The vision of the Hip Hop generation

Hip Hop is heir of slave rebellions, abolitionist, civil rights and Black Power movements and the si

Any conversation about Hip Hop is likely to be peppered with references to the negativity of rap lyrics and the large amount of bling seen in rap videos. Hip Hop is conceived by a large amount of people to be a culture of gangsters, pimps and crack dealers.

From civil rights groups to mainstream politicians and the media the Hip Hop generation is seen as the embarrassing child of the civil rights movement an apolitical degenerate generation of nihilistic thugs.

The finger is pointed at Hip Hop to be the cause for gun crime, teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour and gang culture. So when we stepped forward and created our organisation Hip Hop Generation and proclaimed to be harnessing the power and embracing the spirit of Hip Hop we knew we would be in for a hard time.

Many told us that we should change the name, that it was too controversial, however we were strong in our convictions that Hip Hop was both positive and the culture that most spoke for and to youth of African descent - the descendants of slaves - and their modern day struggles for money, power and respect in the inner cities of the Western world.

Hip Hop Generation UK was formed in 2005 with the aim of harnessing the power and embracing the spirit of Hip Hop as a tool to organise and mobilise a new political constituency who we refer to as the “streetz” to change the game.

The inspiration for the creation of the organisation came from the same titled book written by African American political philosopher and former editor of The Source magazine Bakari Kitwana, the work of Russell Simmons and Dr Benjamin Chavis at the Hip Hop Summit Action and the politics of the Hip Hop Political Convention in the US.

Kitwana’s writings would set the foundation for the intellectual backdrop of our organisation and provide the organisation with its name. The Hip Hop Generation written by Kitwana is a socio-economic-political analysis of the generation of African diasporic youth who have grown up in a time when the most prominent global youth cultural phenomenon is Hip Hop a phenomenon so powerful it has become generation defining in the same way that civil rights did in the1960’s.

In his text Kitwana attempts to develop a clear, cogent political agenda our aim is to build upon that work and create a clear political agenda and implement it, to move from theory to practice. We have seen attempts to do this in the US with the work of HSAN who have registered approximately 4 million voters and toured multiple US cities turning out thousands of Hip Hop youth with support from the likes of Jay Z, TI, Kevin Lilles & Erykah Badu to empower them economically through their financial literacy tours. We have also seen this through the work of the Hip Hop Political Convention a bi-annual convention first convened in 2004 that aims to develop a Hip Hop political agenda and voting block.

Right now we are struggling to bring a new analysis of Hip Hop to the table, one that makes clear the difference between Rap and Hip Hop and their connection, identifies the core essence and philosophy of Hip Hop. An analysis that places Hip Hop within its true place as the heir of the slave rebellions, abolitionist, civil rights and Black Power movements of the 20th Century and the single most significant ‘Black’ cultural phenomenon of the 21st Century.

Our vision is to mobilise a new generation to continue the struggle of our forefathers, to create a new sect to deal with the old problems, to usher in a new era of a new modern 21st Century Hip Hop led “Black” politics, to create the most powerful global Hip Hop movement the world has seen and change the world in our lifetime.

Anthony Thomas is the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Generation. He is a philosopher,organiser and entrepreneur. He is a director of London Citizens and the Black Londoners Forum.
Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.