Questlove has released “When the People Cheer: How Hip Hop Failed Black America,” the first of six essays the drummer has penned for Vulture. In the essay, Questlove discusses Hip Hop’s impact on Pop culture.
“Hip Hop has taken over Black music,” Questlove says. “At some level, this is a complex argument, with many outer rings, but it has a simple, indisputable core. Look at the music charts, or think of as many pop artists as you can, and see how many of the Black ones aren’t part of Hip Hop. There aren’t many Hip Hop performers at the top of the charts lately: You have perennial winners like Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake, along with newcomers like Kendrick Lamar, and that’s about it. Among women, it’s a little bit more complicated, but only a little bit. The two biggest stars, Beyoncé and Rihanna, are considered Pop (or is that Pop-Soul), but what does that mean anymore? In their case, it means that they’re offering a variation on Hip Hop that’s reinforced by their associations with the genre’s biggest stars: Beyonce with Jay Z, of course, and Rihanna with everyone from Drake to A$AP Rocky to Eminem.”
In the essay, Questlove also explains how he feels about cultural change as Hip Hop has become more popular.
“Young America now embraces Hip Hop as the signal pop-music genre of its time,” he says. “So why does that victory feel strange: not exactly hollow, but a little haunted? I have wondered about this for years, and worried about it for just as many years. It’s kept me up at night or kept me distracted during the day. And after looking far and wide, I keep coming back to the same answer, which is this: The reason is simple. The reason is plain. Once Hip Hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. Not to mention the obvious backlash conspiracy paranoia: Once all of Black music is associated with Hip Hop, then Those Who Wish to Squelch need only squelch one genre to effectively silence an entire cultural movement.
“And that’s what it’s become: an entire cultural movement, packed into one hyphenated adjective,” Questlove continues. “These days, nearly anything fashioned or put forth by Black people gets referred to as ‘Hip Hop,’ even when the description is a poor or pointless fit. ‘Hip Hop fashion’ makes a little sense, but even that is confusing: Does it refer to fashions popularized by Hip Hop musicians, like my Lego heart pin, or to fashions that participate in the same vague cool that defines Hip Hop music? Others make a whole lot of nonsense: ‘Hip Hop food?’ ‘Hip Hop politics?’ ‘Hip Hop intellectual?’ And there’s even ‘Hip Hop architecture.’ What the hell is that? A house you build with a Hammer?”
To read Questlove’s full essay, click here.