Elevate Difference

East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization

Ntarangwi’s book on hip hop culture in East Africa could be used as an academic treatise for music and cultural classes in any university in America. Generally speaking, when we create something, very rarely are we aware of the far-reaching implications that creation may have outside of our immediate scope. Hip hop has been one such creation. Similar to jazz, hip hop was, in part, created out of the need to communicate what did not want to be heard, at first. Put in this matter of fact way, it was only natural that this phenomenon spread across cultures with very similar communication glitches.

East African Hip Hop succinctly details the impact hip hop has had on the East African population, as well as the impact East African hip hop artists are having on youth in their respective communities. Ntarangwi opens with the effects of globalization and youth culture in East Africa. Globalization has often resulted in an entire continent being left out of a process of ideas and decisions that factor in the value of their resources, while devaluing the people that could benefit the most. The remnants of colonialism and neocolonialism are embedded into the psyches of those that profit, as well as those that are taken advantage of in this profitization. Indirect rule, which is often synonymous with “puppet,” makes it difficult to tell which leaders desire to act in the best interests of their constituents, especially when they are all of the same color. This tactic was a major part of colonialism and is one distinctive aspect that affects what is communicated across cultures. However, in the U.S., the assumption of who the perpetrators are rarely ventures outside of historical context. With Ntarangwi’s use of Malcolm X as an example, what is seen as a struggle against White supremacy in American hip hop is seen as a struggle for land ownership and access in East African hip hop. The indoctrination of Western values and its bootstrap mentality are also what have colored communication.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has given rise to an increase in the number of songs about its concern by East African hip hop artists, as well as societal issues concerning gender and tradition. Even with this increase, the tradition of chastity, or the appearance of it by women, has typically made the topic of sexuality a silent one, for fear of the repercussions of challenging cultural mores. East African hip hop is changing this perception as well.

Ntarangwi touches on so many important issues that have propagated the spread of hip hop into a portion of the world that has, up until recently, been kept silent. A portion of the world that has been silent both forcibly and because only now is the medium of hip hop one of the most powerful ways with which to get a message across. Ntarangwi has effectively expounded upon a subject matter that can no longer be silenced.

Written by: Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, February 4th 2010