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Oct 2 2012 11:13AM
Following the hip hop vision
WATCH THIS SPACE: Singer, songwriter Frank Ocean has written for the best in the business. Picture: AFP
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Tankiso Komane

It’s one thing to accuse hip hop music and its musicians of promoting violence, which, by its very nature, comes over as homophobic and sexist.

It’s quite another, however, for society to choose to turn a blind eye to the global impact that hip hop has made in all its various forms as a musical culture and a form of expression.

That said, one can recall, in the 80s and 90s to be precise, referred to as the golden era of hip hop, when creative diversity and artistic innovation was at the heart of this growing self-conscious movement.

This is the period when the likes of LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Naughty by Nature, DJ Jazzy Jeff – and female movers and shakers in the form of Queen Latifah and the five-time Grammy award winner Missy Elliot, both known for their beat boxing abilities, would help re-define hip hop with their fresh game-changing sound.

Their sound, fresh from its roots on street corners, didn’t have to rely on any form of publicity or some public misdemeanour in order to sell records or be heard.

This is about the period that Russell Simmons, the hip hop mogul and visionary who has been influential in defining what’s next for hip hop, would define as a defining moment for hip hop in his self-help book, Do You.

Stating that the vision that the young generation of hip hop artists had back in those days was similar to that of Jesus, he said: “Hip hop is all about believing in your vision.

In its original form, hip hop was about a person grabbing a microphone telling the world how he or she experienced it.

It was usually about a poor kid creating an all powerful vision and sharing it with friends, the hood,block, the city and ultimately the world.

“That’s how hip hop started – deprived kids – rhyming about everything,” said Simmons.

However, he also talks about how, over the years, hip hop has evolved to a point where that artistic attitude has been transformed into a business model.

A classic case in this regard would be rapper Jay-Z, who has transformed himself into a formidable brand worldwide, with a range of businesses in film, music, clothing and basketball.

In fact, Jay-Z is nearly at the top of the Forbes’s Hip-Hop cash kings list at number three, hot on the heels of rapper Dr Dre as the leading man, followed by P Diddy at number two, with Kanye West at four, followed at five by Lil’Wayne, the Mirror hitmaker who is set to release his own custommade line of headphones next month.

For those not “in the know”, Jay-Z has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, while receiving fourteen Grammy awards for his musical work among his other major achievements.

Ranked as one of the greatest rappers of all-time, he co-owns the 40/40 Club, is part-owner of the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets and is also the creator of the popular Rocawear clothing line, in addition to share-holding rights for Def Jam Recordings, which was founded by Simmons himself.

Other phenomenal rappers who have similarly carved successful businesses outside music include the 18-time Grammy award winner Kanye West, whose women’s clothing line, DW Kanye West, was launched last year amid much fanfare at the Paris Fashion Week.

This new economic impact in the world of hip hop, said Simmons, has managed to prove that “a bunch of kids who didn’t go to school, who don’t have MBAs, who don’t speak proper English can still make a lot of money.

“Despite their apparent lack of sophistication and training, they have shown that they can still create thriving businesses, companies that leave the rest of corporate America still playing catch-up.”

So, while everyone else is struggling, cutting back and trying to down-size, how are these kids from the ghetto rolling up in brand new Bentleys and building new companies every week? It’s really simple. They believe in their vision.

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