The Americas. This is where the End began. The West, the place of Prophecy, the place of Destiny. The genetic cellular database of Ancestral awakenings thrums in tune to the drumbeat call of generations of soul, of pain and joy rising above the spontaneous eruption of life, uncontrollable, unbounded, free of constriction or constraint in its purest form. This is the natural path life takes like water, flowing down or up whatever channel presents a path, making one where none exists, or deepening preexisting ways, widening, eroding resistance whenever encountered to open the way for a more intense flow of energy.
What does all or any of this have to do with Hip Hop? With a bunch of kids who play their music too loud, who seem to have a fascination with cursing, disrespect of authority and women, baggy clothing, crime and material culture? How is any of this spiritual in nature and what does it have to do with consciousness? To answer these questions fully it is necessary to understand what Hip Hop is, what it really represents, where it came from and where it is going.
Loosely defined, it is the culture of the urbanized underclass, of the disaffected and the disillusioned masses. A culture of rebellion and revolt that employs every mode of communication known to humanity in order to get its message across. Music, art, the spoken word, the beat, movement. MC’ing, DJ’ing, Break Dancing/Popping/Locking and Graffiti are its major expressions, all of which encompass the primal cries of those relegated to possessing only their spirits and souls and little else of material substance. As a post-modern deconstruction of a Western European meta-narrative, Hip Hop stands as an exemplar of the effect upon the individual of societal ills that are now global in scope. Ageless, as an expression of African-based musical and communicative forms of expression, Hip Hop was informally born as a genre in late 1970s New York City and the surrounding region, expanding relatively quickly from a purely regional expression to its current status as multi-billion dollar music of the global youth culture. It is fair to say that Hip Hop has come a long way. But it is also fair to say that it has a way to go still before it reaches its full potential.
Afrofuturism as a movement has evolved alongside Hip Hop, similarly having no definitive beginning while simultaneously coalescing alongside Hip Hop in urban America during the late 1970s. Its formal inception occurs much later, in the late 1990s and into the 00s as the online presence of African Americans grew stronger. The application of diverse academic traditions to the same questions was the beginning of a process that sought to dissect the cultural and media-based discourse of African-originated and futuristically-themed influence in the preceding decades in the attempt to define their interests and cultural memes.
And so it was that a small, ethnically diverse but concentrated listserv, called Afrofuturism, was born and prospered, for a time. Beyond the vigorous debates, expositions of consciousness, collaborations and intellectualisms lay an underlying strata of vast potentiality and possibility, made manifest through the broad and open genres of science and speculative fiction. The movement was represented by black authors, academics, Hip Hop headz and performers alike, all sharing a similar fascination with futuristic themes and expressions of modern societal tropes under the guise of the fantastic. Afrofuturism never really coalesced as a full-blown cultural shift outside of the avant-garde arts and music scenes of the large urban areas, but the fish bowl-like arena the internet was in those days brought larger and more mainstream attention to this small collective of personalities and ideas, raised against the growing din of diverse voices the Net was soon to become.
Hip Hop and the Afrofuture cannot be separated from the evolution of America as a nation, but they also cannot be separated from the evolution of consciousness not only of this country, but of the world. The impact of Hip Hop has been felt upon every continent, in every country. Rap is the music of the global youth culture. It is the sound of rebellion and discontent that can be heard wherever the young are gathered and wherever inequalities have resulted in the formalization of destitution. The original means by which Hip Hop formed have been repeated in country after country, city after city as the young and the listless have found themselves with little money and no musical education but still possessed of singing hearts and dancing souls, theirs or their parents record collections and an ever-growing mass of CDs and MP3s that consolidate the Music of the Ages. The ready availability and affordability of computers, digital music and sound equipment have created the perfect environment for a large-scale explosion of beat-centered creativity as the hard, biting sounds of rap drive the air and digital-waves toward the resolution of a Hip Hop planet, born to tear down paradigms not built for their edification.
There is Russian Hip Hop, Middle Eastern Hip Hop, African Hip Hop, European Hip Hop, Latin American Hip Hop. You will find baggy jeans and ball caps worn by youth of every ethnicity, shade, size or gender in every country in the world. This acceptance of a quintessentially American artform by two generations, X and Y, who are now birthing a third, generation Z, will take the artform into new territory as global consciousness coalesces around the ideals that undergird the very essence of Hip Hop. Freedom of expression and lifestyle choices, a disdain for centralized authority, a dearth of color consciousness and a dislike of the trappings of corporate and/or governmental culture typify the belief system of Hip Hop Headz around the globe. The continuing revelations regarding the world-wide dominance of elite, corporate conspiracies have resulted in an ever-spreading understanding of the many threads that tie in to this reality, be they economic, political or cultural in nature. A wide-spread distrust of governmental measures as well as a realization that corporate culture does not have the best interests of the individual in mind bind diverse cultures and ethnicities together in recognition of their shared servitude and bondage to global consumer culture and hegemonic political domination by a self-serving and mega-rich elite.
The material and mainstream response to the impact of Hip Hop began early in its modern evolution. With the success of the Conscious Hip Hop movement in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a concerted effort was made on the part of the Music Industry to derail the movement by changing the focus of the music from positive messages, African history and evolved states of being to that of material wealth, violence and hyper-sexuality. According to music industry insiders, there was a successful attempt to provide monetary incentives and change the focus of individual Hip Hop artists to rap more about these topics and also to contract artists that would create the type of music that glorified self-hate and violence in many forms. This era was accompanied by rising drug use, gang violence in many inner cities and the destruction of previously cohesive neighborhoods by gentrification and urban renewal projects that diffused black power by moving populations out of the urban center and into suburban apartment complexes. The simultaneous influx of illegal drugs – as well as the continuing unavailability of stable sources of income – into these uprooted communities contributed heavily to the continuing dismantling of black political power. But what the Powers-That-Be did not take into account was the expansion of Hip Hop’s influence out of the black community and into the white community and from there, into the rest of the world. Even though the possibility of this happening was evident from its earliest beginnings – as exemplified by its multi-ethnic composition in the early to mid-80s as it spread like wildfire across America – the change in the focus of Hip Hop from a black consciousness to a gangsta/thug mentality that glorified the patriarchy and material accumulation appealed to the children of the suburbs, the children of affluence, the white children of th establishment. Their rebellion against their parents and dedicated economic commitment to Hip Hop raised the art form to national and international prominence, if not in spite of, then because of the negative direction the Industry chose to force the music into.
As Hip Hop has evolved within the crucible of a planet in the throes of change, it has come to represent a shifting of consciousness, being the musical form best suited for political and social challenges. Its hard, eviscerating beats, biting and rough dictions and choruses, are the perfect backdrop to a world on the cusp of transformational change. While mainstream Rap still possesses that material edge that glorifies bling, the dollar bill and the objectification of women as sexual objects, underground Hip Hop culture remains conscious and concerned with the plight of the underclass the world across. With the spread of Internet access across the planet, that underclass has realized that they hold common cause with each other, no matter their country or origin or color. A global political consciousness is a precursor to a global spiritual consciousness as people become aware that politics is only the outermost layer of an affliction that goes much deeper. The speculative aspects of the Afro-future arise in this space created by infinite potentiality as artists meld their conceptions of the present with ideas about what could be, in a perfect world. The addition of both New Age and Afrocentric spiritual ideals, as well as the culmination of the Age – centered around the 2012 fulcrum – combine to create a discourse of extraordinary exceptionalism that surpasses nation-hood and represents an elevated sense of connection, of oneness, of common cause.
There is a revolution of the spirit as well as the body that is overcoming the dictates of materiality, of modernism and the consumer culture. While there are many causative factors that have contributed to this awakening, the impact of African-related innovations and movements in the West have been strongly felt. From the Haitian revolution and the victories of Touissant L’Ouverture, to Nat Turner, the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, there is a connection. From Jazz to Country to New Age genres, there is a connection. From Fats Domino, Little Richard and other African-Americans impact upon the evolution of Rock and Roll to the evolution of electronic and computer-based music and art forms, there is a connection. This connection is the expression of the Souls of Black Folk, the visceral nature of their interactions with the world, the spirit-filled mass consciousness that resists all attempts at suppression, repression and genocide. It is, in microcosm, representative of the human spirit in macrocosm, it is what happens when a group of people is put upon for centuries at a time and their desire for utter freedom grows beyond the capacity of any seeking control over them to contain. It is when expression becomes mandatory, where not even death is threat enough to maintain silence, that the extraordinary becomes mundane and wonder fills the world to overflowing on a daily basis.
Of course, the formulation of the present moment is a collective endeavor that all streams of humanity have contributed to, that, in fact, every person who has ever lived has, in their own way, helped to create. Consciousness is a condition of awareness and each individual becomes aware of the realities outside of his or her own chosen spotlight for different reasons. But it cannot be denied that the world as it is today is the result of vast inequalities that have been fomented over generations. Inequalities that have resulted in the deaths of untold millions, the servitude of untold millions more and the domination of the world by a small, inbred and greedy elite. The atrocities that have come to predominate the historical record of these latter centuries of the Age of Pisces perhaps have no equal in the known history of humanity upon this planet. The world as it is today, with all of its pain, heartache and vast inequalities, is also a beautiful place, where the seeds of Africans brought to the Americas, mixed with the Aboriginals and Enslavers both, have broken ground, tilling the field of hearts the world across, as what has been done becomes clear and the ramifications of karmic repayment attend that clarification. Hip Hop and the Afro-future stand intertwined in the Present as an indicator of Past and Future, one indistinguishable from the other according to the infinite realm of probability that leaves conceptualization boundless and free to be, to become whatever we wish it to be. This is the legacy of our ancestors, and that which we leave to our posterity in our turn. The gift of life and love despite pain and heartache, and of expression ,without apology, of who we are, were and will be, far beyond what those who think they control reality could ever conceive of.