I just finished watching Norotrious, as a New Yorker stuck here in DC, I simply had to do it. I liked it. I really liked it and was surprised how much I actually liked it. Yes, it was a movie about hip hop, it was a movie where the music was a character and Brooklyn was a character, just as much as were Biggie, Faith, Puff, Kim and espeically Violetta. But more than the music, it was a story of a kid struggling to be a man. Even now, it was stilla shock to be reminded that Pac was 25 when he died and Big was 24. The movie did a good job of showing both Pac and big as complex figures, who just like the rest of us, are neither all good nor all bad. But, at the end of the day, these two incredibly complex figures were just kids, faced with crippling poverty, responsibility and despair as children struggling ot make it through, and then suddenly presented with ridiculous amounts of money, guns, liquor, women and all sorts of temptation. We expected them to act like men, but they were still just kids playing a man’s game.
But what surprised me even more was how emotionally attached I felt. I found myself , to my own incredulosity, holding in tears while they showed Bk erupting in a spontaneous street party when Big’s funeral procession rode through. And while I definitely felt some ownership because there were parts of the movie that one probably just wouldn’t get if they weren’t from New York (DJ Enuff actually being the DJ for all of the scenes, Angie Mar’s voice on the radio, the constant shots of Fulton street signs), I really feel my strong emotional reaction is a testament to the true meaning of Hip Hop.
Hip Hop is a culture; not a subculture, but a culture. It is the culture of the marginalized and provides a community for all of us who never really felt like we were or could be a part of mainstream white American culture. Hip Hop tells us that we have value. While mainstream America tells us we are stupid and immature and have no future because we don’t walk with the proper stiffness or speak with the proper lack of tone and twang, hip hop tells us that we can belong to something that is positive and valuable. I feel emotionally involved because I am emotionally connected to the hip hop community – the community which told me that I could belong to something as I am when mainstream America told me I had to put on a a front to belong.
This isn’t a new idea – it’s something I wrote about way back in my senior year of undergrad, but Notorious gave me a chance to revisit it. As I wrote back in 2006,
[H]ip hop culture provides a vehicle through which … youth could establish themselves as the center, with the rest of the globe on the periphery. The focus of hip hop on the issue of “legitimacy” and “repping where you’re from” [and the joy repping N to the Y brings] allows creators/producers to marginalize their marginalizers. Hip hop is a community builder for the formerly displaced, including those who are not usually included and excluding those who are not usually excluded.