Rap Music As Cultural Artform Essay, Research Paper
Rap is the most important popular music to emerge in America since the 1980’s to the 1990’s. Yet rap is more than music or entertainment. The words rhythmically recited, chanted, or sung over music by the likes of Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Arrested Development, and many more represent a sense of identity and belonging for young people in America and throughout the world. Rap is the voice of a population that has been ignored by mainstream leaders and institutions, until now. Within the past couple of years rap has began to emerge into the pulse, thoughts, values, and experiences of youth worldwide. Even though rap has become more popular today, than ever there are still many people who are unaware of the history and roots behind of the music we celebrate and love so much.
Rap was around long before it was actually called rap. Rap started out as an oral form of storytelling and the telling of ones history by the social commentator, also known as a Griot. The griot was a historian, storyteller, comedian, reporter, mediator, social commentator, and sometimes performer of religious ceremonies and rites of passage. Griots had to possess musical abilities. Griots often accompanied themselves on a harplike instrument called a kora. Griots were used as a way to tell of and remember the history and heritage of African Americans after the Atlantic slave trade, which took place from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
In addition to the griot tradition, rap is rooted in the pain of African American experience, which began with slavery. As Europeans conquered, settled, and stole Americas, they required cheap labor to help build up their colonies and exploit natural resources for trade. Europeans initially turned to the Native American’s to build up their colonies, but the natives could not survive under the harsh and cruel working and living conditions. Many of them became ill because of diseases such as smallpox.
Slavery existed in African societies long before the seventeenth century, but it was very different from the kind of bondage that characterized the North Atlantic slave trade. Slaves were taken in conquests or as repayment for debts or wrong doings. The slaves were fully integrated into their new villages and tribes and granted many rights and privileges.
The North Atlantic slave trade was the largest and most traumatic forced movement of human beings in history. During more than 150 years of operation, at least 10 million Africans were captured and shipped to the Americas on a hellish trans-Atlantic journey that became known as the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage lasted from two months to a year, depending on the African port of departure and the conditions on the open sea.
One of the biggest myths about slavery is that slave dealers and owners destroyed the spirit of their African captives. From the start of captivity in Africa, white slave dealers initiated strict program of control and domination over their captives. It began with speech. Before Africans descended into the holds of slave ships, they were separated from other members of their families and tribes. They were mixed with people from different regions and split up from those who spoke the same language.
Once the Africans reached the United States the pattern of separation and silence was continued. The Africans were forbidden from speaking in their native tongues. They were also stripped of their real names and forced to assume names given to them by their masters. This was meant to strip slaves of their self-esteem by destroying culture, history, and individuality.
However, all was not lost. After being denied of their original cultures slaves created a new culture. This culture embraced and captured their African past and accommodated their new status as captives. Along with this new culture came a new oral tradition, one that would give rise to rap.
The African-American oral tradition developed first and foremost with the slaves’ adaptation of their masters’ religion, Christianity. The services of the slaves were reminiscent of religious ceremonies in Africa. They were lively, uplifting affairs complete with music, chanting, and spiritual possessions. The high point of the service was the preacher’s sermon, of call, and the congregation’s response. Ministers expected the congregation to interrupt their sermons with applause and affirmations.
Centuries later and under different circumstances, rap and hip-hop continue the tradition of a call and response that began in slave churches. The griot, the slave preacher, and the storyteller all displayed a skillful use of language. The inherent African love of the spoken word, and the new way of life that America forced upon enslaved blacks set the stage for the black cultural explosion of the twentieth century and the explosion of hip-hop.
After the freeing of slaves in 1863 a period known as the Reconstruction Era began; which lasted from 1866 to 1877. Up until 1917, the livelihood of most blacks remained in the South. During that year the United States entered World War I. Many of the industrialized male workers of the North entered the armed forces; newly emerging industries needed factory workers. Word of available jobs in the North reached the South. About 2 million blacks migrated from the South. Into urban areas, such as Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and New York in search of a better life through new jobs in factories. This movement was known as the Great Migration. As blacks entered these urban areas, the African-American oral and musical traditions gave birth to the development of rap at an astonishing rate. Out of this period the blues emerged giving birth to jazz. Jazz was ironic, soulful, cool, colorful, and complex. It depicted the realities of life for blacks, as they faced racism, poverty, and other social reminders from the days of slavery.
By the 1940s and 1950s, black disc jockeys were adding to the language and style of jazz. Deejays attracted huge audiences in cities across the nation. Between spinning records and instrumental breaks of songs, deejays passed messages between lovers, commented on local affairs all while keeping listeners entertained with catchy lines and phrases. Such talk became known as jive talk. The jive and rhyming skills of deejays had a great deal to do with their individual popularity. In this sense, they were the forefathers of the deejay/performer role that many early rappers assumed.
While this new black culture of speech and music developed in the streets and over the airwaves comedians were adding humor although, some was degrading it still proved to be funny. Out of this form of humor emerged the dozens. The dozens were good-natured vocal competitions in which opponent’s made disparaging remarks about each other’s mother. The dozens were always played with an audience, which encourage the two opponents to outdo or “cap” each other.
By the year 1978 American music was flat. The dull thud of disco dominated the airwaves. Bored with the artificial thud on the radio black kids began to rummaging through the record collections of their parents’ in search of a new beat to party to. Two Bronx deejays, DJ Hollywood and DJ Kool Herc, who have sense, became known as the fathers of rap. Herc born Jamaican immigrated to New York City when he was twelve years old. By that age he had taken a great interest in the world of rap.
In 1975 Herc started deejaying at teen clubs, community centers, and parties in the Bronx. At his shows he began spinning short sections of different records and talking over them. Soon after that he began to play records on two turntables at the same time. With the aid of a sound mixer he was allowed to fade in and out between records, Herc developed the technique of mixing passages from one song into another. He became notorious for incorporating the most obscure records into his mixes. Herc along with other deejays began using MCs in their shows.
In the summer of 1979, rap hit the scene in full force. A trio called the Sugar Hill Gang unleashed “Rappers Delight”. The Sugar Hill Gang was brought together by, former soul singer, Sylvia Robinson. The group was named after a fashionable Harlem neighborhood that boasted doctors, lawyers, and ministers among its residents. “Rapper’s Delight” sold over 500,000 copies and hit number one on the pop music charts. Terms like hip-hop and other enduring rap phrases came out of the song.
Another pivotal force in the early days of rap was Afrika Bambaata and his Zulu Nation. Bambaata was a Bronx street deejay who spun records at block parties and in the parks. Unlike, other deejays he incorporated a strong element of cultural awareness into his shows. He became accepted as a unifying force in an area that was plagued by turf wars between gangs.
Punk rockers were the first group outside the ghetto to acknowledge rap. Fab 5 Freddy, a struggling Harlem-born artist was a pivotal figure in bridging the gap between the worlds of punk and rap. Rap’s first non-ghetto acknowledgment came from the punk-rock group Blondie.
After emerging with punk the music industry still wasn’t ready to take rap seriously. Many of the music industry’s initial dismissals of rap were laced with racism. In addition industry executives assumed that rap was just a fad created by poor black kids from New York’s ghettos and that it was “too raw,” and “too ethic” to gain mass popularity.
Run-D.M.C. was rap’s first superstars. The trio’s image rejected many of rap’s norms. They performed in street clothes. They were rap’s pioneer b-boys. The group broke many barriers for rap, and became living legends.
Somewhere, along the rode of its growing popularity rap and the messages rappers told in their lyrics went from mainstream to big screen with movies like Boyz N the Hood.
Today, there is an array of hip-hop artists, both male and female. With an increase in the amount of artists, hip-hop has went from being just something to do to being a way of living. Rap has emerged from being just rap to being, East Coast, West Coast, and Down South Rap.
With the West Coast rap you sort of hear something also known as, “Gangster Rap.” You have artists such as Tupac Shakur (R.I.P.), Snoop Dog, Ice Cub, and others that rap about the violence that surrounds them and the harsh realities of growing up as a boy male in the inner city.
East Coast rap takes on a calmer voice. Rappers such as Notorious B.I.G. (R.I.P.), Nas, Lil Kim, Puffy Daddy, and others don’t really rap about violence, but instead about the struggle of how they became successful and about the hardships they faced on the path to success.
Southern states, especially South Florida, are well known for the fast, booty popping beats that accompany most of the songs by artist from the area. Most of the artists that reside in South Florida live in Miami. Miami is known for its sunny beaches, big ballers (people with money), sexy women, and handsome men. Sex sells and that is what a lot of the artist try to incorporate within the lyrics of their songs. Uncle Luke is the world-renowned nasty man. He is known for his sexual and vulgar lyrics and dancing. At one of his shows you came always get your eye full, by watching people almost, if not actually having sex and/or participating in some type of sexual gesture.
Rappers also rely on hip-hop/rap to give representation to their hometown or set. With a close listen to the lyrics of most rap songs you will hear rappers sneak in a mention of them being from one particular place. For example, the female rapper Eve always like to make mention to the fact that Philly is where she is from. Philly is short for Philadelphia.
Most artists have a slang word or hand gesture that they use to represent their hometown. The rap group Young Bloodz, usually make an “A” with their left index and middle fingers and right index finger, as a way to display the fact that they are from Atlanta, also more informally known as the A.T.L.
Out of the bonds and strong holds of slavery festered a cultural trend, which has sense became known as hip-hop. In spite of the vicious and malicious attempts made by White Americans to keep slaves apart through the bonds, holds, and cultural deprivation of slavery has emerged a cultural that can no longer be hidden and denied, Hip-hop. Hip-hop has served to be the common force that holds together people of different races, cultures, political backgrounds, and even different genders, like the glue that holds broken glass.