- Knowledge: Can I Kick It?
"Truth is limitless in its range. If you drop a 'T' and look at it in reverse, it could hurt'." -Lupe Fiasco, "Glory"
Everybody knows what hip-hop is about, right? Money-drugs-hoes-bling, right? Wrong. It used to be all about telling the hard truths of the underclass to a world that didn't want to hear it. Rappers were at one time akin to spiritually-revived, socially-minded Robin Hoods. But then, the darkness of the world got to it and corrupted the once noble, pure art form. Now-having lost its original impetus of telling the truth behind-the-scenes-hip-hop music has all but devolved to nothing but violence, materialism, and downright falsehoods. Much of this new "gangsta" rap owes its thanks to what we would call "fakes": rappers who have either no genuine sense of talent and simply exploit their wealth, or realize that commercialism is the "in-thing" and consciously decide to not talk about actual experiences and instead hide behind a façade.
The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates would not approve of this, however. In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates argues that "until one knows the truth about each of the topics one speaks or writes about and is able to define each in its own terms", and until one has mastered the ability to articulate the truth about these complex experiences "that covers all the musical modes and simple speeches to the simple soul"-then, and only then, will one be able "to deal with the race of speeches in an artful manner, either in connection with teaching or in connection with persuading" (134). Later on, Socrates asserts that: "Being ignorant, when awake as well as when asleep, of what's just and unjust and of what's good and bad truly cannot escape being subjected to criticism, even if the entire populace praises it" (135).
In the preceding lines, Socrates is careful not to equate "knowledge" plainly with "truth"; to acquire information, he believes, does not mean that said information is factual and real. Throughout Phaedrus, Socrates, and in a way Plato, argue that the search for truth must also go hand-in-hand with the acquisition of truth-that to simply gain knowledge and not extract a shred of "realness"-no sincerity and no durability-from what one has picked up through experiences renders everything else null.
One modern artist dedicated to following such lines of thought as Socrates's while combatting the current "fake" trend in hip-hop is a young man who goes by the name Lupe Fiasco. He has been lauded by both critics and rap aficionados for the complexity of his lyrics and the positivity of his overall message. Lupe himself once said: "As a communicator, I'm gonna make sure that what I put out there is the truth. If I sell a million records, and it's a lie on every single song, then I've sold a million lies" (Fiasco video). A similar sentiment is shared by writer Walter Ong, who in his own critique of Plato's Phaedrus, opines: "If a book states an untruth, ten thousand printed refutations will do nothing to the printed text: the untruth is there for ever" (II).
This disdain for lies spread through media is also evident in Socrates's argument throughout Plato's Phaedrus. He tells us that a personal responsibility is on the teacher of knowledge-the person in a position of influence and authority-to not spread any falsehood to those under him. In Socrates's viewpoint, knowledge is "the serious treatment" of various subjects, only bettered by the use of a certain "dialectical art" that, when backed up by "speeches that can defend both themselves and the one who planted them", "grow up in other abodes, so that this process is rendered eternal and immortal" (134). The quest for knowledge must also be a quest for something real-something valuable, something lasting.
In the context of today's reality, the knowledge we end up finding is often distorted by manipulators concerned with only one thing: Their own gain. That same knowledge that could unify us and make all our lives so much easier-that positive thing inside of us all that could make us "as happy as a human being can be" (Plato 134)-has been at the hands of deceivers bent on exploiting the masses and furthering negativity and division. In fact, critics charge that many of today's hip-hop artists have failed their genre-that they have distorted what was once an art form concerned with social justice, into a vapid shadow of its former shine with an overwhelming need to push misogyny and regressive thinking. In other words, in many ways, these hip-hop artists are putting on an act.
This fostering of negativity is what Lupe sees and takes issue with. While he admits that he has to acknowledge that, to some extent, "gangsta" music is reflecting what actually goes on in the inner cities, he find it is even more disturbing that no one else around him cares enough to present the flip side of the coin: the meaningful, honest, positive side of music-the truth:
I hate the institutionalized music business at present. You have these super violent records coming out, selling tens of millions of copies, and that becomes the precedent. Not that I don't want that stuff to exist, no, but I just it as a challenge to tell the other side of the story. I'm gonna keep it balanced (Fiasco video).
Ultimately, as Plato stresses, the best way to gain knowledge is simply through experience. The obligation of those whose experiences put them in a position of authority is to relate those experiences under them in a reliable, eloquent, inspiring fashion in order to, as Lupe Fiasco would put it, "keep the positivity cycle going."
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…" - Hosea 4:6a
Plato. The Phaedrus [Dialogue]. (Originally composed circa 370 BC). Reprinted in The Symposium and The Phaedrus: Plato's Erotic Dialogues.
Ong, Walter. "Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought." The Written Word. Ed. Gerd Baumann. Oxford; Clarendon, 1986. 23-50.
"Lupe Fiasco: USA Network Character Approved Award Winner" [Video]. (2009). Retrieved September 7, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZ1ertk19Uo
[Written September 24, 2010]
© 2010 Jessie C. Smith
Hope you guys are happy with it. It was the first genuine paper I had to turn in for my English class, Expository Writing: Media Manipulation, and my teacher herself said it was quite laudable. Final grade was a decent 90. :iunno: You guys be the judge, though. I'd like feedback, since I have a new essay coming up at the end of the week and I myself would like to see what others think of my style. Thanks!!