So as I was browsing the hip hop forum of this random web community I'm on and I ran across this article. It was first published in a local Milwaukee paper and I found it pretty interesting. Check it out. Post your comments. I know it's a little long, but it's worth it. Opinions?

Check it out...

"Like many urban teenagers, Ted Robertson doesn't mind spending more than he can afford to emulate his favorite rappers. He wears $500 Japanese designer jeans and $200 Air Jordan sneakers.

A 17-year-old junior at NOVA, (Northwest Opportunities Vocational Academy), an alternative school-to-work transition program for at-risk students, Robertson is more concerned with keeping up with the latest hip-hop fashions than getting into college.

"I try to dress like my favorite rappers, T.I. and Little Wayne," he says. "I want to save for a car, but I want a pair of Red Monkey Jeans that cost $1,000. I'm going to get them."

It doesn't matter that Robertson is being reared by a single mother in a household with two younger siblings and that on most days, he says, there isn't enough money to go around.

He works part-time at a central city printing company, though Robertson admits the majority of his paycheck goes on his back. It's about "dressing to impress," he says, even though you may be struggling financially.

"You've got to look good," he says.

Robertson's story illustrates the tremendous influence that hip-hop music has had on urban youth ever since it first came on the scene as an underground, grass-roots phenomenon in the south Bronx in the early 1970s.

The hip-hop consumer market has grown to $500 billion in purchasing power driven largely by urban youths like Robertson, who are much more likely to buy clothes they don't really need and to spend more than they can afford than other consumers in their age range, according to a recent report by Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com.

The report analyzes the consumer choices made by the 24 million 15- to 29-year-olds who connect with hip-hop music and identify with hip-hop culture, and who have become trendsetters in such areas as cars, electronics, fashion, media usage, personal-care products and entertainment.

Even Buick is going after the urban hip-hop market to overcome the perception that its brand appeals to older buyers.

Mainstream businesses are courting the urban youth market because they recognize the vast buying power of youth who connect with hip-hop. More than that, hip-hop has so worked itself into the fabric of everyday life that youth are becoming programmed to want the high-end luxury items that artists sing and rap about on their CDs and in music videos.

Felicia Miller, an assistant professor of marketing at Marquette University, calls it "brand programming."

"If you take hip-hop and look at the top songs, you can find a brand name mentioned in that song. You'll hear brands like Escalade, different brands of beer, different types of high-end clothing, Gucci, Versace, Prada and Rolex," said Miller who has studied the hip-hop market. "If you put your product in the song, consumers can't get away from it, and people are more likely to buy into that culture. Your life becomes about creating this fantasy that most of us can't live."

Marketing experts like Miller are more troubled by the message behind hip-hop - the violence and the misogyny - than the products being sold through the music.

"Many companies are just trying to get their products out there to the consumers and aren't concerned about what the messages are."
Black males most susceptible

African-American youth disproportionately are hip-hop consumers, the Packaged Facts report shows.

Nearly two out of three (64.7%) African-Americans, age 15 to 29, are categorized as hip-hop consumers.

The report finds that young African-American males see a greater link between hip-hop music and fashion, and are much more likely to say that the clothes they wear reflect their taste in music.

That's certainly the case for Dorian Crawford, 15, a sophomore at NOVA.

"The rappers have what people want. They have money, they have cars and the houses that everybody wants, and the jewelry. That's what all the kids want," says Crawford, who gets money for hip-hop clothing and CDs from his mom. "Hip-hop is about the way you live. It's living the good life and having money."

There has been some backlash. Stephon Marbury, a two-time all-star player for the New York Knicks, has come out with a cut-rate athletic shoe that sells for $14.98, a fraction of the cost of high-end athletic shoes from Nike and Adidas. The simply designed shoe, called Starbury One, is carried by Steve & Barry's, a nationwide chain that sells collegiate apparel.

"What Marbury is doing is important," said Howard Fuller, distinguished professor of education at Marquette University and a former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent. "The issue is whether you can get other athletes to follow his lead when everything is about the Benjamins."

Those are hundred dollar bills, for those who aren't familiar with the slang.

When you live in poverty, you crave what you don't have - status. In the "hood," you're more apt to get respect if you drive an expensive car, wear more jewelry than Mr. T, and dress in the latest designer clothes.

Victor Barnett, executive director and founder of Running Rebels, a north side community group that works to keep kids away from drugs and gangs, worries that this message is more detrimental for African-American youth, who often don't have the safety net and the connections that white kids have to break into the mainstream economy.

"I know kids who don't have jobs that, if they get $200 for a birthday present, they'll spend $199 on clothes," Barnett says. "They're looking for something that will give them that heightened status. A kid can need money for something really important, but they're going to get these clothes so they'll be accepted."

Sadly, more kids these days are willing to listen to hip-hop music than to open a book, so they are more likely to focus on the latest fashion than getting straight A's.

I'm fighting this battle at home with a 13-year-old bent on sagging his pants like the rappers.

While it's impressive that hip-hop has become a powerful economic force in this country and has made millionaires of young black men who might otherwise be dead or in prison if they weren't rapping into a microphone, no one is promoting getting a good education and developing the skills to get on the path to success.

It's not about what you have on your back. First you have to put yourself in an income bracket where you can afford the trappings of success, and that takes years of sacrifice and hard work.

If more urban youth got this message, they wouldn't be going broke chasing a lifestyle that most will never achieve."

Tannette Johnson-Elie writes about small and minority-owned businesses and diversity issues for the Journal Sentinel. She can be reached at (414) 223-5172 or by e-mail at telie@journalsentinel.com.

<3, BFK

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