Versus Hip-hop on Trial Debate: “Does Hip-hop Enhance Society or Degrade It?”

Hiphop on Trial

On Tuesday, June 26th, the first-ever global Versus Debate on hip-hop was made possible by Google and Intelligence Squared , who brought politicians, experts and economists together for a very heated live discussion.

RELATED: The Blame Game: Hip-hop, Misogyny and Generations of Degrading Women

The quick-moving courtroom style event was held at the Barbican Centre in London and through a Google+ Hangout, with questions posed by viewers through Twitter , live comments on Youtube , and audience members as well.

Watch Versus Hip-hop on Trial Debate

The questions

“Is hip-hop the authentic voice of the oppressed that turns anger into poetry and political action? Or is it a glorification of all that holds back oppressed minorities and hinders them from mainstream assimilation?”

Who was there

The panel of hip-hop fans and critics were grilled and forced to build a case either for or against the motion: “Hip-hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it.”

Some of the biggest names in hip-hop were apart of the discussion including artists KRS-One , Questlove , Estelle , Q-tip , and Slaughterhouse members Joe Budden , Crooked I , Joel Ortiz , and Royce Da 5’9 .

Egyptian rapper Deeb , who was involved in the Tahrir Square uprising and thinks hip-hop has fostered revolution in North Africa, was also on the panel.

They were joined by renowned intellectuals and activists such as Dr. Tricia Rose , Prof. John Sutherland (Modern English Literature at University College, London), Dr. Michael Eric Dyson — a familiar face at these types of debates, Rev. Jesse Jackson and hip-hop journalist dream hampton .

The discussion also included computer scientist Jaron Lanier , Shaun Bailed David Cameron ’s adviser on youth and crime, Hattie Collins — music editor of i-D magazine and many more.

Hot Points

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson came out swinging, defending hip-hop by citing introspective and self-critizing lyricism of such artists as Nas , Lauryn Hill , and Jay-Z . He also acknowledged the worst of hip-hop, referencing the blatant misogyny — while pointing out that the same misogyny is found in the church. CHURCH!

Those against the motion consistently pointed out the robustness of hip-hop, which is more than a music genre as it includes, art, dancing, fashion, etc.

Being the drama queen that he has a reputation to be, rapper Joe Budden got so flustered that he left, and nerve-hitters such as the genre’s use of derogatory terms like “nigga” and “bitch,” and the abundance of misogyny were passionately argued for and against.

At one point, KRS-One tried to make a point that the word “niggA,” is related to the Afro-Asiatic term “Negus” meaning “king” — nah, bruh.

In the 2nd half of the debate, KRS-One came under fire again when he sought to defend a Kanye line: “do you know how many hot bitches I own?” from his collaboration with Jay-Z , Niggas in Paris .” “He was talking about cars, you have to understand the code,” KRS said. He was immediately interrupted by dream , who was not convinced — considering Kanye ‘s lyrical history.

At several intervals, the question of WHY hip-hop, of all genres, was being put on trial at all came up.

“Put video games on trial, put films on trial, put rock music on trial, put country music on trial, put classical music on trial… to question whether or not hip-hop is poetry is idiotic,” said Prof. James Peterson , Lehigh University.


While it was profoundly refreshing to see a wide array of minds coming together to discuss a long-debated topic, it was a hot ass mess.

Technology-wise, the stream was often choppy and jumping around and you could hear multiple conversations from the panelists/witnesses in the Hangouts.

Despite the attempt to keep things structured, the event seemed extremely schizophrenic, with people talking over each other and repeatedly interrupting others (-ahem- KRS …). There was an overall sense of complete chaos at many times, even with a moderator.

Powerful statements aside, the discussion was very circular and another, better controlled discussion is necessary. Or is it?

For more interesting videos on the subject, go to the VersusDebates Youtube Channel .

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