Hip-Hop History: Byron Hurt leads discussion on current hip-hop culture

(Photo By Erin Fitzmaurice)

Award-winning filmmaker Byron Hurt led a discussion on Wednesday night in DPAC about the current state of hip-hop and its intersection with socially aware music.

The discussion came after a screening of his 2006 documentary, “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”

The screening and discussion was the fourth and final program in a series of events commemorating Black History Month.

In the documentary, Hurt focused primarily on understanding hip-hop’s misogynistic, homophobic and violent themes to try to answer one central question.

How is masculinity depicted in hip-hop culture?

Speaking to a number of the hip-hop historians, professors and rappers, Hurt went deep into the inner workings of hip-hop culture and its intersection with African American masculinity, shedding light on some of its most controversial aspects.

Following the screening was a lengthy conversation about the differences between socially conscious and mainstream hip-hop.

“My film deconstructs what was at that time mainstream hip-hop,” Hurt said. “There are rappers who do say positive and socially constructive things. So I’m curious to know, who are some of those rappers?”    

Audience members were easily able to name a few familiar politically- aware artists, such as Chance the Rapper, J. Cole and Common.

However, the conversation took a turn when sophomore Jackson Stevens asked Hurt why he believes socially aware rap isn’t part of mainstream hip-hop.   

“I’m curious to know the answers and responses to the idea that conscious rap, or political hip-hop is so much more difficult to access,” Hurt said. “It’s less prevalent in the popular culture.  … What’s popular and current right now?  … And why are conscious artists less popular?”

For Cassandra Teneus, junior and Black Student Union president, the problem is systemic.

“The way our country is built. It’s not built for a person of color to succeed. It’s built for a white person to succeed,” Teneus said. “So when you have intellectual people rapping and spitting out real stuff, nobody wants to hear that because it’s like, ‘I don’t want to hear about a radical black person. I don’t want to hear about a person of color that knows. No, I want you to sing. I want you to shake your ass. … I don’t want to hear about why you love each other, about how you want to make things better, or make things difficult for us.’ Because in white people’s eyes, or should I say racist white people’s eyes, this is their country and we’re just living in it.”

Monét Johnson, a sophomore, said it’s because black Americans are internally pressured to live a sort of  “dual consciousness.”

People want to buy Future’s album because it flows well, Johnson said.

“But at the same time, it’s like, ‘If I don’t buy Kendrick’s album, I’m not supporting myself.’ … It’s this pressure on you to be supportive of things that you feel about yourself. … It creates a problem. If you’re listening to [Future] someone will come up to you and ask, ‘Why aren’t you listening to J. Cole? Why aren’t you listening to Kendrick?’ … There’s this pressure to enjoy one at the expense of the other.”      

Hurt observed how radically the industry has changed. Stating that in the earlier days of hip-hop back in the late 80s, the genre was much more diverse both in ideologies and gender roles.

“Back in the late 80s … there were 15 Kendrick Lamars, right? If I were to ask you who is the most dominant female MC right now, who would you say, Nicki Minaj, right? … Even in the mid-90s, there were like 10 popular female MCs if not more. So hip-hop has changed pretty dramatically from the time hip-hop was pretty much at its apex and popularity. … I can think of five really great artists who were as socially conscious if not more socially conscious as Kendrick Lamar. … It’s just amazing that the industry only has space for one or two if you want to include J. Cole.”   

The conversation pivoted when one audience member asked Hurt how he felt about the police expressing their displeasure with Beyonce’s controversial Superbowl half-time performance.

Hurt responded by saying how in a lot ways, there is a lack of compassion in understanding the intention of movements such as Black Lives Matters.

“Black Lives Matter has been disruptive over the last six to eight months. The power structure, and people that benefit from that power structure don’t like their lives to be disrupted, right? Most people who buy into racism don’t want to be challenged about their racism. … I think what those police officers were doing … they were sending a message if you speak against us we will not protect you. … They’re trying to silence the voices of marginalized people.”

Raysam Donkoh-Halm, a sophomore ,asked Hurt about the importance of social media and if he thinks it’s up to the community to make sure positive music is brought to the forefront.

“I do think it’s incumbent for all of us to spread and share the music or whatever the art is of the artist who are pushing boundaries, and that create art that’s great, that’s excellent,” Hurt said.

“At the end of the day, as far as I’m concerned, I’m more interested and I’m more attracted to art that is going to inspire me, that’s going to challenge me, and that ultimately is going to transform me as a human being, right? I’ll walk away from their art feeling as if my life could never be the same again.”

Donkoh-Halm said, “I thought it was great to have so many people who enjoyed hip hop today to watch a deconstruction of it and discuss it among other FSU students.”

Teneus said, “I think Byron Hurt raised controversial issues that have been in the American society forever and films like that help open up a new realm. Even though it’s 10 years old, it’s still going because the points brought up are still factual. They’re not just events that have curtailed people of color in the past. It’s continuing in the past, present and future.”

Johnson said, “I think it was fantastic, a great move by the diversity section on campus, and I think that we need to have more open talks about this because I think that race is talked about but not how the culture influences us. … I think that having an open forum for that is really important.”

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