Similarly, "Just the Two of Us" by former "Fresh Prince" Will Smith is a good example of how rap's spiritual uplift turns out to be convenient justifications for less than admirable situations. Initially a song about a man and woman, "Just The Two of Us" turns into an ode about a father's love for his young son. The mother seems to be the odd one out. Is it too much to ask for an intact non-dysfunctional family within the context of this art form?

Without a doubt, rap has made essential contributions to the African-American community. Music writer Nelson George (no relation), who has been observing rap for decades, says hip-hop differs from previous styles of black music in a crucial way. "There's greater entrepreneurship in this generation." George points out that, not just in music, but in fashion, movies and the internet, today's young people are taking the energy, style, and attitude of the music and creating companies of their own. There is much to applaud about this entrepreneurial spirit. But as Peggy Lee said, "Is that all there is?"

It would be wonderful if KRS-ONE's prediction that the culture of rap can fully evolve into a spiritual medium. There are glimmers: Brooklyn rapper Mos Def seems to be a worthy heir to KRS-ONE. His "Black on Both Sides" (1999) is probably the best of recent rap albums, mixing philosophical and spiritual sentiments. The first track, "Fear Not Of Man," asks the right questions:

"Hip-Hop won't get better until the people get better then how do people get better? ...People get better when they start to understand that they are valuableAnd they not valuable because they got a whole lot of money Or 'cause somebody think they sexy But they valuable cause they been created by God. ..."

Mos Def devotes "Speed Law"--with its haunting chorus of "Slow down"--to showing the dangers of mindlessly chasing the misguided pleasures of street life. But like the old Public Enemy, he also decries the everyday frustrations of racial profiling and poverty.

Mos Def also owns a bookstore, devoted to Afrocentric history and spiritual themes. Clearly with a Mos Def around, appeals to thoughtful and eternal truths will certainly remain an element within rap.

However, as long as the lure of material gain remains prevalent within the larger mainstream society, hip-hop will continue to reflect and amplify those excesses. The most significant cultural creation of the last 20 years still has a ways to go before it can completely overcome the limitations of its foundations.

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