“Gangsta Rap” – The Move From Inner City Slums to Profitable Entertainment
“Our music is not ´gangsta rap.´ There`s no such thing. The label was created by the media to limit what we can say. We just deliver the truth in a brutal fashion. The young black male is a target. Snoop has gone four times platinum and makes more money than the President. They don´t like that, so you hear ´ban this, ban that´. We attack people´s emotions. It´s a real live show that brings out the inside in people. Like I said, intense.” – GZA the Genius (Wu-Tang Clan) in a 1994 interview for The Independent.
In the mid-1980s, a subgenre of a style of music, hitherto called “Rap,” caught attention. It was recognized by many people and by the media in the year 1986, when “Shooly D,” an artist out of Philadelphia released his single “PSK.” Simultaneously, Ice T from Los Angeles released “Six in the Morning.” This musical subgenre of a culture, which earlier followed a more poetic or funky, “party-oriented direction,” now began to change the content of its lyrics. Artists began to speak directly about violent acts and about the business of drugs. However, this was not enough. For critics such as Tipper Gore, the Reverend Al Sharpton, or the Reverend Jesse Jackson, far worse was yet to come because artists began to achieve huge commercial success with the music. They were not only the pioneers of a style of “rap music,” later defined as “gangsta rap”; they also encouraged a lot of other artists to do so. After Ice T released his 1987 album Rhyme Pays, on which he created the still currently used “pimp style,” a lot of artists came up with similar content. Boogie Down Productions and NWA released their widely recognized records, and “gangsta rap” established itself as a serious part of the music industry. The main themes of these 1980´s lyrics were and continue today in 2010 (almost 20 years later) to be, violence, drug dealing, profanity, sex, homophobia, racism, promiscuity, misogyny, rape, street gangs, drive-by shootings, vandalism, thievery, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and capitalistic materialism. The album called The Chronic by NWA member Dr. Dre, who went on a solo path then, was a massive seller in 1992. It went triple platinum in the United States and in this way, showed the whole world how much commercial appeal was held by “gangsta rap.” Today, these “rapping gangsters” are everywhere: on the music channels on television, in Hollywood movies, in the world of fashion working as models or as fashion designers (sometimes both) and in the advertising industry functioning as global symbols of excess and violence just like publicity-flamed media outlaws in the 19th-century tradition of Jesse James.
This style of music has such an attractive and fascinating effect on consumers because it introduces people to a world with which they are not always in touch. Yet not all of these stories which are told to the audience are serious facts or even authentic. Middleclass audiences ask, “Do these gangster rappers really do what they are talking about in their lyrics?” To answer this question, one has to look back to the 1960s. In his 1999 book Hip Hop America Nelson George, according to Rolling Stone magazine, “one of the most insightful hip hop writers on the planet,” describes the rise of the drug business and its close connection to the development of “gangsta rap.” According to George, in the time after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, a lot of the black middle-class families could choose where they wanted to live then, and they moved out of the inner city slums (34). In the areas left behind, they left a wide open gap for crime, which increased dramatically.