hip-hop Archives - The Jose Vilson


Short Notes: David Foster Wallace On Hip-Hop?

by Jose Vilson on August 18, 2013

in Short Notes

Dwight Schrute on My Facebook Page

Dwight Schrute on My Facebook Page

A few notes:


“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that … imitation is suicide … that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but though his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which residents in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Kendrick Lamar’s Control (Happy Birthday, Hip-Hop)

by Jose Vilson on August 13, 2013

in Jose

Kendrick Lamar as MLK Jr.

Kendrick Lamar as MLK Jr.

“What are you listening to?”

I know. I’m not supposed to have kids listening to their iPods in school. It was after the ELA state test, and they needed to decompress after another long period of little to no movement.

“What do you mean, Mr. V?”
“I mean, what are you listening to?”
“You know, stuff.”
“Stuff? Like, what kind of stuff?”
“Umm, rap, you know …” as he waves his hands, presumably to shy away from actually answering what he’s listening to.
“Like …” I’m not afraid.
“Chief Keef.”
“What song?” with my sternest Mr. Vilson voice.

Was he serious?

“Yeah, like, the song is just about ballin’.”

I didn’t ask for lyrics. When he told me the next song was called “Macaroni Time,” I didn’t push him any further.

A few months later, we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of hip-hop, a rebel music born in New Jersey (really), but matured in the Bronx. Its international reach has now been achieved in all art forms, from the breakdance and the graffiti to the DJing and fashion. Yet, the rap component has gotten the most attention, and for obvious reasons.

Rap’s been through so many phases, where we’ve been treated to a whole spectrum of lyrical possibility, from the super-simple a-b-a-b of Sugarhill Gang, the politically charged era of Chuck D, the rhyme dexterity of Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, the smoothness of A Tribe Called Quest and the Roots, to the rawness of NWA, Biggie, and 2Pac, the gangsta of Snoop and Dre, the ebullience of Ma$e and Fugees, and the luxury raps of Jay-Z and Kanye.

Today, Kendrick Lamar, an up-and-coming rapper of this generation, dropped what many consider a gem of a feature on Big Sean’s “Control.” Twitter lost its mind as he challenged the current crop of rappers to the throne. In the middle of that discussion, someone dropped the meme above.

My sense of humor dropped in before I could be offended, but many found the meme to be offensive, saying that kids these days have no historical context and thus, this meme was disrespectful. Of course, I completely understand this perspective. The Civil Rights Movement is nothing to sneeze at, much less make light of in a meme. Martin Luther King’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Monument didn’t just represent a great opus in American history, but the hopes and dreams for a better America for all citizens, regardless of background.

Having said that, my question is, who do kids relate to? A guy who’s been diluted in schools to a caricature or a young rapper who exposes all his flaws and speaks their language? It’s almost as if every generation continues the tradition of denigrating the generation after it for lacking historical context, as if our generation somehow assured the next generation would understand these histories in their language. If anything, the previous generation finds a way to talk down to the next as a means of control and, frankly, an elitism that shouldn’t exist.

So, rather than conform, they revolt. Jazz, be-bop, blues, rock, disco, and rap (and surely many others) came out of his intergenerational frustration, growing extra-explicit by the years.

Those of us that work with students ought to notice this and, rather than have kids fit into a small box that we’ve created for what a “leader” looks like, understand the context in which the “congregation” resides. For, if we remember MLK Jr. as the legendary activist, not the lowly preacher and party-starter in his early 20s. We remember Malcolm X as the great orator and community spark plug, not the drug selling pimp of his youth. We don’t know if they had the “audience” that the Temptations, Little Richard, or Miles Davis had at their times. We just know that, over time, they came to represent something.

My kids are listening to Chief Keef, Wiz Khalifa, and Kendrick Lamar. They think LeBron James is better than MJ, or soon will be. They may not make any of my lists for favorite rappers. Rather than blast them for being wrong, let’s listen to what they have to offer, show them an alternative, and hope they somehow tap into a more human experience, one that empowers them and not through violence.

I’m happy for those that want to promote the “positive” hip-hop, too, but what made hip-hop great wasn’t just the Slick Ricks and Run DMCs, but the Digital Undergrounds and Outkasts as well. When we appreciate rap for all its capable of, and then decide which side we lie on, that makes for healthy rap. If, as we have now, we only focus on “negative” rap, then we cloud our own judgment, and thus, how we react when kids listen to Drake or J. Cole.

Perhaps we’d do well to understand the nuance in his lyrics too. With songs like “Real,” “The Art of Peer Pressure,” and “Black Boy Fly,” we get a chance to listen to the voice of a generation of youth of color. To listen intently. To listen with both ears. Then speak. When it’s our turn. Then teach accordingly.



Short Notes: Hip-Hop Didn’t Fail America

by Jose Vilson on December 2, 2012

in Short Notes

Jon Stewart Keeping It Real

Before I proceed, dozens of people from various school districts have told me that my site is blocked on their school computers. In the event that it is, you can always get my articles via e-mail by signing up on the right-hand side of this blog or by subscribing via RSS for my savvy readers, also on the right-hand side.  They can block my site’s URL, but they can’t block your e-mails or your RSS reader.

A few notes:



“Elites hate when the masses take charge of their own destiny, it make them irrelevant. That’s why we’re taught FDR, not A Phillip Randolph. ”

- Kenzo Shibata


Nas, Lil’ Wayne, and Adolf Hitler: A Rap and Education Memo

August 20, 2012 Jose

The latest news that may signal a sea change for hip-hop is that Nas, one of the most prolific and legendary artists in rap, may have asked for help with a few concepts in his album N*gger, or, as a few people have described it, had ghostwriters. The term “ghostwriting” has been reserved for guys […]

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Because Mos Def Can Say It Better Than I Can Right Now

October 10, 2011 Video

Because Mos Def can say it better than I can (all emphases mine) … The fresh, the author and associates are proud to present M-Def the Black, fantastic raw Dynamic, true Ecstatic, ghetto outstanding Classic active every place, I have The skill, power, passion, raise your red lantern Stanzas and anthems based on expansion A […]

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The Manhood Series: About Eminem And My Own Slight Conflicts

July 8, 2010 Jose

“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t think it’s right that Benzino and the Source are calling Eminem Elvis?” “No, it’s like they’re using the pro-Black agenda superficially to garner the respect of the hip-hop community, and it’s gonna backfire because everyone knows it’s not true. It’s just personal BS from the Source ownership.” […]

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