“Ain’t a way around it no more, I am the greatest
A lotta niggas sat on the throne, I am the latest
I am the bravest, go toe to toe with the giants
I ain’t afraid of you niggas, I’ll end up fading you niggas…
We all kings
Kings of ourselves first and foremost
While the people debate who’s the king of this rap game
Here comes lil’ ol’ Jermaine
With every ounce of strength in his veins
To snatch the crown from whoever y’all think has it
But rather than place it on his head as soon as he grabs it
Poof, boom, paow, it’s like magic
With a flash and a BANG the crown disintegrates
And falls to the Earth from which it came
Ain’t gonna be no more kings” J. Cole Fire Squad, Forest Hills Drive
Maaaaan, I’m fascinated by Hiphop! Over this past week I shared a lecture from Youtube by KRS-One called “40 Years of Hiphop” with my dance classes at The Ohio State University (Buckeyes National Champs say what!?) in order to get them exploring the question of “What is Hiphop?”
In pondering the question myself, I have gained insight to a powerful characteristic of the culture. Hiphop culture contains a paradox that emphasizes self-empowerment and peer-encouragement simultaneously through the form of art and competition. In other words, Hiphop allows the opportunity for an individual to be confident enough to claim that they are the best while also being selfless enough to claim that their peers are the best as well.
This brings up the question of, what is it to be the best? I would say that to be THE best means to be YOUR best. Hiphop culture in the form of bboying, emceeing, djayin, and graffiti writing offers an artistic format in which individuals are encouraged to show their best selves. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I am dancing within a battle, I am going out with the mindset that I am the best dancer out there! Nobody can touch me- I am better than you, you, you, and you! Before you claim me as being pretentious, let me remind you that I desire for my competition to show me their dance with the same mentality!
Why you may ask? Because ultimately, I am Hiphop, and Hiphop is me. But Hiphop is not just me, it is also anyone else who claims that they’re Hiphop. So, therefore, by both of us expressing our best selves through dance, Hiphop is at its best. If both my competition and I consider each other as whack, we ultimately devalue ourselves, and therefore, Hiphop. However, if both my competition and I find empowerment in being our best self, while encouraging the other to be their best self, we both leave as individuals with more value than when we came into the space.
When you look at the quote above, you see this same paradox in the rap element. J. Cole released his album a few months ago and with that release, claims that he is the greatest emcee alive! If you’re agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, you’re missing the point. Now I have to admit, I cannot claim that J. Cole is doing anything more than simply laying out some hot, yet narcissistic lyrics; however, for the sake of this post, lets say he is being intentional. Now J. Cole, being Hiphop and having a Hiphop mindset, is the greatest because he said so! As a fellow Hiphop artist, I say that he is right. Not necessarily because I believe J. Cole’s talent beats all others, but because I believe he, through his album, is contributing his best self to the Hiphop collective.
Hiphop is not the only culture that shares this mindset. As a Christian, I know that Christianity also contributes to this idea of being your best while encouraging others’ to be theirs in order to fulfill the body of Christ. The thing that fascinates me about this concept in regards to Hiphop is people’s perception of the culture. I am generalizing when I say this, but I do not believe many people think that Hiphop culture touches upon anything deeper than money, women, materialistic pleasures, drugs, guns, and partying (Thanks mainstream media!!!). Yet, Hiphop’s foundation also lies in the concept of power to the individual and responsibility to one’s community, amongst many other things. So what is Hiphop? Hopefully, you’ve gathered that it is deeper and more complex than you ever imagined!