A dream is a vision that is worth fighting for—Paulo Freire
Those who are in power are afraid of the masses once they understand that they have the power to change the reality of the world. The only way to do this is by having a clear vision that is accepted and invested in by a community of people. One of the major powers of rap music is that it communicates the struggle in a way that people can relate to it. The call and response that takes place between the artist and crowd is one that lets people know that they are not alone in the struggle. By isolating people and hindering real dialogue, those who have power stay in power. But when people begin to come together and engage in authentic dialogue they begin to realize that there is a common struggle that offers a common solution.
One of ways that this power of vision was demonstrated through Hiphop is through graffiti. Early writers took the risk of writing their names on walls of various neighborhoods. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was because this was mainly done at night in various gang territories. One kid in particular named Taki 183 challenged the stronghold of fear that gangs had on the community by doing just this. When the New York times came out with an article that explained who Taki was and what he was doing, the light went off in many people mind’s.
Suddenly they were less afraid to cross over into the various gang territories, because of this new found vision expressed through graffiti. Working together to make this dream a reality was a huge contributing factor to walls of separation coming down and people eventually coming together. The real walls as it turns out were the walls that were in people’s minds. Walls that graffiti was able to challenge and knock down so that new possibilities could be actualized.
Herc in the same way saw the opportunity that had arisen with the gang peace treaty and people being more willing to go to other neighborhoods. He caught the vision of bringing these folks together through music. By inventing what he called the merry go round, he was able to extend the break part of the record and open up the possibility for a new type of dance, and for the eventual emergence of rap to develop. People bought into this possibility that struggle could be turned into something that demonstrated individual power and collective beauty and this music started to spread all over the city. Soon this phenomenon would start to spread the message of new possibility to other cities.
Sylvia Robinson caught a vision for what could happen with this music when she heard a live recording of a Hip-hop party that her son brought home one day from a weekend in New York. Being a visionary leader, she ventured to find some artists that could record the first rap record. To her surprise many of the prominent rappers during the time didn’t see how recording their music could bring about any opportunity. They only saw how doing shows in clubs could bring in money and figured that taking time to record an album would distract them from getting paid to doing what they loved to do. Before admitting defeat, Sylvia Robinson decided to stop at a pizza stand, as legend tells it, the person working behind the counter was listening to a hiphop tape and was rapping along with it. Not realizing that this worker wasn’t the real author of the lyrics, she offered him an opportunity to record a song. The worker called in one of his friends who happened to be nearby and they ended up recording a song with other people’s lyrics. The group became named as the Sugar Hill Gang, and the song is known as “Rappers Delight”. The original authors of the lyrics were shocked when the record was played over the radio, had they had the vision they would have been the first ones to bring Hip-hop to the mainstream.
Russeell Simmons caught the vision that Hiphop could go beyond a one hit wonder, which is what happened with Sugar Hill Gangs Rappers Delight, and believed that Hiphop could become a genre respected by the world. By developing the vision for Def Jam and signing Kurtis Blow, Russell was able to cut a track named Christmas Rapping which launched Blow’s career. This success eventually led to other acts coming on board such a LL Cool J, Run DMC, and Beastie Boys, all of whom have now toured the world several times over. Even though other people more established in the record industry could have seized this opportunity more easily themselves, they never saw the potential of how youth living in the ghetto could bring something of value to the world. Without having this connection to a vision, they proved to be the ones in a ghetto mentality that could have literally made them millions if not billions of dollars. Since they did not catch on until the early nineties, people like Russell was able to take Hiphop to the mainstream and seize that opportunity. What vision do you see that maybe no one else sees? How can you start to work on making that vision a reality?