Bregoli’s irritable put-on Blaccent and urban colloquialisms made her a social media phenomenon.

What brings this back to music is that Bregoli used her fame to begin a rap career, which has already been nominated for awards alongside prominent Black women rappers without even two years of her career. This speed is greatly comparable to Nicki Minaj, a Trinidadian-American rapper who put over a decade of hard work into her career before being widely considered the most successful Black woman in hip-hop.

The most troubling notion of this event lies in the fact that, in the 16 seasons that The Dr. Phil Show has been on air, hundreds of young Black women with attitudinal issues have made highly similar appearances to Bregoli’s. Instead of gaining international fame or success, they remained simple, problematic figures who elicited dismay and ridicule online.

To see Danielle Bregoli find such success — through caricaturing a “‘hood” Black woman — exemplifies how hip-hop is seen as a series of marketable traits, rather than as a culture.

The whitewashing of Black-created musical genres is far from new. Rock & roll, a genre stemming from the musical styles of African-Americans from the 1940s, rarely showcases or champions Afrocentric musicians. Elvis Presley, however, is often noted as the King of Rock even though his sound and artistry was taken from Black musicianship. Country music has had a rather similar history, where white musicians drew from Black blues singers in the American south in their contributions to the genre.

Both rock & roll and country were manifested by African-American culture before Eurocentric musicians spread it further and claimed it as their own. As a consequence, both rock and country are widely considered “white” genres of music today. With that, the process of erasing Afrocentric benefaction from these genres it’s birthed has succeeded.

Any race has the right and freedom to partake in hip-hop. However, the commercial success of the genre’s visitors comes at the expense of its Afrocentric community and themes.

Hip-hop is a relatively young genre with an utterly profound cultural impact. With artists like Post Malone taking up spaces that have traditionally been allotted to Black hip-hop musicians (urban radio stations), it’s becoming increasingly clear that the genre is another artistic platform where proclivities towards whitewashing are frightfully palpable.