Healthy Distrust

Hip-hop's trends in 2005

What Kanye said. Yes, we know. The subject of Kanye and Katrina has been covered ad nauseam, and nothing that we're going to say here is likely to change your perception of it. But regardless of how you feel about what he said, you have to give West credit for reintroducing mainstream hip-hop to politics. (Or is that politics to mainstream hip-hop?)Sure, hip-hop's underground ghetto is a breeding ground for scorching polemics — this year alone saw the release of The Perceptionists' Black Dialogue, Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2 and Sage Francis' A Healthy Distrust — but their messages are generally either convoluted by an esoteric and self-defeating focus on "inside baseball" hip-hop politics or lost in a choppy miasma of bad beats and/or nonexistent distribution.

In contrast, what Kanye said was clear, simple and nearly ubiquitous. And while most of the focus was on West's condemnation of Bush, it was perhaps more important that he confronted the still-taboo issue of race in America. It's revealing that for the West Coast rebroadcast of the program, his comments were edited out. To paraphrase Ice T, we have freedom of speech just as long as we watch what we say, and when rappers step out of line — when they stop talking about bling, bitches, pimpin' and ho-ing — then the censors will swoop in. And as hip-hop grows more violent and restless, West may very well be the music's last, best hope and the most dangerous man in the industry.

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