Why Hiphop is like Open Source, part 2: A Politics and What Al Gore Thinks.

did you miss part 1?
Linus wasn’t an intentional revolutionary or anything like that, but his understanding of the different kind of success that might be possible with a committed effort of collaborative devlopment built something new. In this viral, communicative way I think Hiphop and Open Source share a politics.

At the core of open source are individuals and small and large groups of people discussing and building functions and systems and ways of working and making their conclusions open. At the core of hiphop are individuals and small and large groups of people building complex layers of rhetoric, argumentation, description, ideas, and systems. “When asked if there was an artist today who informed young people’s thinking about lyrics in the way that Bob Dylan and John Lennon did in the sixties and seventies Seamus Heaney answered:

There is this guy Eminem. He has created a sense of what is possible. He has sent a voltage around a generation. He has done this not just through his subversive attitude but also his verbal energy.”
National Research and Development for Adult Literacy and Numerancy

Hiphop, open source, and the exponential expansion of open source politics visible in the communal exchange of ideas on Rollyo, or Del.icio.us, or Wikipedia, or on the Wordpress Plugins Database, for example, are ways of sharing knowledge, information, and perspective.

The marketplace of ideas was challenged by hiphop: it was challenged by the new culture’s insistence upon telling the truth of inequality, violence, and the mindset that shaped the perception of life and life’s possibilities when one lived in poverty or in a world shaped by unacknowledged racial bias. Individual hiphop artists will not always seek to speak morally uplifting or politically challenging truths. But as a media formation, as a culture, Hiphop insisted (and insists) upon the right to tell stories, whether they’re pretty or gramatically correct, or factually true, or honourable. The right to speak back to the dominant culture, and to use the tools within your grasp to make your message heard, was thrown in the face of convential understandings of property at the height of the ‘Me’ decade. And the early rise of hiphop coincides historically with the founding of the Free Software Foundation in 1985.

Sampling brought into question the ownership of sound. Some artists claimed that by sampling recordings of a prominent black artist, such as funk musician James Brown, they were challenging white corporate America and the recording industry’s right to own black cultural expression. More problematic was the fact that rap artists were also challenging Brown’s and other musicians’ right to own, control, and be compensated for the use of their intellectual creations. By the early 1990s a system had come about whereby most artists requested permission and negotiated some form of compensation for the use of samples. Some commonly sampled performers, such as funk musician George Clinton, released compact discs (CDs) containing dozens of sound bites specifically to facilitate sampling. One effect of sampling was a newfound sense of musical history among black youth. Earlier artists such as Brown and Clinton were celebrated as cultural heroes and their older recordings were reissued and repopularized.


In the late 1980s a large segment of rap became highly politicized, resulting in the most overt social agenda in popular music since the urban folk movement of the 1960s.

-HeadBop Hiphop History (unfortunately, the images on this site could not be seen from my browser, but the writing there is excellent.

Hiphop is multi-faceted: it can connect with people who want to say something new with their bodies, or with the body of music and beats that has already been recorded, or with language, or with visual art. Any of these media has the potential to connect with a desire for a happier, wiser, more peaceful and prosperous life. Hiphop is even more ‘open’ then open source, in some ways, in that it can connect with poets and musicians and dancers and visual artists. Open source politics has the potential to connect with people on an emotional, conceptual level, but open source software actually connects those people by offering them powerful tools, and libraires of labouriously assembled information.

Before the internet, only a few people could own or access the means of dissemination of a new hiphop product. And, compared to the global population, the number who can now is still small. Record companies, including Russell Simmons’, are hierarchical (check out this great article by Courtney Love record companies and internet piracy). So is the current most-prominent means of communication: television. Without a production and dissemination system that reflects and reproduces the political message of hiphop- which is, in a weird fundamental way, related to the poltical message of open source- the power in hiphop is distorted.

Interestingly, Al Gore said a lot of the things I’d like to say about television and the marketplace of ideas in the speech published today on Beitbart.com.

Here are what I’d consider to be relevant highlights. I don’t know anything much about his business venture, but I think the way he is thinking about it and describing it are relevant to this strange, evolving idea about the relationship between systems which are oreinted towards two-sided communication.

Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the “demonstration.” This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television’s domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no “meritocracy of ideas” on television. To the extent that there is a “marketplace” of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.


The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in the world. And that too seems strange to me.


I don’t know all the answers, but along with my partner, Joel Hyatt, I am trying to work within the medium of television to recreate a multi- way conversation that includes individuals and operates according to a meritocracy of ideas. If you would like to know more, we are having a press conference on Friday morning at the Regency Hotel.

We are learning some fascinating lessons about the way decisions are made in the television industry, and it may well be that the public would be well served by some changes in law and policy to stimulate more diversity of viewpoints and a higher regard for the public interest. But we are succeeding within the marketplace by reaching out to individuals and asking them to co-create our network.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet. Indeed, Current TV relies on video streaming over the Internet as the means by which individuals send us what we call viewer-created content or VC squared. We also rely on the Internet for the two-way conversation that we have every day with our viewers enabling them to participate in the decisions on programming our network.

I know that many of you attending this conference are also working on creative ways to use the Internet as a means for bringing more voices into America’s ongoing conversation. I salute you as kindred spirits and wish you every success.


The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.

We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy’s future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.”

The good things to be communicated by open source will be revealed with new successes of new projects and they way they evolve under the public gaze. The good we know of so far came from the responding ripples of innovation made possible by relatively small initial acts of trust. Art at its best is always this kind of fearless gift, and artists hoping to be great might do well to learn from the politics of Hiphop, and to pick up the tools provided by their strange cousins: the open source programmers.

mcchambermusic.com : dernière parutions.