Written by Mass Dosage
The Fifth chamber: Knowledge of Self
In the hectic late 20th century the self has become an elusive concept - how many of us are in tune with who we really are? How many of us know exactly where our lives are going and why? These are not simple questions. If you scratch below the surface you will find that to answer them you need to have something in your life that gives it a sense of meaning. What people 'use' to derive this meaning varies - Religion, philosophy, drugs, love etc. Even Hip-hop has been described as a "way of life" - a stepping stone to discovering who you are by providing a culture people can identify with and express themselves through.
In fact this is exactly how Hip-hop is currently being viewed by underground activists and purists right here in South Africa (Ready D from POC, Emile YX? from Black Noise and Shamiel X to name but a few). They even go so far as to advocate that this "Knowledge of self" be incorporated into Hip-hop as the 5th central tenet (in addition to DJ'ing Breakdancing, Graffiti, and MC'ing). To me this makes perfect sense - if Hip-hop intends to survive as a culture it needs to offer its members more than just entertainment. It should also provide people with a means of ordering the chaos of their lives so that they have a sense of purpose.
This is what is being overlooked by the record industry who are only out for one thing - money. They don't give a shit whether an artist tries to educate their fans or not, all they care about is sales, sales, sales. They will do virtually anything to boost profits - including commercialising the culture and perverting it for their own financial benefit. How much meaning can you get out of a Puff Daddy or Foxy Brown song (I've got to name names, sorry!) compared to something by Jeru or KRS-One?
The counter-argument is that the commercial aspect keeps Hip-hop alive by generating publicity for the whole culture. While this may be true, it presents the public with a completely false picture of what Hip-hop is. The misinformed masses raise criticisms about misogyny and violence, without realising that there is much more to Hip-hop than explicit lyrics. The question we must ask is "Can one have a healthy 'true' culture and a commercial culture?"
I personally don't think so. It leads to too much confrontation and confusion within the culture as people with totally different values are labelled as one group, while they definitely do not get along like one group. Those in it for commercial reasons do not seem to think any further than their own bank accounts and in doing so neglect the responsibility they have to develop the culture and its followers. They take what they can and give nothing back in return. Often this lack of contribution renders them disposable and they end up joining the rest of the Hip-hop parasites in obscurity as the record company moves on to their next temporary money-making machine.
How do MC's like KRS-One remain in the treacherous Hip-hop game for over 8 albums? Firstly, they have skills. Secondly, they have knowledge of self and are not afraid to share this with their audience, even if it means dropping philosophies which go over the heads of the masses - thereby preventing them from becoming the money-making flavour of the month. Those proposing that a sincere search for knowledge of self should be added as Hip- hop's 5th chamber have the Dose's support - it can only be to the long-term benefit of the culture as a whole.