Y-Pulse National Mashup 2008: Totally Wired Hip-hop

I am sitting in the panel “Totally Wired Hip-hop: Reaching Urban Youth.” Lynne D Johnson is moderating this panel that features MC Hammer, Adisa Banjoko from the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and Jesus Lara from MTV Latin America. I guess you are wondering why I am sitting at a panel on how to market to the hip-hop youth. Since my job is supporting strategic communications in disenfranchised communities, I am interested in how marketing is important in the hip-hop urban youth community.
Lynne asks “when we talk about hip-hop youth, we mean black and Latino youth, how is this relevant?” Panelists respond discussing how hip-hop is a lifestyle and culture along with a form of musical expression. Hip-hop is global and always mixing with other forms of music and reproducing new and unique sub-cultures.
I think it is very important to think about and strategize how to reach youth of color, but I have more questions about what kind of content we are pushing and what behaviors we are asking of youth. How is simply reaching youth effective or important if they are being hand fed content that is ignorant, racist, sexist or merely marketing product?
But this is not a call for increased censorship. I completely support the flow of diverse forms of content. As Lynne just said, “sometimes the only way to get your message across is by using profanity.” I definitely do not fall in the camp of “turn off that profane rap music!” I think the bigger question is what does the messages in mainstream hip hop tell us about lived conditions about urban youth of color? What marketers don’t care about is the images that sell the most are glamorized visions of “ghetto life” which is not that glamorous in real life.
MC Hammer smartly asks, “How do we change the conditions and environment that are producing these songs?”
My bigger question is what is the role of gender in marketing to youth via hip-hop? Why is sexist and homophobic music the most popular and what does tell us about current conditions for youth of color? And finally, how does feminism need to broaden to understand how to address the representation of women of color in mainstream hip-hop that is heavily marketed to youth?

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  • Jess

    I think you touch on a few important issues here.
    I always sort of thought Hip-Hop as a cultural phenomenon used to reach young people is a bit of a red herring. You might just as well have asked the same question about Rock-n-Roll in 1966.
    Hip-Hop isn’t some weird alien pod-people force taking over the minds of youth, it’s a cultural phenomenon no different from a thousand others that have come and gone since “youth culture” was reasonably well-defined in the 1920s. (Mostly by marketers and advertisers, I might add).
    A better — and broader question is why mainstream feminism has such a reputation for being “white women only” and how to change that. I’m not saying there are no feminists of color out there, but there is a deep and abiding sense that the feminism most people see is geared to the concerns of white women, and specifically white women with money. Hilary Clinton is in some ways emblematic of that.
    That’s the question I think that feminists – just like a lot of the progressive coalition built over the last several decades – needs to ask and keep asking.
    I mean, looking at Hip – Hop the way you’ve framed it — it just seems to me you are exoticizing something that doesn’t merit it.