deposed Motown CEO
in One World magazineYou want drama? How about those Lee jeans patches from back in the day? Unfounded rumors circulated throughout New York City public high schools in the fall semester of 1984, about free sneakers given away at stores in exchange for x-amount of Lee patches. So, to the mangled-lyric chant of a Tears for Fears tune ("Shout! Shout!/Lees are played out!"), bands of B-boys went ripping through hallways, tearing the backsides out of unsuspecting victims like duly deputized fashion police. There was retribution for not staying current with hip-hop style, back in the day. Suffering 15-year-old puppy love, one day I traveled from the Bronx to the tree-lined suburban streets of Elmont, Long Island, and experienced several boldfaced perceptions, including this one: Kids from around my way took pains to appear moneyed, and kids from the burbs wanted badly to look broke. White, toothbrush-scrubbed, shell-toed Adidas gave way after two-hour train rides to beat-up, scrawled-on high-top Converses in dingy shades of gray. Iron-pressed pairs of $50 two-tone AJ jeans worn at the handball courts of the Bronx were a peculiarity to those Green Acres mall rats in faded $20 Levis with holes worn through the knees. Is it remotely possible that these highly style-conscious teens, maturing into the black 20-somethings of the hip-hop generation, retained their high-fashion fixations? Run-DMC made the glaring contrast crystal clear to both contingents when they resurrected Aerosmiths career with 1986s "Walk This Way" video for MTV and local New York Hot Tracks viewers alike. The group had been acknowledging their interest in creature comforts ever since their "Sucker MCs (Krush-Groove 1)" introduction in March 1983: "I got a big long Caddy/Not like a Seville/And written right on the side/Is We dressed to kill." The intrinsic bond between Runs sentiments and those of Ma$e from last autumns "Do You Wanna Get $?" is plain: "I could go the whole summer/Gold Hummer/But Id rather go Lex bubble/Cause its less trouble." Hip-hop culture in the 80s had its own materialistic trappings; MCs like Jay-Z ("Being broke is childish/And Im quite grown") were quite enamored of articles of old-school adornment such as sheepskin coats, leather-bubble goose-down coats, Gazelle sunglasses, Nissan Maximas, Kangol hats, $100-plus Air Jordan sneakers, Ballys shoes. In 1998, preoccupation with cellular phones, Nautica vans and Fendi shades is not the spawn of Bad Boy Entertainment; its a natural progression for a full-grown culture of folk with bigger bank accounts. Our initial direction as Public Enemy was to market nationalism. Our concept was to wear African leather medallions or something other than gold because people were getting their heads taken off for gold back then. We knew that if our people were going to be trendy, we could at least make it trendy to have them learn about themselves and their history . . . People call hip-hop a culture. Hip-hop is a subculture. Black peoples culture is culture. Our whole existence is culture.
Fight the Power: Rap, Race, and RealityMy great-grandpa Johnson is a longtime deacon at Harlems Convent Avenue Baptist Church. Shaking off early-morning lethargy and lamenting the passing of Sunday-morning cartoons, I attended an occasional service with my parents back in my single-digit-aged youth. Under my drowsy circumspection were the wooden pews, colorful stained-glass windows and hand-held fans adorned with the images of young, virtuous church girls or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More relevant, I noticed the dress of the worshipers: broad-brimmed, often elaborately styled hats and elegantly puritanical dresses on the women; handsome yet unyielding suits on the men. Sunday best. Easters were especially voguish my young cousins and I always wore brand-new suits, which we were certain to outgrow by the following Easter. Church was the social life for many migrated Southern blacks who worked diligently six days a week, which accounted for the grand visual display. Black materialism spans back to civil-rights-era baby boomers, and back further to zoot-suited Harlemites of the jazz age. America is the birthplace of custom-tailored gangsters and Dynasty and Dallas, and of the snooty material elitism of the 80s yuppie tome The Bonfire of the Vanities.And since the very beginning, mainstream black America has inevitably acceded to wealths influence. If hip-hop culture is negatively beset by materialism, its essential to dig a little deeper before placing the blame on Puff Daddy. In his essay "Greed Is Only the Begin- ning," Chicago State University professor Haki R. Madhubuti wonders, "Where are the serious rich among our people who are concerned about the vast majority of black people? It is sad to say there are tens of thousands of black people in the United States with serious money, skills and talent who do nothing except compete in the Western race for conspicuous-consumption champions. The money that black people earn in the U.S. stays in the black community for about four hours. The real dilemma among most blacks with money is that of values." This is why sociopolitical purists of the hip-hop nation boo Sean Combs. Dont knock me for trying to bury Seven zeros, over in Rio Dijanery Aint nobodys hero . . .
Puff Daddy, "Its All About the Benjamins"