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Do We Need To Be Rescued From Hip-Hop?

Submitted by on August 8, 2010 – 2:28 pm11 Comments

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”  ~Mark Twain

No truer words than those found above have ever been spoken. Of course, there was a time long ago when all were not welcome to know the freedom and power in books. But now that anyone can pick up a book, are we taking advantage of that freedom and power the way we should? And if not, is hip-hop culture to blame? If one turns to the origins of the art form, this notion seems ludicrous. However, those qualities which once shaped the golden age of hip-hop are not nearly as prominent as they once were, which brings us to the big question: Do we need to be rescued from our beloved hip-hop culture?

That question provides the basis for the book, Losing My Cool: How A Father’s Love and 15,000+ Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. In this book, the biracial Williams documents his identity crisis and subsequent relationship with hip-hop, a story all-too familiar for most of us. He describes hip-hop as having a “fear of learning,” and notes one of the most harmful aspects of the culture is the need to “keep it real.” This notion of keeping it real, Williams argues, keeps too many young people of color from distinguishing between the fact and fiction found in the words of their superstar idols. Instead, many adopt the traits and lifestyles that coincide with these songs, which then provide a fitting soundtrack to their lives.

Williams’s father, a Black man and a strong advocate of the power of books, required his son read and critically think. Although Williams acted tough out in the streets, he came home and obeyed his father, who led by example. He encouraged his son to have intellectual interaction with novels by underlining interesting phrases and constantly writing questions in the margins, essentially bringing the books to life. During Williams’s college experience at Georgetown, his exposure to other cultures forced him to reach a turning point.  The lessons he had learned from his father, the books he consequently discovered, and an innate thirst for knowledge finally caused him to turn his back on his formerly destructive and stifling lifestyle. Williams has since graduated Georgetown University and also earned his master’s from NYU.

Of course, some argue Williams uses stereotypes about the hip-hop community to make his points, and even broadens the stereotypes to apply them to Black culture in general. I’m sure others believe he made wonderful and perfectly valid points but let’s be clear: Neither hip-hop’s culture nor its music are 100-percent destructive, a fact that Williams seems reluctant to concede, especially when one considers he wrote an op-ed article in the Washington Post entitled “Yes, Blame Hip-Hop.” However, we do agree useful information can be gleaned from good books, as author Mark Twain so eloquently put it. For the record, good books are those featuring subject matter or commentary useful to the mind and consciousness, not merely the senses (sorry, Superhead book-club members).

Reading should cause us to look differently at ourselves, to examine—and sometimes update—our views, and help us understand the world around us. Reading books can be a catalyst to self-improvement—meaning, you might not have to “lose your cool” after all. But in fact, you might end up finding yourself.

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