The Current State of America's Hip Hop Culture, From an Insider

Set Free Richardson connects the dots on the current state of America and hip-hop culture

What would happen if you got a hardworking, famed entrepreneur in a room with some of today’s most influential figures in hip-hop to discuss the state of culture in America? An insightful event full of thought-provoking opinions that are bound to leave you with a different perspective on life and on the culture.

Creative directing genius Set Free Richardson hosted an intimate discussion panel called “Compound Conversations” at his art venue in the birthplace of hip-hop, the Bronx. The former emcee turned culture connector and entrepreneur spoke about raw, relatable trends occurring in America that are part of the hip-hop culture. Guest speakers who participated in the discussion are among the elite of hip-hop culture: Hot 97 & Beats 1 DJ Ebro Darden, talented painter BK the Artist and platinum recording artists Dave East and Talib Kweli chatted with Set about topics such as toxic masculinity, women and the “What if they were alive?” question regarding Tupac and Biggie. 

The Compound is a creative hub started by Richardson and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) that showcases the artwork of some of hip-hop’s most unheralded artists. Artwork from BK the Artist was on display the panelists dropped some major gems about the culture and the evolution of the power the public possesses. Opened in 2006, the hip-hop art gallery venue aims to continue the legacy of the great graffiti artists, such as Kaws, Barry McGee, and Futura, who created meaningful things outside of lyrics and beats. 

the compound 1868
Painting by Brian Kirhagis / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm
the compound 1810
Artist Brian Kirhagis / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

Maryland native Brian Kirhagis, aka BK the artist, shared some amazing thoughts on how growing up in Baltimore’s inner city has informed his artwork. As a white man specializing in hip-hop–related art, he made it clear that his paintings come from his heart, inspired by the pain he and his friends have suffered from their experiences with street violence, rather than an appropriation of the culture. "If I see no one wants to step into the shoes to wear them, if it fits me, I’ll step in and wear them proudly."

Ebro Darden (pictured, above left)—who has more than 30 years’ experience in hip-hop music programming—gave his take on Tupac Shakur’s influence. As program director and morning co-host on Hot 97’s “Ebro in the Morning” show, Darden provided great insight and mused that Pac would’ve been much wiser and calmer if he were still alive today. "I think Pac would’ve brought checks and balances to the culture if he was still alive today—in particular, checks," Darden stated.

Tupac died at just 25 years old, but he had a radical, rebellious voice that channeled the inner city and his significance in hip-hop harkens back to the days of the Black Panther Party movement. Had he lived out his youthful years, he could have gained a lot of wisdom from experiencing how music companies do business and how they market the culture to America.

the compound 1842
Dave East aka Survival / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm
the compound 1806
Set Free / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

What Set Free and these four wise souls did for hip-hop last night was an important conversation that needs to happen more often. As the game changes and a new generation rises to elevate hip-hop to higher levels, it’s important that we revisit the basics on how authenticity over money wins in the end. In order to push forward, we sometimes have to go back to see what worked and what got us to reach a certain level of success.

the compound 1801
Ebro Darden, Brian Kirhagis, Set Free, Talib Kweli / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm
Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down