Writing's on the wall 

As hip-hop ages, a burgeoning generational battle pits its old guard against the culture's tradition as an anarchic youth movement.

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Should the fact that at least four separate hip-hop halls of fame have popped up in recent years serve as an omen?

If last month's local Hiphop Appreciation Week was any indication, it doesn't seem there's much threat of the worst happening just yet. While record sales and MTV viewership clearly indicates that, at least in some sense, plenty of people out there are appreciating hip-hop every day, only 13 people showed up at Atlanta's Hiphop Town Hall Meeting held as one of the week's organized events.

Professor Griff led the Saturday afternoon discussion. He isn't actually a professor. He's an Atlanta-based member of Public Enemy who's best known for making an anti-Jewish comment (which he says was taken out of context) in 1989 that set a low in hip-hop's race discourse (see sidebar). Despite the sparse turnout, those who did show up -- all young and black, mostly students -- had something intelligent to lend to the talk. Griff addressed a series of issues facing hip-hop: Should we support artists who appear in ads for tobacco or alcohol? Should we support artists who disrespect women? Is the "N" word acceptable in hip-hop?

When the conversation turned, as it always does, to the issue of rappers staying true to their beliefs (even if it means losing out on sales) vs. giving the people what they want (even if it's not necessarily good for the larger community), there's no question which side of the fence Griff stands on. At least one fearless young woman wondered, though, if he would've felt differently had his hate-filled rhetoric not derailed his career, making the question moot. She asked Griff whether he's jealous of rappers who make money without regard for the messages they deliver.

No, he answers. But before the talk is over, Griff also has offered this insight into his life since 1989: "Let's get this clear right now," he says. "I'm poor. I'm lonely. I'm a revolutionary without a revolution. And I'm four months behind on a car payment."

To KRS-One's credit, he knows what he's up against in his hip-hop crusade -- and his ability to flip a liability into an asset is perhaps his greatest asset. "Nelly and those who think like him, their general premise is that KRS is old, bitter -- 'Get out of here, who are you to always be running around talking about that fake hip-hop, real hip-hop? Stop talking that cultural bullshit and put a hit record out. Why can't we just keep this music going, get your money, and stop playa hating?' There's a natural tension -- the older generation saying, 'Pay your dues,' the younger generation saying, 'You old and washed up.' That tension is what creates opinion, which then creates tradition, which then creates culture. So KRS and Nelly, that whole argument of old versus young, it's a friction that's very healthy. It's like burning down a forest. The youth are stupid, but out of that ignorance comes new ideas. That's what battling is all about."

And so KRS-One remains undeterred, as he takes refuge in a house on the outskirts of Los Angeles to put the finishing touches on his long-in-the-works book, The Gospel of Hiphop. Once the word is out among the people -- that hip-hop can be more than entertainment, that it can be a savior culture to restore that which was stolen from us by America, whether by the slave trade or capitalism's ravages -- he's got much bigger ideas in store.

"I had a great revelation that came to me back in '95 of a hip-hop city. If we are a culture, we need a city, and my response is to act upon the vision that I've been given. So I see going to a small town that we could run up on real quick and hooking up with a tourism board. We run for office, we speak to the community and say, 'Listen, we want to build a hip-hop city.' And those who want to build up this will receive the residuals of it. Sort of like Las Vegas, but with a little less blood. It's a simple thing, especially with all the money that rap music makes."

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