As he nears the end of his series on hip-hop's relationship with Black America, Questlove answers questions from readers.
Quest-ion: So what’s the big deal if hip-hop is on its last legs? Isn’t that the case with any art form? Don’t things come and go? Won’t it pass through a cycle of revival or see something else spring up to take its place?
Answer: My point isn’t about general cultural trends of rise and fall so much. It’s about the way that the fall-off of hip-hop specifically affects African-American culture. Everything about African-American culture has been packed into hip-hop: as an adjective, as a concept, as a cultural marker. When that gets exhausted, much of Black culture — Black cool, Black identity, certain kids of humor and community — finds itself stranded in a cul-de-sac. And it’s a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood that’s decreasingly interested in grappling with ideas. If this kind of empathetic thinking isn’t happening in the broader culture, it’s going to happen even less in Black culture. People say that things get worse before they get better, but that’s just something people say. Again, I’ll drop some science as metaphor. Materials have a tensile strength, which is a measurement of the maximum stress that they can withstand before failing or breaking. That can happen as a result of violence, but it can also happen as a result of indifference, or craven commercialism, or thoughtless rhetoric, or thoughtless anything else, for that matter. Hip-hop can be stretched in a way that exceeds its tensile strength. Don’t think that there’s not a point of no return. Is that a triple negative? It isn’t not one.