People Lie about the 1990’s

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Right now, we’re in the midst of a Presidential election in America. The sides have been drawn and a referendum is about to be made. In part, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has not only made this totally about himself but the character he represents and epitomizes to the rest of society and the World. Trump epitomizes the greedy, self-indulgent, arrogant, loud-mouthed, ignorant, over-bearing, crude, unreasonably wealthy “White” man with an attitude. That persona will be put on trial after it is fully displayed in all of its American ugliness and that is how it should be, but…

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Meanwhile, oddly enough, as a remnant of the primary season, the decade of the 1990’s are being put on trial because of Hillary Clinton. The new take on the 1990’s depicts it as a decade of misery, where every “Black” person was being locked up. It was the era that mass incarceration started because of the Crime Bill, then President Bill Clinton proposed. At the time, Hillary was the First Lady and only spoke in support of the legislation. She didn’t get to vote for it like Bernie Sanders did, or put her “stamp on it” like the Congressional Black Caucus did, or allow it to pass with their additions like the Republican Senators who voted for it did. She, like many others at the time wanted to present a stronger face for Democrats who began to be ‘tougher on crime’. In the end, everyone who voted for the bill is responsible for the repercussions of it, so it was odd that Black Lives Matter protestors laid it at the feet of Hillary Clinton alone, even though she wasn’t an elected official at the time. She was the wife of the President who proposed the initial idea.

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At the end of the 1980’s, violence was a topic on everyone’s mind. The politicians, citizens, police and community leaders all called for a end to violence in the cities and even underground cultures like Hip Hop shared that sentiment. If you remember, in 1988, KRSONE released his song entitled Self-Destruction about crime in the community. In 1989, KRS started the Stop the Violence Movement, an awareness campaign that urged Hiphoppas to become more conscious and responsible for stopping community violence. On the political level, Bill Clinton reacted or over-reacted by proposing new laws that became the disparity of crack to powder cocaine sentencing in courts that disproportionately affected men ‘of color’. Also in the bill was an assault weapons ban, measures that decreased domestic violence and increased drug treatment programs and earmarked money for “midnight basketball”.  Like any multi-layered Congressional bill, their were many hands in the pot which created the stew.

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Overall, if we look objectively at the numbers, we see that violent crime, murder, aggravated assault, robbery and rape have all decreased dramatically since 1993. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter went from 24,526 in 1993 to 15,586 in 2000 when George Bush Jr was elected. On that same statistic, the number slowly ticked back up to 17,128 under Bush Jr. in 2007, then began to decrease again down to 14,827 under President Obama by 2012. Is this pattern a coincidence? The rise in incarceration went from around 700,000 people in the early 90’s to just over 1M in 2000. Now the prison population is over 2M. A few things to keep in mind are that there are around 80 million more people in the U.S. since the beginning of the 90s. There are about 320M people of which just over 2 million are behind bars. Even though many of those people are incarcerated unjustly for drugs and child support, that number is still less than 1% of the population (.69%).  If you asked what percent of people in the U.S. should be locked up, most wouldn’t say less than 1%. Keep it real.

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They say the 90’s were bad for ‘people of color’. I don’t agree at all, not just because that’s not what I experienced, but because the whole African-American population experienced a renaissance (check the numbers). It wasn’t necessarily because of the President but because of Hip Hop Kulture, college education, entrepreneurialism, and the rise of “Black” media. In the 1990’s “Black” media shouldered the responsibility, on its own, to create positive images while entertaining and uplifting youthful minds. From Spike Lee to Bill Cosby (The Cosby Show, A Different World), images of young people in college or pursuing education was a theme. It helped inspire others to do the same. Even Levar Burton’s persona as the host of the children’s educational show, Reading Rainbow, and as Science Officer Jordie LaForge on Star Trek showed positive images that influenced youth. Outside of that and any entrepreneurial climate set-up by the Clinton administration, the key factor to the ‘Black Renaissance’ was the rise of Hip Hop Kulture.

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Hip Hop was actually a 21st century business model that was created organically by urban youth trying to manage a way out of their dismal circumstances. Rather than any specific individual, Hip Hop rose more from a collective Spirit and consciousness of like-minded Hiphoppas. Coincidentally, it came to embody some of the aspects of the ‘New Model’ of shared value  between business and the community it serves. Some believe there is a value for business beyond profit margin and their independent description of such a business today, is a statement of what Hip Hop did in the 1990’s.

UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 11: HYDE PARK Photo of Flavor FLAV and Chuck D and PUBLIC ENEMY, B&W Posed (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)

UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 11: HYDE PARK Photo of Flavor FLAV and Chuck D and PUBLIC ENEMY, B&W Posed (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)

Kevin Gadd of Venture Highway believes there is another aspect to the value created by entrepreneurs. He states, “What is imperative for our future is that we are encouraging, fostering and teaching how to work with an entrepreneurial spirit.” He goes on to state that it’s not the act of entrepreneurship itself that creates value but the change in mentality of those who “took initiative, accepted the risk of failure, and had an internal locus of control.” This was Hip Hop in the 90’s. It walked on a tightrope, testing new limits without knowing exactly where it would lead. It’s locus of control was an internal desire to represent correctly, whether it was yourself or your neighborhood. Gadd feels that “we would all be better off,” if the idea of entrepreneurship was more pervasive in society. This idea of value in society other than profit begins to take shape here. This is the idea behind conscious, responsible hip-hop music. Gadd argues that there is value beyond just the purely economic that is created by an entrepreneur. This value is created by the example alone, which serves as inspiration for others. Hip Hop, over time, has come to exemplify “the self-made man” and rely heavily on this idea of entrepreneurship.

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The Gospel of Hip Hop by KRSONE defines entrepreneurialism as,

  1. The readiness to engage in the creation of a business venture that brings about grassroots business practices… focuses upon the motivating Spirit to be self-employed, inventive, creative and self-educated.
  2. It is this Spirit; the Spirit of self-creation, the urge to create and sell one’s own talents, discoveries and inventions that is encouraged by these teachings. Its practitioners are known as hustlers and self-starters. (An) entrepreneur is a self-motivated creative person who undertakes a commercial venture.

Here, the desire to be self-employed is equated to a “Spirit” similar to what was once considered “the pioneer spirit” to go West, in early American culture. Hip Hop entrepreneurialism re-energizes that concept for the 21st century. Michael E. Porter, a professor of at Harvard Business School, calls Creating Shared Value (CSV) the “next evolution of capitalism.” He says that in order for companies to maintain a competitive edge they will need to address the needs of consumers concerned with the prosperity of their community. Hip Hop did this in the 1990’s. The driving force behind artists and groups like KRSONE, Public Enemy, X-Clan, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, the Jungle Brothers, Paris, Jeru and others was to inject a heavy dose of realism and seriousness into hip-hop music that was “concerned with the prosperity of their community.”

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Porter also says that because of the traditional model of addressing the consumer, societal needs go unmet, while growth and innovation suffer. He says, we must redefine business around;

  • Unsolved customer problems or concerns – Hip Hop provided a voice to the voiceless; a platform for unrefined community representatives to speak about their deepest concerns and feelings.
  • Think in terms of improving lives not juts meeting consumer needs – Hip Hop did this by taking the stance that no matter what, the Hip Hop community would not settle for the scraps provided by those in power. Hip Hop would create its own path to prosperity. It redefined what was important to the life of a Hiphoppa, and at the time it wasn’t just money and success. It was about demanding and acquiring respect from society.
  • Identify customer groups poorly served or overlooked by industry products – Hip Hop was the voice of the underground; those not served by mainstream rhetoric and characteristics. Hip Hop was opposed to the mainstream and mocked those who supported it.
  • Start with no preconceived notions about product attributes, channel configuration, or economic model for business – It’s easy enough to start off without preconceived notions and just wing it, but Hip Hop soon realized an audience existed who desired raw originality, concept and skills from a Hip Hop perspective. It began to serve that marketing channel with quality products. The lack of an organized economic model is why we find the culture infiltrated by fakes, wannabees, posers and frauds instead of quality rap artists today.

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In the 1990’s, Hip Hop created a way out of the most oppressed areas in America without having to gain an overpriced certificate of completion at a University.  Hip Hop has also become one of the fastest growing cultures around the Earth, with its influence touching almost every corner of the modern World. In less than 40 years, Hip Hop went from a small sub-cultural genre of like-minded, mostly “black”, inner-city dwellers in NYC, to an international society of millions of individuals of all ethnicities and national affiliations. It has also created billions, if not trillions of dollars of wealth for countless numbers of employees, corporations and entrepreneurs. That is progress and the 1990’s are proof that creating shared value can lead to prosperity for millions and alter the course of mainstream culture.

Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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