You know how it works: reggae is misogynistic, hip-hop is homophobic – any kind of stereotype that will indirectly accuse a whole group of some unsavoury attitude.
Of course, hip-hop isn’t homophobic. It’s a form of poetry set to a rhythm. It descends from West African story-telling traditions, and it’s the most popular music form in world history. It has spread to every country and language and has expressed every kind of idea from love to hate, revolution to consumerism. Yes, it’s true there is some homophobic hip-hop. I wouldn’t call myself a hip-hop head, but I’ve heard some great hip-hop over the years, and some of my favourite tunes are in this genre.
[UPDATE: following complaints from a couple of pedantic bastards on Twitter, I should make clear that, while hip-hop does descend from West Africa, its birthplace as a recognisable genre was in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s.]
I heard this tune today – an anti-homophobia track, and thought I’d share it. It not only attacks dumb anti-gay bigotry, but gives the lie to those racists who try to attack black people as a monolithic group by trying to label and stereotype this art-form. Enjoy.
Yesterday, multi-millionaire posh-boy and British PM David Cameron spoke out on a subject that he clearly knows much about: multiculturalism. It doesn’t work, he says. Though silver-spoon from head to toe, apparently “Dave” also has his finger on the pulse of British culture beyond his fave Tapas bar in upmarket Notting Hill.
Unlike Dave, I wasn’t ‘lucky’ enough to be raised in a monocultural ghetto like Eton. Over 40 languages were spoken at my London state school, and white kids represented no more than 15% of the school population. London is probably the most mixed, diverse and racially harmonious city in the world. Immigrants make up a high percentage of the population, yet racist groups like the BNP and EDL find it impossible to establish a toe-hold within the city. The good people of London have been notoriously intolerant of intolerance, ever since they fought and beat the fascists of Oswald Mosley at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.
But how do you measure culture? How do you decide if an idea like multiculturalism has worked? For me, one answer is given by music. Thanks to immigration, and the British tendency towards cultural mixing, Britain has become one of the most creative music producers in the world.
Below is a small selection of “multicultural” British music – illustrations of the cultural power created when multiple influences come together without segregation. Feel free to listen to one or two… or all… or just read my comments on each track.
Ghost Town – The Specials – 1981 The Specials, from Coventry, were the original “two-tone” band, blending white skinhead music with Jamaican reggae to create UK Ska, and bringing white and black kids to the same gigs for the first time. The creation of the two-tone movement coincided with the fall of far-right street racism.
Food For Thought – UB40 – 1980 This mixed reggae band from Birmingham are still going strong, though much of their best work was made 30+ years ago.
Smooth Operator – Sade – 1984
Sade (pronounced Sharday): 50% Nigerian, 50% English, 100% British Soul.
Back To Life – Soul II Soul – 1989 Though black artists were rising from the late-70s, their styles were borrowed from Jamaica and the US. London-based Soul II Soul are credited with creating a truly British black sound for the first time.
Chok There – Apache Indian – 1993
Real name Steven Kapur, a DJ of Indian origin from Birmingham; blending Indian music with Jamaican-influenced Ragga, a true creation of the British Empire!
21 Seconds – So Solid Crew – 2001
This collective from South London were part of the UK Garage movement: a uniquely London music style whose roots include UK dance music, Jamaican dancehall and Hip Hop.
Terrorist? – Lowkey – 2010
Lowkey is a London rapper of mixed English and Iraqi descent, known for his political lyrics against racism and war.
So Dave, if you want to understand race and culture in your home city, take a bus up the road and let me help you. If I want to know whether to drink Beaujolais with foie gras, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.