Q-Tip Explains Why The Institutionalization Of Hip-Hop Is A Good Thing (Audio)

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In March of 2016, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip was named Artistic Director of Hip-Hop Culture at Washington, D.C.’s famed Kennedy Center. With fellow Queens, native LL Cool J already confirmed as a center honoree for December, Tip spoke with NPR and explained why the looks are validations at a time when some cultures—including Hip-Hop appear ignored by Capitol Hill and the current White House.

“It’s inevitable; the music and the culture has gotten so big,” said the MC/producer who is connected to various pioneers, including Kool DJ Red Alert. “I think it’s a great opportunity for this country in a lot of different ways: a historic institution for arts such as the Kennedy Center, that they would want to—in so many words—institutionalize Hip-Hop. Because, for so long, the creators and practitioners of the form were [viewed] as degenerates, uneducated, hoodlums, provocateurs, cop-killers, rapers, misogynists—all these different labels. So through all the black-and-blues, to be able to have the Kennedy Center [embrace] Rap and Hip-Hop and claim it, like Jazz before it and Blues before it, and so forth as part of a true American art-form [and] to investigate not only the rich foundation of Hip-Hop and its beginnings or whatever, it helps people who may not be from this world to understand, truly, the complexity [and] what Black Complexity is.” He adds, “It’s there on exposé for all to see,” suggesting “a church of the arts.”

Church is an important word choice. “One could say, given the climate, that the lines have been clearly drawn and there’s sides now—like clear sides. People are saying, ‘I’m rockin’ with the white supremacist, wall-building, p*ssy-grabbin’, name-callin’—that’s my squad. Who’s your squad?'”

He continues, referencing August news that Donald Trump and First Lady would not be attending, due to “political distraction” for honorees. “Look, we are talking about a President—we got to talk about the elephant in the room—he’s so polarizing that he and his wife had to kind of decline the invitation to the center, which is something since its inception, I believe since ’73 or ’74, that every sitting President happily went to because the arts is, it’s our biggest export in this country. It’s not oil, it’s not apples, it’s not cotton, it’s entertainment in all forms: media, sports, music. So when you have something as prestigious as the Kennedy Center that’s on your same lot, and you’re that polarizing that you would have to excuse yourself from that, it’s real query that you ask.” Claiming that he will not stop speaking candidly, the director states, “I’m not gonna shark away from [talking about it] though. It’s not even about going toe-to-toe with somebody like that. You just want to be the light.”

Last November on The Daily Show, Tip explained how the economics of racism informed the direction of his group’s final album, the #1 charting, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service.

Friday night (October 13) marks the beginning of the center’s new concert season.