Rap may also be closely linked to reggae music, a genre that also developed from the combination of traditional African drumming9 and the music of the Buropean ruling class by youth of limited economic means within a system of African economic subjugation. In an ironic circle of influence, Jamaican reggae was played on African-American radio stations in New York in the s. DJs used rhymes to introduce reggae songs. These AM stations could be received in Jamaica, where listeners picked up on the DJs' rhyming styles, extending them over reggae songs to create "dub"--another forerunner of rap Kool DJ Herc, before introducing his innovative turntable style, brought his dub style to New York, but it failed to gain popularity.
He concentrated on developing his DJing skills, which later allowed for the acceptance of MCing and, eventually, rap. The development of rap and reggae has been an intertwined path of two different styles, which have grown from and have thrived, in similar circumstances.
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Finally, just as reggae has been under attack for some artists' seeming advocacy of violence to solve social, political, and economic problems, rap has become the scapegoat of the American musical fabric, as it, too, has faced mass popularity and commercialization. Just as reggae is now under threat of losing its power as an art form and a social voice" after being appropriated by those outside of the Rastafarian culture, rap struggles to survive adoption and commodification by those outside of the world of hip-hop.
In the last decade, hip-hop music has followed the path of commercialization that destroyed African-American radio stations in the 1 s. Whereas prior to commercialization, African-American owners, programmers, and DJs had the freedom to use their stations to serve the specific needs of their listeners --New York's working-class African-American community. They were able to promote local artists and events and to address news events and social concerns as members of the same community from which they drew their audience.
However, as corporations owned by businesspeople outside of the community consolidated power by purchasing local stations, African-American AM stations were forced out of the market by more economically-powerful stations owned and controlled mainly by members of the white upper-class. African - American DJs lost their power as the modern-day griots of their communities and as the presenters of hip-hop music and culture.
Similarly, with the "discovery" of hip-hop artists by corporate record labels, rap music was stolen from its community, repackaged by money-minded businesspeople looking to create a wider appeal by erasing hip-hop's historic function, and sold back to the streets through marketing ploys such as music videos and Top charts.
By the I s, hip-hop had become a business and rap music was a valuable commodity'3. However, according to journalist Christopher John Farley, rap's commodification has also disenfranchised it as a form of resistance:. Corporate America's infatuation with rap has increased as the genre's political content has withered. Ice Cube's early songs attacked white racism; Ice-T sang a song about a cop killer; Public Enemy challenged listeners to "fight the power". But many newer acts are focused almost entirely on pathologies within the black community.
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They rap about shooting other blacks, but almost never about challenging govemmental authority or encouraging social activism. Though not new themes, many of the aspects of rap that have been pointed out by politicians as "objectionable"--violence, misogyny, and homophobia in the lyrics and lifestyles of some rappers--may be seen as a function of rap's commodification. While rappers struggle to "keep it real"--a term which reminds those inside hip-hop to be true to their roots--some admit that many rappers do as their record labels wish--simply, they write lyrics that se In an audience which has become increasingly ethnically and economically diverse' 6, business-minded rappers have been pressured to take on the limited roles that have proven profitable for young, African-American male artists--that of the "pimp", the "gansta", and the "playa.
Through the commercialization of today's music, there is a lot of pressure for young black men to conform to very specific roles. The commodification of rap has allowed large paychecks and platinum records to erase the historical, social, and economic contexts, out of which rap has emerged, from public consciousness. According to Davey D, "The business of music has bastardized rap. While it is important to celebrate hip-hop culture today as inclusive of vastly diverse ethnic and economic groups, it is equally important to recognize and preserve the function that rap has served for its original community.
In order to understand the themes and forms of rap music, it is important to follow the history of African-Americans from their beginnings in West Africa, to their enslavement throughout the early history of the United States, to their struggles against racial prejudice and segregation after Emancipation, to the continuing battles against de facto economic segregation and reclamation of cultural identity of many African-Americans today. If rap music appears to be excessively violent when compared to country-western or popular rock, it is because rap stems from a culture that has been seeped in the fight against political, social, and economic oppression.
Despite the theatrics sometimes put on for major-label albums or MTV videos'9, for many artists, rapping about guns20 and gang life is a reflection of daily life in racially- and economically-stratified inner-city ghettos and housing projects. Violence in rap is not an affective agent that threatens to harm America's youth; rather, it is the outcry of an already-existing problem from youth whose woridviews have been shaped by experiencing deep economic inequalities divided largely along racial lines.
The nihilistic approach to violence and criminal activity for which rap is often criticized is defended by some artists as the understandable result of the disparities that face African-American communities, from which rap originated and remains rooted. America's most recent census reported that African-American youth are the most likely group in the nation to live in poor households and neighborhoods, to be unemployed, to be the victims of homicide or AIDS, or to spend time in prison at some point in their lifetimes. According to Cornel West, a professor of Religions and Afro-American studies at Harvard University, "It's no accident that one would see various [rap] songs and various lyrics that revolve around death.
For many poor, inner-city youth, the gun, which has had a central role in the lyrics of many gangsta rappers, represents a way to empower oneself 24 and gain respect within continuing cycles of racial and economic prejudice. Additionally, some rappers defend the presence of violence in their lyrics as the manifestation of Anierican history and culture. Journalist Michael Saunders writes: "[T] he violence and misogyny and lustful materialism that characterize some rap songs are as deeply American as the hokey music that rappers appropriate.
The fact is, this country was in love with outlaws and crime and violence long before hip-hop. Rapper Chuck D thinks that much of the violence and nihilism in rap music is the legacy of the hate that minorities have faced in the United States: "We [African-Americans] were a product of what hate produced. We were taught to hate ourselves, so a lot of [intraracial conflict] is breemed off of ignorance.
Further, these rappers claim that it is not only African-Americans who are gangsters, but rather that American history, also, has been characterized by conquest, rebellion, and bloodshed. Rapper Ice Cube points to the hypocrisy of politicians, who use bombing campaigns to kill on a worldwide level, to blame gangsters for violence in American culture: "We do things on a small level, but America does it on a big level.
It ain't just us. White people do everything we do. Politicians 28 and groups searching for easy solutions to America's struggle with youth violence have tried to blame rap music for desensitizing teenagers to the effects of guns, drugs, and gangs and inciting violent incidents, such as the recent shootings in Littleton, Colorado.
They have attempted to present the "objectionable" aspects of some songs as a universal aspect of the rap genre. Groups have attempted to set up musical rating systems, parental advisory warnings, and outright censorship of albums that contain lyrics or images that could be harmful for young people Yet, is music regulation worth the censorship of artists, especially when it targets certain genres, such as rap? It would be virtually impossible to implement a system of regulation that could be entirely objective and free of cultural bias regarding the definition and execution of blanket-definitions of obscenity and potential for harm.
In the end, a system that would regulate the lyrical content of music would hurt rappers and their audiences and further weaken rap's ability to reflect and express the true concerns of inner-city working-class youth It seems that an increasing number of public figures have attempted to capitalize upon remaining cultural biases and fear of African-American uprising to vilify rap music as the causative agent in a recent string of incidents of youth violence Although some rap songs may appear to focus on themes of violence, they are reflections of preexisting political, social, and economic disparities.
Discussions about direct correlation between media messages and actual acts of violence distract us from getting at the real causes of mediated violence [ Violence in rap, and in other forms of self-expression, is the manifestation of a feeling of hopelessness and discontent in America's working class, especially working-class minority communities. By pointing to rap as the cause of violence, politicians attempt to erase from the consciousness of their constituents the history of oppression that has given birth to hip-hop culture.
In order to truly change the looming presence of violence in American society, as symptomized by violence in movies, television, and music, the remaining problems of poverty and prejudice in America's cities must be aggressively addressed. Ironically, many of the same politicians and groups who cry out against violence in rap music are also leading the attack on Welfare, Affirmative Action, funding for education, and proposals for universal health care. It is disparities in economic and political power, not hip-hop music, that create violence in American society.
Cutting programs that provide social services to help alleviate the unequal opportunity to jobs, resources, and social mobility will only serve to aggravate problems. Voters must not allow themselves to be fooled into believing that censorship can safe-guard children from the ramifications of violence in American culture; they must not play into the problem by cutting programs that provide hope for escape from economic and political discrepancies that feed into the cycle of violence.
Instead, those who truly wish to put an end to the problems expressed by some rappers in their lyrics and lifestyles, must focus on providing services and opportunities that will combat the feeling of nihilism in many of America's communities today. Social services must be supported, expanded, and reorganized to more effectively administer programs for those who have been economically and politically disadvantaged.
It is necessary to address the basic needs of the urban working class--affordable housing, health care, and food--before there can be any attempts to eliminate violence in America's cities. Additionally, it is necessary that working-class adults are able to earn a living wage before they may begin to be expected to have hope for their future or the future of their children. Minimum wage, as it exists today, is not an adequate family wage, and, as a result, many parents have been forced to work several jobs, keeping them away from the home, in order to provide for their children and relatives.
Finally, in order to prevent violence and crime before it begins, federal, state, and local funding should be diverted from law enforcement and prison systems into public education and youth programs.
High art rap
Youth cannot have hope unless they have access to a useful, relevant education that can provide them with the opportunity to choose the path of their futures. I believe that few youth, given sufficient resources, respect, and support, would choose violence. However, for many youth today, options are limited by a disparity of access to the resources that provide that choice. For many youth the heroes and success stories of the inner-city are rappers. The appeal of hip-hop culture has pushed out of urban areas and into the suburbs. Hip-hop has had a tremendous influence on mainstream fashion, television, movies, advertising, and language Hoping to follow the success of rappers like LL Cool J, Will Smith, Sean "Puffy" Combs, and Wyclef, many youth see the music industry as one of their only opportunities to achieve the notoriety and money to escape the hopelessness of the inner-city.
However, those who attempt to succeed in hip-hop music face a difficult challenge. In an industry controlled by mainly by upper-class white men, young, urban minority musicians are often treated as commodities, not as artists. If white people are pleased, we are glad. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. Echoing the defiance of Hughes, Ice-T has said:. I rap about my life, and I rap about it in the hardest, most blatant sense. I consider what I say as real. This is the way the world I come from is.
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This is the way I talk and I live. This is the only way I can be. Most centrally, Hughes and Ice-T are connected by a shared desire to violate the conventional hierarchical categories of cultural production; in particular, the boundary between oral and literary forms.
His recent moves into autobiographical and fiction writing further demonstrates this interface between black literary and oral forms. In , Hughes was accused by fellow writer George Schuyler of producing exotic and primitivist images of black urban life for white bourgeois publishers and readers. The poem asks us where we draw the line between autonomous and appropriated black cultural forms. Crucially, it encompasses an assortment of racial and national voices, from the music of black America to Anglo-American battle hymns, Latin American cha-cha, German Lieders, and Caribbean Calypso.
These musical disjunctures underscore the notion of a contested cultural space. That Ice-T has performed this speaking role also encourages us to think about the cultural exchange between jazz and hip hop. They are arguably two of the most popular and controversial African American musical forms of the last century.
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Both offer innovative forms of expression that are rooted in historical and social inequalities. In the s, Hughes was accused of being apolitical. In the fourth section of Ask Your Mama, Hughes conjures memorable images of ghettoisation and the social-racial power relations that have produced and delimited black urban space:.