Less than two years into the second millennium - an event occurred that altered the lives of billions. The coordinated high-jacking of multiple planes that subsequently crashed into buildings across the United States killed thousands and altered American culture as well as how the government functions.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 people and left countless New Yorkers traumatized. The destruction of World Trade Center Buildings - One, Two, and Seven sent a shockwave of fear and frustration throughout the country. Sons were left motherless and daughters were left fatherless at the hands of an enemy that was both unknown and unpredictable.
The 9/11 attacks were a uniquely all-encompassing event; it was a violent terrorist attack that required immediate reaction and response from all levels of society. The possibility of another terrorist attack similar to 9/11 became a legitimate fear in homes all over the country. School boards, companies, police stations, media outlets, and governmental bodies were forced to reckon with the facts of a new reality.
Images and footage of the attacks were replayed on television and remembered explicitly. Our culture indulged in a new found paranoia. Patriotism became mainstream, war became inevitable, and security became the number one issue.
Hip-Hop '01 to '21
Only a handful of elite rappers were relevant in 2001 and are still relevant in 2021. The most successful of those artists is Jay-Z who coincidentally released The Blueprint in 2001 on September 11th. In many ways The Blueprint set a trajectory for Jay-Z and hip-hop at large that led us to where we are today. Since 2001 - Jay-Z has become a billionaire, he’s married to and has children with the biggest star in the world, and has been hosting one of the largest American music festivals for a decade.
Since The Blueprint, hip-hop has grown to become the most successful genre on Earth and Jay-Z is one of the primary reasons why. HOV’s talent blended with his connections to rap royalty like Biggie and roots in New York make him the perfect avatar to represent hip-hop. Jay-Z fused hip-hop with popular culture in a way other artists failed to, he embodied the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to survive in the new millennium.
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans searched for answers. The answer provided by the government was a “War on Terror” and a promise that nothing like 9/11 would ever happen. Not too long after September 11th - troops were mobilized to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act was signed, Homeland Security was founded, and America was changed forever.
After the initial shock of 9/11, the hijackers were identified as nineteen individuals who mostly hailed from Saudi Arabia. Despite that fact, America has remained close allies with Saudi Arabia while only concluding the war with Afghanistan in August of 2021. The American military went on to capture and kill Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Qasem Soleimani, and any world leader associated with September 11th in any way.
But somewhere in the midst of the post-9/11 reaction, new crises demanded American attention, life went on. Similar to the way that 9/11 exposed flaws in American safety from terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina exposed flaws in disaster response, the Great Recession exposed our financial system, and through all of these disasters the American Government exposed their inability to solve problems.
In 2021 we live in the shadow of the September 11th attacks, for most Americans the anger has worn off - but the sadness persists. How do you retaliate to a suicide attack? The people who carried out 9/11 have been dead for twenty years, meaning the victims of those attacks will never get the closure they deserve.
America entered a pop culture renaissance in the early 2000’s - that we are still living in today. The unprecedented growth of the internet took over the world. The monoculture of the 1990’s began to fade away, the days of East Coast Vs. West Coast or Boy Bands vs. Eminem became obscured by the sheer amount of entertainment available.
The expansion of the internet along with the increased availability of recording equipment allowed for an explosion in hip-hop. Soundcloud, YouTube, and popular blogs fueled the creation of superstars. The hip-hop model has since been expanded upon throughout the artistic world.
Hip-hop has become the dominant genre in American culture for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because of the heroic nature of it’s artists. Rappers are often from the roughest places in America and have had to persevere to achieve fame. Through the least likely circumstances, hip-hop artists became the last celebrity entrepreneurs with any remaining dignity, as it became commonplace to watch rags to riches stories on reality television.
Hip-Hop vs. Everything
Culture filled in where government failed. Not feeling fulfilled by America's Katrina response? Neither was Kanye, who went on national television and called out President Bush. Not feeling fulfilled by the War on Terror? Neither was Lupe Fiasco, who spent an entire evening chastising President Obama for a war that seemed to have no end. Slowly but surely - hip-hop began to fill in wherever society was failing.
Unfortunately, the only thing we can do as citizens of a global superpower is go along for the ride as the few people in positions of power lead the way. In the meantime - how we entertain ourselves is completely up to us. Hip-hop became dominant in this era because it allowed people to communicate their frustrations and insecurities directly, in a world where that isn't so common.
The 9/11 attacks left many feeling powerless. 20 years later we remain in a world still recovering from the actions of just a few dozen people. The attacks on the World Trade Center are directly responsible for the expansion of the NSA, TSA, and ICE, as well as the expansion of the American global empire. America as a country is significantly less free, because Americans bargained away things like "privacy" in the name of security. Countless civilians in the Middle East died as a direct response to 9/11 through the Iraq and Afghan Wars, as did thousands of US troops.
In 20 Years - What Did We Learn?
We learned that everyday is precious and that when your loved ones leave the house in the morning, you should tell them you love them. Humans are capable of unconscionable violence and enduring that pain can be extremely difficult. One way to cope with the pain of a society that isn't functioning properly is entertainment, and no form of entertainment understands that pain greater than hip-hop.