The Gentrification of Rap:
Did Hip Hop Sell Us Out ?
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott
“aka a sellout /rap definition/get off
that boy/change your mission”
Although broken glass was everywhere,
unemployment was at a record high and 911 was a joke, Clive Saddler’s Sedgwick
Ave neighborhood was not the jungle the media portrayed; it was home and full of
promise. But everyday the six o’clock news would run stories about drugs, murder
and falling property values.That was until Universal Development Corp. came in
with the bulldozers. One year later, the streets are clean, new businesses are
on every corner and the police know everybody by name. Clive still lives there,
behind the garbage bin of Sal’s Deli. But what happened to the rest of his
neighborhoods who couldn’t afford the rent of the new brownstones? Nobody knows
and nobody cares....
If you live in any ‘hood in America chances are
you have heard of gentrification. In every city it's the same story, businesses
close down, property values drop and the local news starts reporting about how
dangerous the neighborhood has become. Than one day a development company rolls
in and buys up all the property dirt cheap. A few years later the projects have
become a paradise and the news is reporting how it is one of the best places to
live in America.
The same can be said for Hip Hop.
early years , rap music was seen as the authentic voice of “inner city” America.
Groups from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Run DMC made records about
the trials and tribulations of growing up in the proverbial “ghetto.” Within
five years, rap music had grown from just an obligatory observation to a
critical analysis of the socio-economic conditions that created the ‘hood in the
Although Hip Hop has had a small group of hip, suburban
fans since the early years, for most of mainstream White America, rap music was
something to be feared and best avoided. However, by the end of the 80’s, MTV
and major corporations had come to realize that the money that could be made
from what they once considered ghetto garbage outweighed the risk of getting
mugged in some dark alley way in the South Bronx.
As the popularity
of Yo MTV Raps began to grow, so did White America’s acceptance of Hip Hop.
So, by the time Treach of Naughty By Nature issued the chilling warning “if you
ain’t never been to the ghetto, don’t ever come to the ghetto.” White America
saw it as a party invitation. If you watch some of the throwback Hip Hop
documentaries, the climax is always when a teary eyed ol’ school rapper
reminisces about that glorious day when his majority Black audience turned lily
But, in retrospect, was that a good thing?
course, the added exposure meant more money in the bank but at what cost?
Contrary to the title of LL Cool J’s classic album, “bigger” ain’t always
Probably, the area hardest hit
by crossover was Afrocentric, conscious Hip Hop. While it was briefly tolerated
by white America, it was never truly accepted by the mainstream. There were
just so many times that Poindexter was gonna allow himself to be called a “slave
maker and bloodsucker of the poor” regardless of how funky the beat was. Thus,
answering the great philosophical question, “can a man condemn himself” with an
While much attention has been given to “gangsta rap” as
the cause of the demise of pro-Black Hip Hop, it must be remembered that the the
less racially “offensive” De La Soul and the Native Tongues Movement as well as
the dance music of MC Hammer and the rise of Vanilla Ice played a role ,as
During that era, while the average Black rapper rejoiced in his
new found suburban fans , it was, actually, white rappers, MC Serch and Pete
Nice from 3rd Base, that warned of the change that was coming on songs like “Gas
Face” and “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
So, as time progressed the measure
of the success of a rap artist became how many middle class White kids bought
his CDs. And eventually Yo MTV Raps eclipsed the popularity of shows like BET’s
Rap City. For instance, although, many rap fans are familiar with Ed Lover, Dr.
Dre and T-Money, only a true Hip Hop head can tell you about Chris Thomas, Joe
Claire and Big Lez.
While many may point to money as the motivating
factor behind crossover, that is not entirely true, as one cannot put a dollar
value on the psychological need for White acceptance in the Black
Have you ever wondered why the superstar rapper who always
shows up grinnin’ at the Grammy Awards is always missing in action at the Soul
Train Music Awards? There is that annual awkward moment when the nervous
presenter has to say,
“And the winner of the Life time
achievement/Hip Hop song of the year award is......Well, um, he couldn’t be
here tonight, so...um..I’m gonna accept this on his behalf....”
is said that “once you go black, you never go back” but once you go white forget
about it. If Biffy leaves Sally Ann for Shaquana, he may get a little more
swag in his style and start listening to “some Marvin Gaye, some Luther
Vandross, a little Anita to set the party off right,” but he’s basically the
same dude. But when Rasheed leaves Bonita for Becky , he loses his darn mind.
His whole world perspective changes. All of a sudden even the most culturally
aware brotha develops cultural amnesia and becomes a colorblind Hip Hop hippie ,
vehemently, attacking any discussion of “black” issues as outdated and
As we wind down another Black Music month, the point here is
not to whine about what happened to our culture. But to develop ways to save
Or else one day when our children ask us what happened to real
Hip Hop we’ll just shrug our shoulders and sing like Joni
“They paved paradise and put up a parking
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip
Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at (919)
308-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org
His website is NoWarningShotsFired.com Follow on Twitter @truthminista