Many older hip-hop heads can point to the exact moment when they first heard Public Enemy, grabbed the Autobiography of Malcolm X and overnight, were transformed into Black History scholars. We can remember going to class the next day and challenging our teachers who were "brainwashing us with the white man's His-story."
Of course, that was a generation ago and the days of Spike Lee movies and leather, African medallions made in Korea are long gone. However, over the last year, there has been a renewed interest in "consciousness," courtesy of an unlikely catalyst: Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter.
Recently, kids -- who were once only concerned about Jay-Z's "bling" or his beef with Nas -- have spent countless hours debating whether or not he is a card-carrying member of the Illuminati, a secret society founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776. This has inspired some to do the unthinkable -- pick up a book.
Back in the late 80's "conscious hip-hop" was responsible for encouraging a generation of black youth to put down the gun and pick up an encyclopedia. The music of Boogie Down Productions and Brand Nubian resonated with a generation in a frantic search for "knowledge of self."
Consequently, the pro-Black hip-hop of the 80's introduced a new generation of black youth to the concept of Black nationalism, more than 70 years after Marcus Garvey founded the Black Star Line and 20-plus years after Kwame Ture and Willie "Mukasa" Ricks shook America up with the battle cry of "Black Power." So, unquestionably, hip-hop was instrumental in instilling Black pride.
However, a sense of Black pride wasn't enough to sustain a movement.
Unfortunately, the corruptive nature of capitalism corrupted hip-hop. Just as Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon was able to convert "Black Power" into the capitalist dream of "Green Power" during the early 70's, the major entertainment corporations turned pro-Black hip-hop into a fad.
This is not to say that the era was totally without substance. As early as 1987, Professor Griff of Public Enemy was stepping beyond the narrow boundaries of music to warn ghetto youth about the impending "New World Order" and spreading the message of researchers such as Steve Cokely. During the mid 90's, Goodie Mob was sounding the alarm about black military helicopters hovering over tha hood. And though not clearly understood by the masses at the time, even Prodigy of Mobb Deep, penned the lyrics, "Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body."
So there has always been a core group of true believers who have carried the torch of consciousness since the 80's, conducting lectures in black bookstores and in black student unions on college campuses, armed with books like William Cooper's Behold a Pale Horse and Ralph Epperson's The Unseen Hand. But for the masses, conscious hip-hop died out in the very early 90's with the mainstream media's preoccupation with west coast gangsta rap.
After September 11, 2001, a new era of conspiracy theory developed as many young people began to believe that people in high places were either hiding critical, need to know, info from them or just plain out lying. The aftermath of 9/11 sparked the popularity of DVDs claiming to have the inside scoop on the World Trade Attack. Unlike the method used for information distribution during the early 90's (the video tape), DVDs could be purchased for a fraction of the cost and anyone with a computer could produce hundreds of copies.
Hip-hop also was being exposed, on disc, by a preacher named Elder E Craig Lewis who tapped into a network of church folks who were anxious to know why the youth choir's new rendition of "Amazing Grace" sounded, suspiciously like "All About the Benjamin's."
Around 2005, The Black Dot released the book, Hip Hop Decoded, which further intrigued hip-hop fans searching for the "truth."
It must be noted that with the growing use of social media -- YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- theories become somebody's reality at lightning speed.
Perhaps, the pivotal point in recent history regarding hip-hop "conspiracies" was the 2009 Occult Science Radio program, when Professor Griff went in on some strange happenings in the entertainment industry. The show has since spread like wildfire throughout the social media universe in one form or another.
Now, more and more people were beginning to ponder how a hood kid named Shawn Carter got placed on the fast track to become a billionaire mogul. All of a sudden, low achievers who suffered from narcolepsy in history class, wanted to know if their favorite rapper was part of some ancient cult built on world domination.
Overall, this has been a good thing because the first step towards finding answers is asking questions. This has also been a thorn in the side of those "powers that be" who have a vested interest in keeping the masses blind to the facts.
The role of theories and rumors, in the context of the African American experience, cannot be underestimated. In his book, Introduction to African Studies, Dr. Maulana Karenga states that fear of slave insurrections was "reflective of bloodthirsty hysteria." Also, Patricia Turner in her book, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, she reports that during World War II, "rumor clinics were established to prevent potentially adverse hearsay of all sorts from gaining credibility."
So, it seems that an industry that makes a profit from dumbing down the masses may have created a Frankenstein's monster that has scared the town's people so much that they have been forced to pick up a book to find a way to defeat it. In reality, the middle school kid that Googles "Illuminati" today, may become the college student studying international finance, tomorrow.
This new consciousness has already been evident in mainstream hip-hop, as websites have been buzzing about rumors of secret societies and magazines from Hip Hop Weekly to XXL have done articles about hip-hop's fascination with the Illuminati over the past year. So what happens to the power relationship between the haves and the have nots when the kids -- who used to read The Source magazine -- start buying Fortune? Or when the kids who used to watch "106 and Park", start watching the History Channel? And Heaven forbid, that they start acting on their new found information and start creating hip-hop versions of Fox News or building think tanks like the Heritage Foundation?
Don't be surprised when 20 years from now, the next black president is asked to recall when he first became politically conscious and he replies, "Well, one day I was listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne C and..."
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author, Truth Minista Paul Scott, who blogs at MilitantMindMiltia.com. He can be reached at [email protected] or (919) 451-8283. Or visit him online for more information.