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Last night The Barbican played host to some of the biggest movers and shakers in hip hop as part of the Hip Hop on Trial debate organised by the leading debating forum Intelligence Squared and Google Plus.

The debate, one of many global online discussions streamed live on YouTube, put forth the controversial idea that “Hip hop doesn’t enhance society, it degrades it”. Participants on the panel included civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson, hip hop pioneer KRS-One and poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

In front of a sold-out audience of mostly hardcore hip hop fans, lawyer Eamon Courtenay kicked off proceedings by agreeing that hip hop did indeed degrade society, referencing his concern over his teenage daughter’s infatuation with rapper Ludacris. His staunch criticism of the genre drew loud boos from the now agitated crowd who were anxiously waiting for a defender of hip hop to speak up.

That defender came in the form of the legend that is KRS-One who disagreed with the motion and simply said

If hip hop has the power to degrade society it also has the power to enhance it too.

After whooping and cheering loudly in agreement the online panel finally had their say with iconic DJ Questlove (of The Roots fame) declaring his love for hip hop by saying it “saved his life” and UK rapper Estelle saying hip hop was merely “freedom of speech.”

The Slaughterhouse collective, featuring a gobby Joe Budden swaggered into the debate online and were quick to defend their derogatory use of the term b***h when challenged by giving the now clichéd response “we’re not talking about all women when we say b***h.” A lazy response at best and after a childish argument with Courtenay, he made his excuses and left the Google Hangout.

Social commentator Tony Sewell argued quite eloquently that hip hop would continue to degrade society as rap “was the theme tune to black on black crime.” Sports columnist Jason Whitlock agreed adding “hip hop is dead- its been replaced with prison culture,” a statement that provoked scattered applause amongst the older members of the audience.

As we neared the end of the debate the motion was put to a public vote both in the auditorium and online with most of those voting against the motion that hip hop degraded society. Those who had entered the debate undecided (including myself) had swung over to the against side where we were in good company as Questlove rounded off the evening with ” long before hip hop, society was already degraded.”

Overall the audience who had already made up their minds about hip hop were not at all swayed but at least enjoyed a good old fashioned debate with an impressive celebrity panel. Post debate talk in the foyer later found that many had hoped for more well researched counter arguments and less fence straddling. Though they may have failed to give us real definitive arguments for the motion that hip hop degrades society, they at least entertained us and gave us food for thought on a culture that we as fans are fiercely protective of.