Hip Hop Culture Essay, Research Paper
Hip hop culture developed during the seventies. Throughout its formation, the various elements were at some time or another, deemed unacceptable. Graffiti artists faced jail sentences, break dancing became illegal in some areas, and rap music has been severely criticized for various reasons. These elements were never analyzed in an oppositional manner until recently, however.
Hip hop culture represented the claiming of urban communities by the residents. Writers decorated the empty walls of their communities in an attempt to personalize their surroundings. They also painted trains which traveled to other communities and in this sense they developed a living and moving art form. Break dancing claimed space simply because it utilized community space for the performance of a culture specific dance form. Finally, DJing and MCing claimed public space because the main stage for performance was often local parks where they would throw parties for the community. The power was supplied by the city unknowingly as community members discovered ways in which they could tap into the city’s power boxes at no expense to themselves. Therefore, the development of hip hop culture was inherently oppositional.
Rap music now viewed as an arena for political debate by many, did not begin with this in mind. Rap music was developed by DJs, who used two of the same records and looped the break beats of the record which then allowed the beat to be extended infinitely. As the DJ developed the break beat and began to incorporate it into parties, the role of the MC arose. At first the role of the MC, or master of ceremony, was to interact with the crowd by speaking off the top of his head and sometimes rhyming. Soon MCs started competing with each other over who had the most skills at rhyming and hyping the crowd. The original form of rap music was not an arena for political expression but rather an arena for entertainment and competition.
Rap music, as well as graffiti, eventually moved into the political sphere with the emergence of groups such as Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy. Very few issues were left untouched, however as one may assume, issues related to the Black community were predominant. Rap was used as a means of expressing ideas and realities with the hope of educating the listener (not all rap artists became political). As the rappers moved into this arena, they faced many contradictions within the hip hop community and society as a whole. KRS-One, for example, released many songs about unity in the Black community, education, and peace. Perhaps the most famous was the song, “Stop the Violence”. Yet five or six years ago, KRS-One rushed the stage of a PM Dawn show and pushed the lead MC off stage for a remark he had made previously. 2-Pac, more recently, has released a song called “I Get Around” which is self-explanatory. He then released a song called “Keep Ya Head Up” which discussed the treatment of African American women by African American men and issues of respect. The two songs completely contradicted themselves, as did KRS-One’s actions. It is impossible to explain why they did what they did without speaking to them personally but people must understand that rap did begin as a form of entertainment which often spoke of random topics. People must also understand that presently, many rappers are classified as political although this may not have been their intention.
Another contradiction facing rap music is commercialization. Commercialization is normally associated with negative effects yet it has enlarged the rap audience greatly which, therefore, results in more revenue for artists and labels. It has also resulted in increased funding for the production of rap, as well as, funding for independent labels who sign groups that may not get signed by major labels. Commercialization has taken hip hop out of urban areas and placed it in the lap of suburban America. Suburban America has subsequently eaten it alive. For example, seventy percent of gangsta rap is purchased by white suburban youth (Kelley; lecture). This presents another contradiction facing rap music. Gangsta rap discusses issues which are culture specific or that deal with a specific socialization. How are youth from the suburbs relating to these messages when they have probably never encountered a situation which the rappers discuss? Their fascination may be a result of MTV and popular radio. The rap videos which receive regular rotation, both on MTV and the radio, are from the gangsta rap genre. A complete picture of hip hop is never presented. This therefore limits exposure and explains stereotypes of rap as only violent and sexist.
As a result of commercialization, a strong underground hip hop culture has emerged. Although financial rewards are important to everyone, many rappers have chosen to maintain the integrity of their music rather than producing music that popular culture demands. This underground is responsible for maintaining hip hop and disallowing its fade into popular culture. As hip hop and rap music continue to grow in popular appeal, a distinct line is being formed separating true hip hop from commercialized hip hop. The former is reclaiming its historical legacy while the latter is, as with other genres of popular music, awaiting its eventual replacement with the hottest new music commodity.