Over the last part of the course, my understanding of hip-hop has not changed, but rather has deepened and become more complete. Now, I can appreciate the full depth and extent of that culture, as well as the societal and political issues which have led to its creation and growth.
First and foremost, hip-hop is the culture of protest. It was born from the nationwide movement for equality and empowerment among the Black American population led by the people like Malcolm X (Eyes on the Prize – 07 – The Time Has Come). When your homes are being destroyed, when your people are being discriminated against and killed by the police, when you feel powerless there is a dire need for something to hold on to (Chang 8). For many African Americans, their music and their traditional culture became such things. And the youth of that generation transformed those things to their liking, creating new forms of poetry, music, and dance. Gathering to listen to the new beats and rhymes they inevitably turned them into a way to protest rapping texts against the authorities and creating graffiti that spoke against the oppression or simply served to annoy the police. As time went on, there was still little improvement for African Americans. Hip-hop music became more aggressive following in the footsteps of the movements like the Black Panthers who resorted to violence in desperate attempts to oppose the authorities (Kelley 185). All of the changes in hip-hop have reflected the course of the Blacks’ struggle for equality. This aspect is undeniably the most significant part of the hip-hop culture and my perception of it has not changed since the last definition. However, there are more personal aspects of the culture as well which I have not considered previously.
In his book “Decoded,” Jay-Z speaks of the “hustler story” (56). The story of an adolescent crack dealer in the street is representative of the complex theme of the human struggle in general. Forced into a hostile environment, the hustlers were trying to make their fortune in the streets. Their reasons were different from person to person, but their stories were sadly very similar. Most of them died trying to get rich, enjoying only the brief moments of the “American Dream” they were chasing. That struggle was representative of the entire generation of the Black people. It was described in countless hip-hop songs. Some artists glorified the street life some detested it. But most of them paid some attention to that aspect of history. When my first definition was created, I did not consider the personal stories of people represented in the hip-hop lyrics. However, they are an essential part of that music representing both the struggle of any human born in a harsh and hostile society and the specific life stories of those who faced the oppression and difficulties which the hip-hop culture opposed.
The music and performance style of hip-hop are deeply rooted in the African American culture. The beats and breaks were born of the traditional soul and funk music. The rapping is a form of the traditional poetry, similar to the “Dozens” and “Toasts” (Gates 23). This connection is also important to hip-hop as a protest culture. By simply holding on to their roots, nurturing and developing their traditions, the Black people resisted assimilation, prevented the oppressive and unjust society from forcing them into obedience. That reinforces the idea of hip-hop as a form of protest. Originally, I have viewed hip-hop primarily as a music genre. And beats and rhymes are definitely the most prominent aspect of that culture. The hip-hop style was adopted by many artists across the world. After reviewing the complicated history of protests and struggle, it becomes evident that the music is inseparable from the society which created it. It is impossible to view hip-hop simply as a genre since much of its cultural value comes from the stories associated with it. Without knowing the context, it is impossible to fully appreciate the depth of the hip-hop texts and the wordplay used by the artists. That statement is true for any genre of music, but hip-hop focuses on lyrics and creating narratives much more than any other genre.
The hip-hop culture was an instrument of struggle, a voice of the voiceless. It presented a way for the Blacks to fight for equality and to be heard. It also reflected the state of that struggle. As the times changed, the hip-hop music first became more aggressive, then more tame and commercialized, once the institutionalized racism became less of an issue. It reflected personal stories of struggle and riot, as well as the suffering of the Black population as a whole. The hip-hop culture is complex and interlinked with the African American traditions and community in a multitude of ways. But all of its aspects and sides are connected by the underlying need to oppose the injustice, find your own place in the world, and achieve some form of happiness. Whether or not it will be completely confined to the underground by the commercialization remains to be seen.
Chang, Jeff. “Necropolis.” Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. 7-19. Print.
Eyes on the Prize – 07 – The Time Has Come. Ex. Prod. Henry Hampton. Arlington, VA: PBS. 1987. Web.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. “Foreword.” The Anthology of Rap. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. Print.
Jay-Z. Decoded. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2010. Ebook.
Kelley, Robin. “Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics.” Race Rebels. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1994. 183-227.