March 8, 2024


I just turned 40. As a Black man from the South who grew up in the thick of hip-hop culture, I know that getting old is a blessing. I know that heroes of mine from the Civil Rights era to the 90s rap era didn’t meet four decades, so I take this aging with a responsibility.

So, I’m a 40-year-old hip-hop head, and it’s weird because this is the culture that isn’t supposed to get old. Now, when visiting my parents, I get advice on teas like Smooth Move and watch commercials about low testosterone levels.

No matter how old I am, the culture I love and grew up in appears to be a decade older than me. I went to the 50th Hip Hop Anniversary Tour that boasted the likes of LL Cool J, De La Soul, Rakim, The Roots backing them, and more. The show started on time at 8 p.m., and LL joked that he would get everyone out at a “decent hour because we are older.”

When looking at this crowd, I wondered: Why aren’t these hip-hop fans, including my friends I attended the show with, listening to public radio?

Many artists attached to the tour have always been socially conscious. Groups like Public Enemy (whose frontman Chuck D hosted the PBS documentary, “Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World”) are credited with mobilizing a generation of music fans into social consciousness using their art. 

The commitment fans feel to the ideals of hip hop isn’t going away as we reach middle age. As he won the 2024 GRAMMY for Best Rap Album, 48-year-old Killer Mike told the crowd, “You can’t tell me you get too old. You can’t tell me it’s too late. You can’t tell me dreams don’t come true.” He swept every rap category at the GRAMMYs that year, and then was put in handcuffs backstage, which is a perfect analogy for the American Black experience.

The end of 2023 had one of the most joyous moments of the year, and that was when rapper Scarface (or, as his fans call him, “Facemob”) did a Tiny Desk performance that melted everyone’s heart. It was one of the few times everyone on social media agreed on something positive.

Fans who seek out rap music that isn’t on top-40 radio could be among the most eager public radio listeners. But despite excellent performances like the Tiny Desk shows, or the “Fight the Power” retrospective documenting a uniquely American art form whose influence reverberates across the globe, I realize that my local South Carolina radio affiliate doesn’t have anything that speaks to that crowd of 20,000 people that I saw dance to LL Cool J and then leave in time to get the babysitter home. 

I remember the days when LL only belonged to the fans of rap music, but now my Great Auntie gushes after watching him on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” or seeing him drive a train into someone’s home to deliver ice-cold beer during a 2024 Super Bowl commercial. Growing up, Snoop Dogg was the most feared rapper on the planet. I remember the days when the National Political Congress of Black Women Chair C. DeLores Tucker protested his “Gangsta Rap” and Reverend Calvin Butts steamrolled his tapes and CDs. Now, Snoop is a grandfather who collaborates with Martha Stewart and sells everything to the consumer, from smokeless grills and Sketchers sneakers. 

Hip-hop music has come a long way. The world has realized that inviting rap into their homes is smart. In fact, hip hop is the world’s most popular genre of music, according to Nielsen. And yet, the GRAMMYs didn’t televise awards in the rap category in 2024. 

There’s the disconnect. We, the hip-hop generation, aren’t just consumers of products. We are activists for change, creating culture when deprived, and builders of communities. If public media has a blindspot in embracing African-American donors, they have an even more of a cataract approach to the hip-hop community, and that is puzzling.

Public media must invite the hip-hop generation into their fold. That LL concert had a sold-out crowd, and the tickets weren’t cheap (except for mine because I got in free and wanted to brag by sending a pic of me and LL to my mom, then instantly had regret because she sent heart-eyes emojis to one of my rap heroes).

How do we fix this? A friend told me about handling a problem. We usually show fight or flight, but there is a third option: make friends.

In the spirit of hip hop, I encourage non-conventional approaches to find the young BIPOC talent in the community. Showcase their works, showcase call-ins and interviews, or even carve out low-overhead podcasts to have an option for the public to hear young, vibrant Black creatives.

The worst possible accusation for public media is for anyone in the community to feel like nothing is there for them.

Ironically, during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop, NPR did a fantastic piece titled “All Rap Is Local,” highlighting various cities across the country and talking about each community’s local scene. Oddly enough, most areas still need hip-hop music coverage on their local public radio affiliate.

In a conversation I once had with GRAMMY-winning producer 9th Wonder, he told me about his experiences going from hip-hop producer to being an artist in residence at North Carolina Central University, Adjunct Professor at Duke University, and a Harvard Fellow at the W.E.B. Dubois Institute.

During his travels, he spoke about an experience at a private museum tour. He said that during a tour, the curator showed him a thick piece of glass which contained archival images documenting small pieces of handwritten paper.

Those pages were rough drafts of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Right beside that glass was another artifact in thick glass, and it was one of the first flyers to a hip-hop concert at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, considered the birthplace of hip hop. The curator then tells the producer that the flyer is just as crucial to American history as is Lincoln’s address.

I agree and hope public media does, too. 

Above photo: The author with LL Cool J.