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Bachelor Thesis, 2017
51 Pages, Grade: 1,7
2. A History of Empowerment and Protest in Rap Music
2.1. Vernacular, Poetics and Musical Style in Rap Music
2.1.3. Musical Style
2.2. The Lyrical Content of Rap Music
2.2.1. A Brief History of the Themes of Empowerment and Protest in Rap Lyrics
3. Empowerment and Protest in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly
3.1. Vernacular, Poetics and Musical Style and its Function
3.1.3. Musical Style
3.2. Lyrical Content: Empowerment and Protest
3.2.1. Juxtaposed Reading of Five Major Themes
3.2.2. Tripartite Reading of Themes in Connection to Poems
Kendrick Lamar’s attention to the intricacies of African-American identity certainly argues against an interpretive work written by a white, German student. It is important to me, personally, that this thesis is not understood as a claim to understanding the perspective or the struggles expressed in this album. Lamar’s album spoke to me as no more and no less than a human being, who is interested and has been affected by the experiences of others and as someone who enjoys rap music and recognizes its cultural impact.
NOTE: Quotes, metaphors, lyrics and other terminology cited in this analysis include racially and sexually-charged profanity. At no time are the quotes an expression of any personal standpoint. However, for the sake of authenticity, they have not been censored.
Furthermore, some terms may seem as misspelled when they are simply uncensored and authentically adapted to describe phenomena utilized to enhance the typology used for categorization.
When the four corners of this cocoon collide
You’ll slip through the cracks hopin’ that you’ll survive
Gather your wit, take a deep look inside
Are you really who they idolize?
To pimp a butterfly
In a 2015 interview with MTV, young Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar introduced his third LP To Pimp a Butterfly. Excited to hear that someone had figured out the significance of the album title To Pimp a Butterfly, which was initially supposed to be called “Tu Pimp a Caterpillar”, he says: “That was the original name […] because the abbreviation was Tupac, Tu.P.A.C” (Markman 2). So, what overwhelmed his desire to honor his idol Tupac Shakur, whom he symbolically interviews in the song Mortal Man? Markman quotes Lamar as saying,
[M]e changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word pimp has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity. (7)
Lamar’s album is a personal journey. It’s an embodiment of a personal struggle which resonates an internal conflict brought on by external forces. And, above all, it’s a blueprint for a possible path to empowerment. But how is empowerment achieved? This question can and will not be answered by this thesis. However, attempts will be made to outline Lamar’s approach.
Empowerment and protest are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps it can even be claimed, that a personal journey of empowerment builds the foundation for any further cultural protest, while a ‘protesting’ of internal and external forces, which are the influencing factors behind individual conditioning, are necessary to achieve empowerment. Consequently, the two interlinked themes of protest and empowerment are common in rap music, a creative style which can be foundationally linked to those two subjects. African-American cultural protest is rooted in a history of injustice and persecution, throughout which, music has been a platform for creative expression, used to uplift, to cope, to educate, and, thereby, to empower. More than just aiding in the heightening of one’s self-confidence, however, empowerment has the potential to lead to a greater cultural consciousness as well: a cultural consciousness of resistance, built on an identity which is upheld unapologetically, thereby directly linking it to active protest and social change.
Lamar’s critically acclaimed album has been described as an enormous success. Produced by high-profile hip hop producers such as Dr. Dre, Sounwave, Terrace Martin and many others, released by Top Dawg Records, Aftermath Records and Interscope Records and recorded in studios all over the United States, the album is versatile and multi-layered in many ways. More than just highlighting the political and social discontentment of contemporary African-American communities, it is the assertion of this thesis, that the lyrical content of Lamar’s album engages in complex structural break-downs, which systematically unfold levels of political and social relevance on, both, a personal level, and, almost by default, on a cultural level. These break-downs are based on a concept of duality:
[Lamar] frequently raps about the duality of his life, a hero for all of hip-hop, but also a man with faults. These faults are visible in his music, every boastful line of success can be accompanied by a line declaring his fear of judgement. (Bowman 1)
Stylistically, To Pimp a Butterfly has been referred to as an “ambitious avant-jazz-rap statement” (Helman 1), due to its specific sound which draws on jazz and funk music, and flaunts its innovative use of poetics and vernacular. Lamar’s work also incorporates spoken word poetry, which clearly sets it apart from many other rap albums. Casey Michael Henry of The Los Angeles Book Review defines the album as, both, original, as well as being a contemporary revival of African-American postmodernism when he calls it the “fully realized apotheosis of a new kind of postmodern rap ‘mega’ or ‘concept’ album” (2) in his 2015 review.
Lyrically, To Pimp a Butterfly describes not only Lamar’s personal journey of empowerment, but also a desire for a more self-aware cultural consciousness of resistance. This entanglement of subjects is highlighted by juxtaposed themes, which are divided into three steps of development. Lamar shares his path with his listeners, while warning of those external and internal influences which seek to keep young African-Americans from the kind of inner reflection which has the potential to end in an empowered movement . Lamar’s personal journey of empowerment, “from cocoon to butterfly”, as implied in the title of this thesis, and used throughout the album as metaphors for developmental stages, is directly linked to the theme of cultural protest outlined by the metaphor “from Compton to Congress”, implying its social impact.
In brief, it is the assertion of this thesis, that the lyrical content, and the specific use of vernacular, poetics and musical style in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly highlight a tripartite development towards an empowered African-American identity in the form of Lamar’s personal journey, which is achieved by juxtaposing several binary themes which are comprised of a dual perspective at interrelated subjects which are all tied to the two overarching concepts of protest and empowerment. Therefore, it is the aim of this research paper to investigate Lamar’s creative expression in To Pimp a Butterfly with a focus on the vernacular, poetics, and musical style, as well as exploring patterns to be found in the lyrical content and the two spoken word poems of the album representative of 1) interlinked binary relations and 2) tripartite developmental stages towards empowerment.
Rap merges music with language to convey a feeling. Adam Bradley’s analysis of the materiality of the rap ‘vibe’ in the prologue of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, asserts that rap has the potential to invoke feelings of presence and unity:
Hands reach for the sky. Heads bob to the beat. The crowd is a living thing, animated by the rhythm. It can go on like this for hours. (Bradley 2009 x)
This highlights rap’s ability to simultaneously merge and focalize style by fusing the use of language and music with lyrical content, working together to convey a momentary feeling, which can differ in functionality, but certainly discusses and portrays concepts of protest and empowerment: Brown University Professor Tricia Rose describes rap’s aesthetic and cultural function in her 1994 essay A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Politics, Style and the Postindustrial City in Hip Hop, as being “inscribed in hip hop style, sound, lyrics and thematics”, the function of it being representative of an
Afro-diasporic cultural form which attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African-American and Caribbean history, identity and community. (71)
Although rap music had initially positioned itself within a spectrum which Rose, in her 1991 text Fear of a Black Planet: Rap Music and Cultural Politics in the 1990s, calls “apolitical party music with limited social relevance”, it quickly developed into a politically charged platform of expression which is heavily involved in negotiations of cultural and political relevance to this day (267).
Calling for a dual perspective of external and internal forces, rap can be understood as resistance which translates into internal and external protest of those forces which seek to subjugate:
Developing a style nobody can deal with – a style that cannot be easily understood or erased, a style that has the reflexivity to create counterdominant narratives against a mobile and shifting enemy – may be one of the most effective ways to fortify communities of resistance and simultaneously reserve the right to communal pleasure. (Rose 1994 85)
Rose’s statement points out that rap’s foundation is based on the binary relationship of protest and empowerment.
The following chapter aims to illuminate rap’s vernacular, poetic and musical aesthetics, as well as its relevant function, before tying the two leading concepts to a historical view of lyrical content in rap music.
This part of the background chapter will point out 1) the interrelatedness of musical style, poetics and vernacular, functioning as portals to the rap aesthetic, or more clearly, and covered separately 2) the protest and empowerment function of rap aesthetics, regarding those three categories. The various categories will be analyzed separately to build a foundation for the analysis of Lamar’s album regarding protest and empowerment and their interrelation. Consequently, there will be a specific focus on the categories which define Lamar’s album as an avant-jazz rap concept album by a young West-Coast rapper, which are 1) use of vernacular, 2) poetics and 3) musical style.
Slang is the vernacular of rap. Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois describe rap’s language as “a vivid vocabulary, stylish and often explicit” (Bradey and DuBois xxxv). It has distinct functions: Firstly, slang can be an aesthetic marker for historical movements (Bradley and DuBois xxxvii). Oftentimes, a slang terminology develops out of a culturally relevant discourse representative of a protesting of oppression in a certain timeframe. For instance, the term po-po (Urban Dictionary 2003), explicitly referring to the police department and its officers, can be understood to hold a deeper meaning: Representing a disliking for police officers patrolling African-American neighborhoods in the 1990s the term expresses an adversarial view, fueled by the mistreatment of individuals in African-American neighborhoods by police officers. The term is still used frequently.
However, slang terminology does not necessarily have to reflect an explicit protest mind state. Exemplary of this would be the term bling-bling, which signifies accessories, used to accentuate appearance and status. However, it is possible to read the slang term bling-bling as an empowerment-tool. This is a slang technique which is common to rap. Often representing stylistic devices marking an over-accentuated self-image, this type of slang terminology speaks to the artists identity as well as their community status (Bradley et al. 2010 xxxvii).
Secondly, being subject to region-based linguistics, slang can also be a representation of location: For instance, the previously discussed term po-po finds its origins in California. Alluding to police officers who patrolled neighborhoods and wore jackets with the letters ‘P’ and ‘O’, while frequently appearing in twos, the term was adopted by several rappers and came to express a disliking of the frequent mistreatment suffered at the hands of police.
Region-specific slang is also representative of regional identity. For instance, the term def (Urban Dictionary 2003) as an abbreviation, but also expressing a liking of some kind, finds its origins in 1980s New York City and is less frequently used in West Coast American slang. Commonly referred to as the original location of Gangsta-Rap, the West Coast developed a very specific vernacular, frequently referred to as hardcore, meaning, provocative and excessively offensive in nature.
Miles White criticizes the neglect of hardcore rap terminology in academic analysis, in his 2011 book From Jim Crow to Jay Z: Race, Rap and the Performance of Masculinity by saying that Postwar linguistics and its focus on the theoretical, abstract and, thus, cognitive nature of language has largely ignored non-cognitive side aspects of language such as the ‘objectification of emotional experience’ in which language regenerates its emotional power through artistic expression.
Further stating that “African-American popular music has always employed the vernacular of the disadvantaged and dispossessed” (56), White highlights another function of rap vernacular, specifically slang: To protest external forces by making language region-specific and illegible to outside influences, thereby creating a language within.
Eithne Quinn states, in the first chapter of her 2005 book Ain’t Nuthin but a “G” Thang, that the African-American experience, embodied in Gangsta-Rap and its vernacular captures a critique which dramatizes “how and why, young disenfranchised people fall short in their […] protest strategies” (15). Excessive use of slang terminology such as bitch and nigga and other provocative terminology common in West Coast Rap can therefore also be read as a tool to elicit reactions from adversarial outside influences (White 56).
Conclusively, slang is a tool of representation. A way to mark place, time, and identity. Gangsta-Rap, and its use of vernacular, specifically, functions as illumination of the contradiction of the African-American experience:
At once embodying and traveling between both responses, Gangsta Rap tends to represent false consciousness and at the same time reflect on it. (15)
In summary, this analysis has isolated three major functions of the use of vernacular in rap, as well as some being particularly prevalent in West Coast Rap: Slang can be 1) a tool to mark a historical timeframe and its political climate, which often ties it to a particular time of African-American protest, 2) a marker of identity, connected frequently to expressions of empowerment and a kind of inner-city aesthetic, 3) representative of place, in that it creates not only a region-specific slang, but also an inner-city language which focusses the African-American experience of double consciousness and the difficulties thereof, which, additionally, serves as protest against adversarial external influences, and therefore unifies slang as a tool for the binary expression of protest and empowerment.
Bradley and DuBois assert that “[r]aps are lyric poems” with rhyme patterns being their most prevalent rhetorical marker (Bradley and DuBois xxxi). At times, rap is even amalgamated with aspects of spoken word poetry, regardless of their very different historical backgrounds. Rap originated in 1970s South Bronx while spoken word poetry, also referred to as slam poetry, appeared first as judged competitions in 1980s white, working-class bars (Bradley and DuBois xxxi- xxxii). Consequently, both forms of creative expression have their own varied aesthetic, but have also become fused in “creative cross-pollination” (xxxii).
Rap embodies the creative use of rhetorical devices and mixing styles. Making use of poetic forms such as word-play, rap is closely linked to general poetic expression. However, rap has also invented some of its own forms of rhetoric, such as signifying.
Word-play, specifically metaphor and simile, is used heavily in both rap and poetry. In his 2005 essay Metaphorical Conceptions in Hip Hop Music, Scott Crossly describes early use of metaphor as being a useful tool to express that which is only limitedly conveyable in common speech, aiding in creating a language that is community based and, most of all, allowing the speaker to express a distinct experience via emotionally-charged language (501-502). This phenomenon is also described by Adam Bradley in his Book of Rhymes:
Rap is finally less about those words whose meanings are obvious and more about those words whose meanings are not readily apparent. (91)
Simile shares these functions with metaphor, in a more explicit way, which is likely why it is used more frequently in rap and less frequently in poetry (Bradley 94).
Signifying, or implying self via freestyle-battling, is also a common technique utilized in rap poetics, employed frequently in rap and poetry. Improvisation as a skill set is foregrounded in this technique (Bradley 176-177). While signifying is commonly understood as taking place between two parties in a competitive setting, it is also exemplified in the metaphorical battle between the rapper or poet and the words themselves (Bradley 177). However, rap battles are often highly confrontational, even if the addressed party is not physically apparent. A common theme in rap battling is the signifying of one’s own superiority and the denigration of another, and, thereby, highly antagonistic in nature (Bradley and DuBois xxxi).
The aesthetic qualities of rap poetics are largely guided by African-American identity. Employing a fusion of street language, heavily conflated with a mix of adversarial profanity and poetic word-play, rap projects a complex linguistic field with the potential of “changing meanings and intentions, texture and sound” (Bradley 2009 89).
This is one of the distinct functions of rap poetics: a binary objective which encompasses both protest and empowerment. Adam Bradley quotes New York rapper MC Lyte in his Book of Rhymes:
The government can’t stop it. The devil can’t stop it. It’s music, it’s art, it’s the voice of the people. […] And it’s helping to change things…it’s definitely uplifting the ghetto and giving the ghetto a chance for its own voice to be heard. (87)
Bradley asserts that one of the functions of rap poetics is the simultaneous protest and empowerment of African-American people, the use of profanity being highly representative of a discontentment with unmet needs and persecution. As for African-American poetry and its connection with rap, it is important to note that it was utilized as a form of protest in many counterculture movements such as the Black Arts Movement and Black Panther Party rallies:
Poetry was, and still is to some degree, viewed as art of the people, for the people, and by the people. In this sense, poetry was viewed as a democratic art form that possessed the ability to empower the artist in an era when the refrain “Power to People!” could be heard at Black Panther Party rallies. (Coleman 3)
West Coast Gangsta-Rap employs the common rap aesthetic while adding a style which specifies its function as a marker for identity-empowerment and region-based protest, symbolized by its radicalization of poetics. The Gangsta poetic style is marked by its “rich, dramatic storytelling in the first person” (Quinn 6). As a region-based marker for identity, metaphors such as LA and Compton do more than just remind people of location. It self-proclaims its authenticity and originality as the center of Gangsta-Rap, and it alludes to a radical rap identity, which is fed up with the mistreatment of African-Americans, and answers to this mistreatment with an individualistic and survivalist attitude (Quinn 6). Consequently, it could be claimed, that Gangsta-Rap radicalizes the poetics of rap, to protest and empower African-American neighborhoods in Los Angeles. While 90s East Coast Rap was highly representative of protest as the main agenda, West Coast Rap engaged in an empowerment-protest which was heavily founded in “the need and desire for profit and the entrepreneurial basis of pop-music” (Quinn 5). While New York rap group Public Enemy was highly opposed to ‘selling out’, West Coast rappers proclaimed their ability to ‘keep it real’ while exploiting themselves and thereby the mainstream media’s desire to profit from African-Americans creativity. This binary relationship of empowerment and protest is exemplified using radically provocative language and explicit thematizations of ‘real life’ and the struggles that come with it, often in the form of self-exaggerated portrayals of the Gangsta lifestyle. In his essay Off the Gangsta Tip: A Rap Appreciation, or Forgetting about Los Angeles, Tim Brennan describes the aesthetics and function of Gangsta-Rap poetics as demand[ing] […] an attentiveness to the specific scene or sites of its consumption not only in, but of, space where it makes relations between pacified public and newly active private territories dissonant. (Brennan 672)
Once again, rap’s nature, with a focus on its poetics and relationship to poetry, represents three functions: Protest, empowerment and the binary relation of the two aspects.
Hip Hop in all its shapes and forms is all about the phenomenon of flow. Flow is described by Tricia Rose in her 1994 text:
The music and vocal rapping in rap music […] privileges flow, layering and ruptures in line. (81)
The rapper enhances his flow, one produced by mastering rhythm and patterns of words and rhymes, with the flow of the beat, to create and sustain rhythmic motion, continuity and circularity via flow; accumulate, reinforce and embellish this continuity through layering; and manage threats to these narratives by building in ruptures which highlight the continuity as it momentarily challenges it. (82)
Flow, which is prevalent in the speech-like delivery of what would otherwise be singing, in rap, connects perfectly with the flow of the rhythm-fueled beat, which thereby accentuates the poetically-refined lyrical content of rap expression. This direct linking of flow creates a fluidity of content: An entanglement of words and beat. (Bradley and DuBois xxxiv)
The beat, rap’s most prevalent musical accompaniment, without whose flow and syncopation the lyrics would lose their strength, “foregrounds the poetic identity of the language” (Bradley xv).
West Coast rap beats are frequently referred to as “post-soul”. This definition is largely based on its radical identity politics and its clear generational break. Quinn describes this, by saying that
[t]he idea of a ‘post-soul’ culture or aesthetic indexes profound changes in black value frameworks, and an attendant generation gap between the civil rights parents and their post-civil rights children. (143)
In contrast to jazz and soul-based rap beats, which, to this day, are more common in East Coast Rap music, post-soul West Coast Rap appropriates mostly funk, perhaps made obvious by the term ‘G-funk’ (short for Gangsta funk), used to describe the West Coast rapper’s musical style (Quinn 142). Heavily infused also with harsh drum and bass-lines, G-funk style rap beats, depict an “anti-romanticism” of sexuality (Quinn 144) and a pre-occupation with fame and wealth (145), which is achieved by its heavy sampling of funk musicians such as George Clinton (Quinn 146), who frequently thematized sex and wealth, and by linking heavy beats with soft tonal performance of profanity-ridden and thematically brutal lyrical content. Consequently, G-funk beats aid in casting a “post-soul insouciance and street toughness in bolder relief” (Quinn 146).
G-funk is a marker for a time of depoliticization of rap and a turn to a resistance which was based on ritualistic over-accentuation of self-image, which casts a greater field of semantics of the “shared life experiences” of the African American community represented by the music (Quinn 149).
Because of its revival in modern rap music, especially revitalized by Kendrick Lamar in To Pimp a Butterfly, the cultural significance of jazz rap and its function as high art should be discussed: Jazz and rap share a hereditary foundation. Both have risen from the ashes of slavery and transformed horrors of persecution into expressive culture (Bradley 125). Jazz rap’s origin is commonly located in a timeframe between 1989 and 1993. It is perceived as an alternative to other rap styles, such as Gangsta-Rap. Jazz rap holds the status of high art, which is largely based on the fact, that jazz in the 1980s was perceived “as a sophisticated art form in the mainstream culture” (Williams 436). Jazz was a symbol of highbrow African-American cultural expression to white music enthusiasts, and therefore stands in direct opposition to the lowbrow reputation of rap, especially West Coast Rap (Williams 438). Another reason for jazz’s highbrow reputation, which also links it to rap, is its connection with spoken word poetry, as it was frequently used in slam poetry events as accompaniment, and considered highly improvisational (Williams 441).
The transformation in jazz appreciation in the light of its appropriation by rap musicians, is also what defines the foundation of its function. Jazz rap artists such as New York rap collective A Tribe Called Quest frequently appropriate the jazz style in their beat production and connect it to lyrical content, “promoting Afro-humanistic identities”. (Williams 442). Although not being its only purpose, appropriating jazz is partially about reclaiming it. In the wake of a time in which jazz was appropriated and held in high regard by white upper-class America, rap staged a takeover and a reclaiming effort to protest the commercialization and exploitation of African-American musical expression (Williams 435).
It becomes clear that, be it funk or jazz, the appropriation of musical style in rap music, finds its functions in aiding in the representation of a discontentment described by the lyrical content of the song. Foregrounding lyrical matters, in this case regarding protest and empowerment, via enlivenment of the words define the beat’s purpose.
The lyrical content of rap is closely tied to its genesis as a genre. It evolved out of a need for an alternative identity formation status within society; a reclaiming and re-defining effort to counteract the denigration, denial and misrepresentation of young African-Americans (Rose 1994 78-79).
Because of Lamar’s conscious mixing of protest and empowerment narratives, related to both East -and West Coast resistance, this chapter will include the listing of relevant themes tied to these narratives, with a close look at their social function and relevance as articulated by artists 2Pac and NWA (representative of the West Coast style protest and empowerment lyrics) and, Afrika Bambaataa , and Public Enemy (representative of East Coast style development of protest and empowerment lyrics).
By establishing the themes, outlining their function, and tying them to relevant artists, this chapter will have instituted a frame of reference to be utilized in the analysis of the lyrical content of the album.
The binary affiliation of protest and empowerment, which this text focalizes, exists in the complex space of its functionality. However, above all, this relationship is highlighted by rap’s lyrical content.
The diagram in the appendix shows an analysis of the relevant themes in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The following includes a listing, elaboration and analysis of those themes in rap lyrical expression by influential artists and ties them to concept of the external and internal binary of protest and empowerment outlined by this thesis:
1) The first differentiation to be made, before engaging in further analysis should be between protest and empowerment lyrics, in general. In her introduction to rap music and street consciousness, Cheryl L. Keyes outlines the genesis of rap’s political voice: “Rap music emerged as a new site from which to protest [a] growing negativity and -at best- apathy toward inner-city youth of color” (Keyes 4). Influential in this process was 80s East Coast DJ Afrika Bambaataa . Previously involved with the South Bronx based Black Spades gang and inspired by a trip to South Africa, Afrika Bambaataa became enamored with the history of the Zulu warriors who fought the British. Afrika Bambaataa became a community organizer, spreading self-awareness and positivity for African-Americans (Bradley and DuBois 15). In this way, he was a community activist, which became particularly apparent when he managed to unite opposing inner-city gangs to form the Universal Zulu Nation. Likewise, Afrika Bambaataa was a protester of political magnitude, even if his lyrics did not reflect it. However, in terms of protest, it was not until the enormous success of Public Enemy, that the topic gained relevant popularity: Perhaps the most politically engaged rap group of the era, Public Enemy made the protesting of the struggles of African-American neighborhoods their priority, focusing “largely on public matters of political import” (Bradley and DuBois 248). The storytelling technique highlighting the neglect and disadvantages of African-Americans is exemplified in the song Fight the Power (1990):
1989, the number, another summer
Our freedom of speech is freedom of death
We got to fight the powers that be
(Public Enemy “Fight the Power” 1990)
Protest was the primary focus of East Coast Rap while the West Coast extended and redirected the concept after its rise to fame: The graphic lyrics of Gangsta-Rap caused a “moral panic among conservatives” which led the way in a new kind of protesting effort (Keyes 4). Exemplary of this is Los Angeles rap collective N.W.A. Their album Straight Outta Compton (1988) designed the archetype of the Gangsta, and moved rap’s strongest voice from the East to the West, with lyrics such as:
Here’s a little something ‘bout a nigga like me
Never shoulda been let out of the penitentiary
Ice Cube would like to say
That I’m a crazy motherfucker from around the way
(N.W.A “gangsta’’gangsta” 1988)
N.W.A, and after its disbandment, members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, emphasized the Gangsta lifestyle as a counterpoint to white supremacy by offering a blueprint for the establishment of an empowered, male African-American identity which rejects the social norms dictated by white upper-class America. (Bradley and DuBois 233).
2) The first marked binary theme-combination as outlined in the appendix diagram is commercial exploitation as an external force and the temptation of wealth as an internal struggle for empowerment. Rap’s audience is vast. The wide-spread success of rap has led to the “capitalistic courting of [its] massive audience” (Boyd 41). There is a space in rap’s lyrical content where the political discourse protesting commercialization and expression imploring a sense of empowerment from the reality of financial dependence, collide. This space was met by Gangsta-Rap with a reclaiming effort of fame: “Gangsta Rap has come to prominence because of its unwillingness to do so” (Boyd 63). In this way, as a countermovement to commercialization, West Coast rappers took over the business (64). Lyrically, the struggle became exemplified in its binary, reflexive stories of ‘not wanting to sell out’ and ‘keeping it real’, which found its merging philosophy in the “rejection of the collective protest strategies and the embrace of a ruthless drive for profit” (Quinn 16). The reclaiming of profits was often exemplified by lyrics glorifying a glamorous lifestyle. It can be claimed that Gangsta-Rap utilizes themes of excess as a radical notion, where the acquiring of material possessions is a conquering act:
Sitting in my living room, calm and collected
Feeling that gotta-get-mine perspective
(Dr. Dre “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” 1992)
While N.W.A, and later Dr. Dre and Ice Cube engaged in the glorification of the entrepreneur, it was not common for lyrics to explicitly reflect a protest mind state against the commercial exploitation of rappers. The protest was subtle internalized. The internal protest and the promotion of self-made success as a rapper were a radical but still implicit form of protest against the white domination of the music industry:
Still, got it wrapped like a mummy
Still ain't tripping, love to see young blacks get money
Spend time out the hood, take they moms out the hood
Hit my boys off with jobs, no more living hard
Barbeques every day, driving fancy cars
Still gon' get mine regardless
(Dr. Dre “Still Dre” 1999)
In brief, “the story of the Gangsta is one in which the folk was superseded by the commercial, the subcultural recuperated by the mainstream” (Quinn 115). Another West Coast rapper who expressed discontentment with the commercialization of rappers was 2Pac. Packaged as part of his message of uplift, 2Pac exposed the troubling similarity of fraudulent authenticity in ‘representing’ and ‘fronting’, while unapologetically pointing fingers at upper-class white America for using African-American art to turn a profit while continuing to neglect issues such as poverty and unjust imprisonment. In this way, he attempted to point out the contradictions of a racist and opportunistic American society, although the statement did not become as explicit as it is in Kendrick Lamar’s album, 20 years later:
I see no changes, all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races […]
“I made a G today," but you made it in a sleazy way
Selling crack to the kids
“I gotta get paid!", well hey, but that's the way it is
(2Pac “Changes” 1998)
Gangsta-Rap used the image which was imposed on African-Americans and turned it into a profitable market for itself. In this way, rap engaged in a kind of internal protest to counteract the forces which were seeking to exploit African-American artists for financial gain. Quinn describes the simultaneous self-commercialization and oppositional mind state to upper-class wealth as “common subversions of authority predicated on a history of discrimination [which] offers a highly commodifiable brand of youth and race rebellion” (23).
2) The second binary is that of institutional racism and police brutality as an external enemy as opposed to inner-city violence as a region-based internal enemy. After Afrika Bambaataa’s activist approach to rap protest, Public Enemy promoted the return of Black radicalism in the form of African-American unity to counteract white domination with rap lyrics (Chang 252). Songs such as Fight the Power and 911 is a joke, outlined both the internal inner-city experience and the external forces of institutional racism on African-American neighborhoods:
A no-use number with no-use people
If your life is on the line then you're dead today
Latecomers with the late coming stretcher
That's a body bag in disguise y'all, I'll betcha
(Public Enemy “911 is a joke” 1990)
On the West Coast that mind-state continued to reign: The discontentment with the police as a state institution was turned into a militarized ideal for the Gangsta. N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police” is an anti-police violence cultural statement:
Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
(N.W.A “Fuck Tha Police” 1988)
The public outrage caused by the anti-authoritarian perspectives in N.W.A’s narratives fueled their success. While N.W.A’s fictionalization of protest clearly followed a straight-forward approach, the theme of inner-city violence was fictionalized and glorified in the midst of nihilistic sentiments as well, but only minimally made politically relevant in the rap collective’s lyrics. However, the finger is still pointed outward at the force which caused African-American communities to get caught up in inner-city violence in the first place:
You want me to kill a mutherfucker and it's done in.
Since I'm stereotyped to kill and destruct -
Is one of the main reasons I don't give a fuck.
(N.W.A “100 Miles and Runnin” 1990)
Highlighting, once again, Gangsta-Rap’s ability to turn fiction into identity-based resistance, the lyrics reflect a protest-empowerment flux which uplifts by means of rebellion. 2Pac engages in this flux as well, while explaining the causes a for inner-city violence:
Bye bye, I was never meant to live
Can't be positive, when the ghetto's where you live
Bye bye, I was never meant to be
Livin' like a thief, runnin' through the streets
Bye bye, and I got no place to go...
Where they find me? 16 on Death Row
Dear mama, these cops don't understand me
I turned to a life of crime, cause I came from a broken family
(2Pac “16 on Death Row” 1997)
2Pac manages to illuminate yet another previously unmentioned hypocrisy of society: While social forces stayed on the sidelines of Gangsta-Rap’s tendency to glorify images of inner-city violence, the mention of killing police officers sparked outrage. Quinn asserts that
[t]his provides dramatic evidence of the state’s demobilization of black rebellion, the redirection of black expressive aggression and race-conscious lawlessness away from public figures and police officers onto the marginalized themselves.
This highlights another way that institutional racism systematically oppresses African-American people (111). Consequently, it is important to conclude that the externalized protest of police brutality and institutional racism includes the acknowledgment of inner-city violence being a region based internal problem, because the oppression, neglect and miseducation of youth lie at its foundation.
3) The third theme-combination highlights the relationship between externali-
zed and internalized identity, closely tied to the concepts of heritage and birthplace. The notion of African heritage has always been a difficult one to merge with the Americanized African-American identity. However, African identity narratives are still frequently employed in rap’s lyrical expression, foregrounding a desire for a reconnection with the motherland . A Tribe Called Quest frequently utilizes images and themes of reconnecting with the motherland in their lyrics:
All the way to Africa a.k.a. The Motherland (uh)
Stick out the left, then I'll ask for the other hand
That's the right hand, Black Man (man)
Only if you was noted as my man (man)
(A Tribe Called Quest “Excursion” 1991)
Afrika Bambaataa’s interest in the Zulu warriors and his education of young people in African-American neighborhoods are equally tied to the uplifting message behind the reconnection with hereditary ideals.
West Coast Rap was clearly more concerned with inner-city narratives. However, 2Pac had some important wisdom to share, when it came to the establishment of identity. In an interview with the Malcom X Grassroots Movement in 1992, 2Pac states that
[i]t's not going to stop until "we" stop it. And it's not just white man that's doing this […]. It's not just white man that's keeping us trapped. It's "black." And we have to find the new African in everybody... But before we can be African, we gotta be black first.
This brings up the question: How does rap represent African-American identity and how does it relate to culture? Cheryl Keyes identifies four primary archetypes of male identity in rap: the militant, the pimp, the thug, and the original gangsta (125). Public Enemy define African-American manhood as militant and active in protest:
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
From the heart
It's a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin's strange
(Public Enemy “Fight the Power” 1990)
The pimp as a fictionalized identity in rap has been utilized by many rappers, one of them being West Coast rapper Snoop Dogg, who depicts the pimp, mixed with the thug image, in lyrics such as “Niggaz like myself, here to show you where it's at / With my hoes on my side, and my strap on my back” (Snoop Dogg “Gz and Hustlas” 1993). The original gangster. and the thug are both depictions of an identity related to Gangsta-Rap as well. And both capture “in vigorous terms the values of an increasingly non-politicized generation” (Quinn 15). However, more than just fictionalizing and glorifying lawlessness, Gangsta-Rap “offers original commentary on the horrific nuances of ghetto life” (Boyd 42), while transforming a political voice into a voice of discontentment. While the focalization of the Gangsta may not be as unequivocal as that of the militant protester, the mind-state seems logical, which is the point where identity ties to the commercial exploitation and conditioning aspect of this analysis: In his book From Jim Crow to Jay Z, Miles White describes the history of commercialized African-American identity, starting with minstrel shows portraying Blackness as brutish, lawless and dangerous. The way in which Gangsta-Rap protests this image is by reclaiming it to “articulate new models of self and identity” (3), just as expressed by MC Ren of N.W.A in the previously quoted 1990 song 100 Miles and Running.
 Quote from: Kendrick Lamar “Wesley’s Theory” 2015
 The tripartite development and the binary themes can be linked to the concept of Double Consciousness and Tripartite Yearnings as described by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Terri Hume Oliver, in the introduction of the Norton Critical Edition of W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (xi)
 Here, White, partially, quotes: Shanahan, Dan. Language, Feeling and the Brain: The Evocative Vector. New Brunswick: Behavioral Science, 40, no.1 (2008)
 The space is comparable to the space of the inescapable double bind highlighted by Boyd (See: Boyd 41-42)
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