Hip Hop and Rap Music in the USA. From Grassroots to Commercialization


Thesis (M.A.), 2009
81 Pages, Grade: 2,3

Excerpt

Table of Contents

I. Intro

II. The Development of Hip Hop
II.1. What is Hip Hop Culture? What is Rap Music? - A Definition and Early Developments (1974-1982)
II.2. The Development of Modern Rap - From Run D.M.C. and LL Cool J to Gangsta- and Political Rap - From 1982 until

III. Political Rap - Knowledge and Community Control
III.1. The Emergence and Manifestations of Political Rap
III.2. Education - Boogie Down Productions
III.3. Community Control - Public Enemy
III.4. The Use of Violence in the Language of Political Rap - Public Enemy and KRS-One
III.5. Criticism from within
III.6. Political Rap: A Movement or only a Subgenre?
III.7. Power to Change and the End of Political Rap

IV. Gangsta Rap - Between Resistance and Nihilism
IV. 1. Postindustrial Los Angeles & Emergence of Gangsta Rap
IV. 2. The Contents of Gangsta Rap
IV. 3. Gangsta Identity, the Language of Gangsta Rap and being a Real Nigga
IV. 4. Gangsta Rap: Messages/ Nihilism/ Criticism - Where is Gangsta Rap Heading?

V. Rap Music and Minstrelsy: An Interesting Relation
V. 1. What is Minstrelsy?
V. 2. Is Rap the new Minstrelsy?

VI. Rap Music, Hip Hop Culture and its Critics
VI. 1. Rap Music and Academic Studies
VI. 2. Is Hip Hop Art?
VI. 3. The Congressional Hearing on Rap Music

VII. How Commercialization has changed the Rap Game and how it has helped its Critics

VIII. Outro: Grassroots Movement or Commercialized Music Business?

IX. Bibliography/Websites

I. Intro

From the late 1990s onwards, rap music sales have shown a large and ever growing increase making rap the fastest growing music genre, ahead of country, rock, classical, and all other musical forms (cf. Kitwana 2002: 9/10). "By 1998 rap was the top-selling musical format, outdistancing rock music and country music, the previous leading sellers" (ibid.). This popularity has given rappers an increasing presence at the Grammy's as well as regular appearances in advertisements for major corporations throughout the US and worldwide (cf. ibid). Today,

African American musicians are a commanding presence in the marketplace: top-selling artists routinely sign multimillion-dollar contracts, and their fans fill stadiums and consume heavily promoted CDs by their favorite artists (Ramsey, Jr. 2003: 164).

Nowadays one could not imagine chart shows, discos or house- parties without rap music. According to Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., rap music, which belongs under the cultural umbrella called hip hop, "is virtually everywhere: television, radio, film, magazines, art galleries, and in 'underground' culture" (ibid.). Teenagers, young adults, professionals, and even presidential candidates like Barack Obama[1] listen to the lyrics of artists such as Jay-Z. In addition to buying the records of their favorite artists, rap music fans also imitate the way their stars act and dress. Thus, "hip hop culture is also a way of dressing, walking, and talking" (Ibrahim 2003: 173). Hip hop clothing, for example, is an essential part of the movement's lifestyle and can be purchased in stores around the world. Often it is even designed or sold under the name of some of the biggest stars of the rap music scene (Jay Z, P. Diddy, LL Cool J, Eminem). In other words, rap music and hip hop culture are, beside the sports sector, the most lucrative form of entertainment and lifestyle in the late 20th and the early 21st century. Beyond that, "from cinema, clothing lines, magazines, and American vernacular, hip hop's influence has made an indelible mark in popular culture" (Ogbar 2007: 38).

In the past three decades hip hop has developed from an underground movement in one of New York City's poorest boroughs, the Bronx, to a worldwide multi-billion-dollar industry.

Scholars, critics, and music fans have accompanied the movement on this way. The questions many of these people ask are why hip hop has become what it is today and, most importantly, whether hip hop developed from a so-called grassroots movement to a commercialized entertainment industry that has nothing to do with its original motivations as a cultural and social movement. A main point of interest is whether hip hop and rap music can function as a means of resistance against prevailing racial inequality or merely act as another form of entertainment.

This work aims to give answers to the questions raised above as well as to examine the reasons for hip hop's international success, the dangers of it, and the motivations rappers had and still have to pursue their art. Also, race, the language of rap music, the construction of authenticity, misogyny, and the connection with 19th and early 20th century minstrelsy will play a major role in the analysis of this phenomenon in American popular culture. It is yet to be answered if the success of this form of art has been a blessing or acurse for its performers and their audience, the so-called hip hop generation.[2]

Before I address these questions, it is important to learn about the roots of the hip hop movement. Where and why did it all begin?

What were the intentions of the 'founding fathers'?[3] Later on I will concentrate on the developments hip hop has made and present the different subgenres of this particular musical genre.

II. The Development of Hip Hop

II.1. What is Hip Hop Culture? What is Rap Music? - A Definition and Early Developments (1974-1982)

Sometime in 1974, in an apartment in the Bronx, Joseph Saddler, who was to become known as Grandmaster Flash, plugged two turntables [...] into the same speaker. Placing a different record on each turntable, he switched from one to the other [.] - until he had an exciting mix of sound (Shaw 1986: 292).

This is the way the man who produced one of rap music's most influential songs in 1982, "The Message", started experimenting. The result was to become one essential part of the hip hop culture: the art of DJ'ing. The second important element of rap music is rapping itself. The rapper's or MC's[4] task is the rhythmic delivery of rhymes - the more complex the better. Along with this, the main job of an emcee is to "control the crowd with his voice and crush opponents with his lyrics" (http://www.b-boys.com/classic/hiphopculture.html).

The original task of an MC was to introduce and praise the DJ he or she worked with and to hype up the crowd. When rapping became more central to the music, the term rapper was introduced. Because of the "spoken or semi-spoken declamations, usually in rhyming couplets" (Ramsey, Jr. 2003: 165), the art of rapping can be characterized as something between speech, prose, poetry, and song. Yet, before there were DJs and MCs around, before anybody dreamed about a multi-billion-dollar-rap-music-industry, there were the roots that provided the foundation for rap music. Tommy Lott argues in his article, "Black Vernacular Representation", that this distinctly African American practice has roots that "can be traced to the oral and music making traditions of West Africa" (Lott 1994: 243). Along with spirituals and coded sermons performed by slaves, rap music is a "unique form of expression" (ibid.). He even claims that rap "provides a paradigm of African American cultural resistance involving transformed African retentions" (ibid.).

One of the founders of the musical genre, a man who calls himself Afrika Bambaataa[5], affirms that the African elements were definitely important parts of rap's foundation (cf. Perkins 1996: 2). In 1993 he said, "Rap in general dates all the way back to the motherland [Africa], where tribes would use call-and-response chants" (Afrika Bambaataa 1993 in Perkins 1996: 2). He continues to list the ancestors:

In the 1930s and 1940s, you had Cab Calloway pioneering his style of jazz rhyming. The sixties you had the love style of rapping, with Isaac Hayes, Barry White, and the poetry style of rapping with the Last Poets, the Watts poets and the militant style of rapping with brothers like Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan (ibid.).

It may seem farfetched but a sports legend is also referred to as one of the inspirers of inner city youth that eventually created the form of rap we know today: Muhammad Ali. His use of rhyming couplets is designed to insult and ridicule opponents and is defined as signifying (cf. Perkins 1996: 4).[6] Another more obvious source was the style of black DJs in the period from the 1940s until the 1960s. As a means to secure their share of the market, they "bombed the airwaves with their personal styles" (George 1998: 4).

Beside the music two more features define what is called hip hop culture: Break dancing[7] and Graffiti-art.

Break dancing is a form of street dancing that was invented - just as DJ'ing and rapping - in the ghettos of New York City. In this unique form of physical expression the dancer "spins on the head, the back, and/or the hands" (Shaw 1986: 293). There are several subcategories of break dancing such as the widely popular practice called pop-locking:

The dancer looked as if an electric current were passing through his body, locking his joints for a moment and followed by his popping one joint out of line and back again (ibid.).

This robot-like movement was made popular around the world in the 1980s by superstar Michael Jackson's dance moves including the

Moonwalk.

Rapping and break dancing presented - and continue to do so - a social chance for young African Americans because it was "a way to be No. 1 without blowing somebody away" (ibid.). In other words, rapping and dancing were means to escape the violence, crime, and poverty so prevalent in American inner cities.

The element to complete the spectrum of hip hop culture is the art of spraying tags, pictures, and ciphered messages on walls, subway trains, and other public property. Graffiti - just as the other elements of hip hop - has spread around the globe and is nowadays widely accepted as a true form of art. However, in the days of their inception, graffiti, break dancing, rapping, and DJ'ing were used as acts of social protest.[8]

During the early days of hip hop, the DJ ruled and established the foundations for the lyricist (the MC) (cf. Perkins 1996: 6). Later on, the DJs moved in the back and the MCs became the center of interest.

As the pioneers of rap music, there are several names to be mentioned. About five years after Grandmaster Flash's first experiments with his turntables and countless house- and blockparties thrown by Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc) and Afrika Bambaataa, the first mainstream rap music hit single was released in October 1979; Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight".[9] Together with his band The Furious Five, Grandmaster Flash had one of rap's most influential hit singles in 1982 called "The Message". This song is even ranked #51 in the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list (http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/500songs).[10] Both groups of artists came from the Bronx in New York City where the hip hop culture was born.

In anticipation of subsequent chapters, I would like to point to an important fact regarding these two songs. We can already make a first distinction of rap music's various voices as "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message" deal with rather different topics. The former can be referred to as a happy dance-anthem in which one rapper passes the microphone to the next without conveying any real message but being fresh, which means new and unique. Nevertheless the song created a worldwide boom for hip hop culture and rap music. The latter, on the other hand, deals with more serious social issues: it is concerned with a variety of topics such as television, women, school, drugs, god, life in prison, and life in the ghetto. The song is thereby more controversial and embodies the defiant side of rap music.

Many rappers who followed adapted to this scheme (cf. Dufresne 1991: 23). At this early stage in the development of rap music we are already presented with one source of diversity within the genre. Still, we need to analyze those artists who prefer to rap solely because of the music, without a deeper meaning, and those who try to use their music to talk and raise awareness about certain issues that concern them personally, or the community they represent as a whole.

Both songs, "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message", contributed greatly to the popularization of rap music and hip hop culture in the USA as well as the whole world. These songs - among others - brought hip hop on its way and the further developments probably would not have happened without them.

II.2. The Development of Modern Rap - From Run D.M.C. and LL Cool J to Gangsta- and Political Rap - From 1982 until 1998

Until the early 1980s, rap music had gained popularity within the American popular culture. Before that, rap songs were mainlyplayed on underground radio stations and at block parties which were thrown by local New York DJs. With the ever growing number of listeners, the mainstream music industry and its offshoots such as MTV, VH-1, and a host of other radio- and television programs started introducing hip hop culture and rap music to their programs. The first rap video to be shown was Run D.M.C.'s "Rock Box" in 1984. In 1988 YO! MTV Raps was aired for the first time. So, only five years after "Rapper's Delight", the music industry recognized the commercial potential of this urban street culture.

Therefore it was no surprise that new artists appeared on the scene. William Eric Perkins calls this period the "second wave of hip hop" (cf. Perkins 1996: 14). Among the new artists - besides Run DMC - was a young rapper who called himself LL Cool J.[11] Along with several other rappers they constituted what is widely known as old school hip hop or the golden age of hip hop (cf. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5430999/). They contributed a lot to the widespread recognition of rap music by the mainstream media. Furthermore, Run D.M.C. was the first rap act to produce a crossover single - "Walk this Way" - with the globally known rock band Aerosmith in 1986. "Run D.M.C.'s sound symbolized the merger of the black urban street sound with a slick pop overlay" (Perkins 1996: 14) and by using electronic beats and nothing else, the group made a big step in the commercialization of this art form. Apart from the music, their dressing style also differed a lot from their ancestors'. Instead of wearing leather suits, tight jeans, and boots, their trademarks were pants, Adidas sneakers with the shoelaces removed, sweat suits, Fedora hats, and - characteristic for this era in hip hop - the oversized gold chains and rings called "dookie gold" (ibid. p.15).

This also served the importance of extravagant and flashy dressing within the hip hop community.

Although being "products of suburbia" (Perkins 1996: 14) and hence not being directly involved in the harsh reality of the ghetto in New York City, Run D.M.C. was "one of the numerous rap combos advising kids to keep off drugs"

(http://www.cyberessays.com/Arts/37.htm). The group also informed children about the benefits of learning and education as a means to escape poverty and violence. It is important to point out that some rappers use their popularity to address social issues, spread positive messages, and encourage the members of their communities to refrain from violence and crime.

The second artist already mentioned before, LL Cool J, became "the king of the genre lover's rap" (Perkins 1996: 15) and one of the superstars of rap music with his first hit single "I Need Love" in 1987. Despite his popularity around the world, more politically and socially oriented members of the hip hop community (such as Ice-T) condemned his image and attitude. They "castigated LL's lovers' rap as a commercial sellout and labeled him a 'ho'"[12] (ibid.).

This constitutes one of the most striking controversies within the hip hop community, namely the question whether rappers such as LL Cool J used their music for mere commercial exploitation. Anyway, it could also be argued that making money in a business controlled by white corporations has always been of high importance for rappers. This clearly accounts for the materialism in contemporary rap music. As to LL Cool J it should be noted that by the late 1980s he moved away from his image to focus on social issues such as drugs, racism, and economic empowerment.

The second wave of hip hop (late 1980s/early 1990s) also "saw the emergence of a more militant strain of the music" (http://www.cyberessays.com/Arts/37.htm). Artists such as KRS-One and Public Enemy (PE) from the east coast and Ice-T and N.W.A. from the west coast[13] boosted political- and gangsta rap - both of which belong to the genre of message- or conscious rap.

Gangsta rap can be described as a product of the gang culture in the boroughs of Los Angeles such as South Central, Compton, Long Beach as well as the "retro-mack (the resurgence of the pimp attitude and style) culture of East Oakland" (Perkins 1996: 18) in the Bay Area near San Francisco.

The lyrics of gangsta rappers constantly deal with street life including pimping and hustling. The language of their songs is extremely profane with references to brutality and multiple sexual partners as essential parts.

Political rap and its performers on the other hand tried to "move beyond rap's nightmare of materialism and directionless hostility" and spread a message of "agitation and propaganda with a funky beat" (Toop 2000: 176). The members of Public Enemy for example differed a lot from their gangsta counterparts. Instead of wearing heavy gold chains and fancy dresses, they performed their shows dressed in camouflage and other military gear in order to underline their claim to be a political rap band.

Still, both types - gangsta- and political rap - belong to the subgenre of message rap. Nevertheless, however militant or profane particular artists of the subgenre may be, critics and scholars should always consider that message rappers used their art to criticize the situation of African Americans and to be "the CNN for black people" (http://www.motherjones.com/arts/qa/2004/09/09 100.html) in order to display what is going on in the inner-cities of the US. Despite these facts, there are still significant differences within the genre of message oriented rap.

As already stated, by 1998 rap music became the best selling musical format in the United States. Yet, the hip hop community had to pay a high price for its commercial success, not least because of the inherent aggression and violence of gangsta rap as well as the lifestyle many of its main figures represented. This includes the feud between two of the major artists, 2Pac from the west coast and The Notorious B.I.G. from the east coast. The killings of these two young artists lead to a peak for gangsta rap and showed how reality and image were intertwined in this movement. This link between (self)- portrayal and real life will also be addressed in the chapters on gangsta rap and authenticity.

III. Political Rap - Knowledge and Community Control

At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s two important subgenres of rap music emerged. Political rappers offer a form of social and political criticism that is less crime-oriented than their gangsta-counterparts'. However, this does not mean that they are less radical regarding their opinions and messages. But this first difference indicates that political rappers are more concerned about the whole African American community and its status in the American society, whilst the gangstas seem to concentrate on telling what is going on and how certain individuals manage to live in, or rather survive, the ghetto. Ernest Allen, Jr. points out that the gangstas are concentrated on "individualistic solutions of social problems" whilst the others "tend toward more collective ones" (Allen 1996: 169). In spite of the fact that the two types of rap music share a common feature, "an antisocial character with respect to the dominant society" (ibid.), in both forms women are displayed as being inferior (gangsta) or at least as being in need of protection (political/conscious).

According to William Eric Perkins, however, political rap is much more useful for the purpose of making oneself heard and to change the situation (of blacks) in a positive sense. He instances the rap group Public Enemy (PE) with their charismatic front man Chuck D and the comical Flavor Flav as "the standard by which all political rap should be judged" (Perkins 1996: 21). Tricia Rose calls these rappers "prophets of rage" who keep "poor folks alert and prevent[s] them from being lulled into submission by placating and misleading media stories and official 'truths'" (Rose 1994: 99).

Before I analyze the contents of political- or visionary rap, I will give a short summary of the emergence of this particular subgenre of rap music.

III.1. The Emergence and Manifestations of Political Rap

The roots of political rap can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s when rap music's forefathers such as the Last Poets and Gil Scott- Heron released songs with political contents. Moreover, the black poetry movement of the sixties with "its specific content traceable to the sociopolitical thought of African American from that period to the present" (Allen 1996: 161) has to be mentioned as another source.

Public Enemy contributed a lot to the development of political rap. Their first album: "Yo! Bum Rush the Show", which was released in 1987, even kicked off this genre. The second group that played an important role for political rap was called Boogie Down Productions (BDP) with protagonist-rapper KRS-One. Beside these two outstanding groups there are several more that should be mentioned here. Among them are artists such as Paris, Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest.

According to Ernest Allen, Jr. there are several categories into which political rap can be classified. He talks about "cultural- political nationalism (Public Enemy (PE), Boogie Down Productions (BDP) [...], and specific, message-oriented expressions embedded in [...] more earthly gangsta rap (N.W.A., Ice Cube, Ice-T)" (Allen 1996: 162). But it is necessary to divide these into subcategories as the contents and messages of political rappers who belong to the same category sometimes differ. For example, PE and BDP belong to the cultural-political category but their ideas of how to improve the situation of African Americans are different.

In spite of the differences in the messages, all of the mentioned artists have one thing in common: By portraying the everyday life of African Americans they try to make a difference with their music.

Ernest Allen, Jr. explains one should primarily distinguish between those rappers who see education and those viewing community control as the major means to achieve self-empowerment and some sort of equality (cf. ibid.).

III.2. Education - Boogie Down Productions

They schools can't teach us shit/ My people need freedom, we tryin' to get all we can get/All my high school teachers can suck my dick/ Tellin' me white man lies straight bullshit/ They schools ain't teachin' us, what we need to know to survive/ They schools don't educate, all they teach the people is lies (http://www.ohhla.com/anonymous/deadprez/get free/tschools.prz.txt).

These lyrics taken from the 2000 song "They Schools" on the "Let's Get Free" album by the group Dead Prez exemplify how a certain group of rappers think about the American educational system.

The supporters of the educational view regard the American school system as unable or unwilling to teach African Americans anything about their identity and that schools - especially those in the inner cities - are in a miserable condition. They argue that too much emphasis is put on the history of the dominating whites - even if many schools in the US are made up entirely of blacks. In their opinion the history of African Americans is not addressed appropriately. Thus, these rappers seek to teach and encourage their listeners to attain a certain self-knowledge. Even though the school system might be focused on white history according to political rappers, they still argue that it is necessary to attend school in order to attain technical knowledge and skills. These are elementary prerequisites if blacks want to survive in today's world. Beside their criticism of the school system many political rappers state that whatever is taught at school should not be ignored. PE's front man Chuck D: "[...] you better get through high school, and whatever they teach, you better do your best to learn it" and "spend less time drinkin' them damn 40's, spend less time on the corner and more time in them books" (Dane Webb, "Black is Back, and We're All In", Rap Pages 1 (Feb. 1992): 34. In: Allen 1996: 181). This statement becomes very important as it indicates that African Americans cannot afford to neglect the school education even though it is often bad or inferior and makes it difficult to find meaningful employment. But without it, it would become even harder and the path to a criminal career would be paved (cf. Lawson 2005: 167).

This formal knowledge (1), however, constitutes the first level of knowledge and is regarded as only the first step to self-knowledge which leads to self-determination. This opinion is clearly displayed in the 1990 song "Ya know the rules" by Boogie Down Productions (BDP) / KRS-One,

Education does not come from simply obeyin'/ the curriculum, of the school criteria/ In fact what I learned I found inferior (http://www.ohhla.com/anonymous/boogiedp/edutain/ya know.bdp.txt).

Still, rappers are more concerned with what is called (2) street- and (3) scientific knowledge.

(2) Street knowledge can be learned by every individual member of the ghetto through experience in handling everyday life there. The main feature of this kind of knowledge can be described as knowing how to survive and make the best of one's situation. Let's see how it is explained in the last-mentioned song: "Lived on the streets abouteight years straight/ there I got my education and learned to debate" (ibid.).

(3) Scientific knowledge seems to be the highest form of knowledge for supporters of the educational view among rappers. For KRS-One Metaphysics[14] plays a central role in this form of knowledge.

He underlines his claim to be a teacher for the black community in this way:

Well, I want science, not silence but science/ Scientific fact about black/ The board of education acts as if it's only reality/ Is talking 'bout Tom, Dick, and Harry/ [...]But who will oppose the teacher when society's a wreck/ So check the black man's in effect (song: "Blackman in Effect", album: "Edutainment") (www.ohhla.com/anonymous/boogiedp/edutain/blackman.bdp.txt).

In the song "Ya know the Rules" from the same album he gives his definition of metaphysics: "Metaphysics, the science of life / And how to live, free from strife/ walk with ease, and no disease" (www.ohhla.com/anonymous/boogiedp/edutain/ya know.bdp.txt).

Besides portraying himself as an intellectual and a teacher for inner-city black youths, he also urges people in several of his songs to learn more about themselves, their history, and achievements in order to get a clearer picture upon which a positive community identity could be formed.

For these reasons rappers such as KRS-One regard it as their obligation to address the topics which are being neglected by the American educational system due to religious and political realities. He exemplifies this in the song "Blackman in Effect".

Near the Tigris and Euphrates Valleys in Asia/ Lies the Garden of Eden/ Where Adam became a father to humanity/ Now don't get mad at me/ But according to facts, this seems just fantasy/ Because man, the most ancient man/ Was found thousands of years before Adam began/ And where he was found, again they can't laugh at ya/ It's right, dead, smack in Africa/ But due to religious and political power/ We must be denied the facts every hour/ We run to school, tryin' to get straight A's/ Let's take a trip way back in the days/ To the first civilization on Earth: the Egyptians.

(www.ohhla.com/anonymous/boogiedp/edutain/blackman.bdp.txt).

By combining the three forms of knowledge, KRS-One tries to provide African Americans with a better starting position in order to attain a higher social and economic standard. One could argue that the basic idea of political rappers who see education as a means to escape ghetto-life is that knowledge of oneself, one's past, as well as technical knowledge (school education) paves the way to a brighter future including self-respect and a firm knowledge of one's identity. In his self-portrayal as a teacher for African Americans KRS-One not only intends to educate his listeners about life and the history of blacks but "to counter negative stereotypes" (Allen 1996: 182). He sees himself as a rapper who addresses whites directly in order to educate them about what they get wrong when they think about African Americans. In the song "My Philosophy" from the 1988 album "By All Means Necessary" he explains,

Mainly what I write is for the average New Yorker/ Some MCs be talkin' and talkin'/ Tryin' to show how black people are walkin'/ But I don't walk this way to portray/ Or reinforce stereotypes of today/ Like all my brothas eat chicken and watermelon/ Talk broken English and drug sellin' (http://www.ohhla.com/anonymous/boogiedp/by all/my philo.bdp.txt).

III.3. Community Control - Public Enemy

The advocates of the community control idea (PE) also support the educational issue. However, they emphasize that "the formation of powerful and dynamic black business enterprises [...] constitutes the primary road to self-determination" (Allen 1996: 179).

The main advocate of this goal has been PE's Chuck D. In a song called "Shut 'em Down" (1991) he argues that corporate businesses such as the leading sports brand Nike along with others make millions of dollars in and with the black community but give back nothing in return. Therefore, he urges African Americans to start their own businesses and assure their survival by supporting them, not the ones that do not support the black community. In the song he states:

Another racial attack/ In disguise so give some money back/ I like Nike but wait a minute/ The neighborhood supports so put some/ Money in it/ Corporations owe/ They gotta give up the dough/ To the town/ Or else/ We gotta shut 'em down (http://www.ohhla.com/anonymous/pb enemy/apoc 91/shutdown.pbe.txt).

The central point of this idea is that if blacks own their own businesses, the younger generations will have less problems finding a job or starting their own business.

But as no one can set up a business of any kind without the skills and knowledge required, it becomes clear that both ideas are inseparably linked. On the one hand, respective artists say that education is the primary source from which a minority group such as African Americans can gain self-determination; this means the underlying motto seems to be: knowledge is power. On the other hand, the community control supporters are focused on the more practical results of learning and attending school.

Of course, these are not the only contents of political rap. On the contrary, political rap aims at all forms of racial, social, and economic oppression and injustice. Just like their gangsta-counterparts theycriticize the latent - and often all too obvious - racism and prejudice toward ethnic minorities.

III.4. The Use of Violence in the Language of Political Rap - Public Enemy and KRS-One

Regarding the question of language in political rap, Ian Verstegen concentrates on the use of violence in the lyrics of KRS-One and Public Enemy. He claims that "while violence exists, its meaning is extremely complex and easily misunderstood" (http://www.temple.edu/gradmag/fall00/verstegen.htm, Ian Verstegen "I'm Still Number One", BDP's Ambivalent Leadership of Political Rap). This means that unlike their gangsta counterparts political rappers seem to use violent imagery in order to create metaphors. In PE's 1987 song "Miuzi weighs a Ton"[15] Chuck D says "I'm a Public Enemy but I don't rob banks/ I don't shoot bullets and I don't shoot blanks"

[...]


[1] President Barack Obama stated in an interview available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFSVG7jRp g that he enjoys black music in general and likes to listen to the music of rapper Jay-Z in particular.

[2] According to Bakari Kitwana, the hip hop generation is said to cover African Americans born between 1965 and 1984. (cf. Kitwana 2002: XIII).

[3] I use the gender specific expression ,fathers' because - as we will see in the following chapters - the inventors of hip hop/rap music were exclusively male.

[4] The abbreviations DJ and MC derive from disc jockey and master of ceremonies respectively.

[5] Choosing a stage-name is an important feature in the rap music world. It derived from disc jockeys that used to give themselves names that would be recognized by their audiences. These stage-names often embody certain personal characteristics and are used to create an identity that cannot be matched by other rappers (cf. George 1999: 5). Afrika Bambaataa's real name is Lance Kahyan Aasim.

[6] "I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee/ There ain't no motherfucker that can rap like me", the CC Crew used the first part of Ali's famous words to create the elemental form of rap (cf. Perkins 1996: 4).

[7] Break dancers or B-boys are especially keen on battling with other performers in order to find out who got the best moves and skills.

[8] Given that hip hop was created in poor inner cities such as the Bronx where young blacks had very few chances of social and economic ascendancy, this cultural movement was a way to highlight their situation and to show that these young people were capable of creating something.

[9] The song sold over two million copies (the biggest 12" single ever) and hit #4 on the R & B Chart. At one point, the record was selling over 50'000 copies a day (http:/ / www.oldschoolhiphop.com/features/rappersdelight.htm).

[10] The Rolling Stone Magazine is one of the most influential music magazines worldwide.

[11] LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James".

[12] 'Ho' is the slang word for a prostitute.

[13] It is important to mention whether artist come from the east coast (New York etc.) or from the west (Los Angeles etc.) because this is an important distinction which lead to significant conflicts within the rap music scene.

[14] Metaphysics: The philosophical study of being and knowing. www.wordnet.priceton.edu/perl/webwn .

[15] Miuzi = My Uzi; Uzi = an Israeli submachine gun.

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Hip Hop and Rap Music in the USA. From Grassroots to Commercialization
College
University of Freiburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Grade
2,3
Author
Year
2009
Pages
81
Catalog Number
V270059
ISBN (eBook)
9783656608219
ISBN (Book)
9783656608202
File size
751 KB
Language
English
Tags
Rap, Hip Hop, American, Music, Afro, Gangsta, Commercialisation
Quote paper
Karl Kovacs (Author), 2009, Hip Hop and Rap Music in the USA. From Grassroots to Commercialization, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/270059

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Title: Hip Hop and Rap Music in the USA. From Grassroots to Commercialization


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