Origins of Hip-Hop Culture

Hip hop music is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans in the 1970s. The music consisted of a stylized rhythmic music that was accompanied by rapping. Other elements of the genre included sampling beats or bass lines and rhythmic beat boxing.

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Hip hop as both a musical genre and a culture was formed during the 1970s when block parties became increasingly popular in New York City, particularly among African-Americans residing in the borough of the Bronx. Hip hop’s early evolution as a genre occurred as drum machines and sampling technology became widely available and affordable. The rapping with the beats developed as a vocal style in which the artist speaks or chants along rhythmically with an instrumental or synthesized beat. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, rapping is not a required component of hip hop music though. The genre could just incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, such as DJing (turntablism, scratching) beat boxing, and instrumental trucks.

The 1980s marked the diversification of hip hop as the genre developed more complex styles. Prior to the 1980s, hip hop music was largely confined within the United States. However, during the 1980s, it began to spread to music scenes in dozens of countries, many of which mixed hip hop with local styles to create new sub genres. One sub genre that took off was Gangsta Rap. Gangsta rap is a subgenre of hip hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of inner-city American black youths.Gangsta is a variation of the word gangster. The genre was pioneered in the mid-1980s by rappers such as Ice-T, and was popularized in the later part of the 1980s by groups like N.W.A. After the national attention and controversy that Ice-T and N.W.A created in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gangsta rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of hip hop. N.W.A is the group most frequently associated with the founding of gangsta rap. Their lyrics were more violent, openly confrontational, and shocking than those of established rap acts, featuring incessant profanity and, controversially, use of the word “nigga. These lyrics were placed over rough, rock guitar-driven beats, contributing to the music’s hard-edged feel. The first blockbuster gangsta rap album was N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton released in 1988. Straight Outta Compton sparked the first major controversy regarding hip hop lyrics when their song “Fuck Tha Police” earned a letter from FBI Assistant Director, Milt Ahlerich, strongly expressing law enforcement’s resentment of the song.

Controversy surrounded Ice-T’s album Body Count, in particular over its song “Cop Killer”. The song was intended to speak from the viewpoint of a criminal getting revenge on racist, discriminatory cops. Ice-T’s song infuriated government officials, the National Rifle Association and various police advocacy groups. Consequently, the record company Time Warner Music refused to release Ice-T’s upcoming album Home Invasion because of the controversy surrounding “Cop Killer”.

Hip hop music artists have stated that hip hop has been an authentic, meaning true and “real”, African-American artistic and cultural form since its emergence in inner-city Bronx neighborhoods in the 1970s. Some music critics have denied hip hop’s authenticity. Advocates who claim hip hop is an authentic music genre state that it is an ongoing response to the violence and discrimination experienced by black people in the United States, from the slavery that existed into the 19th century, to the lynching of the 20th century and the ongoing racial discrimination faced by blacks.

I believe that hip hop music and hip hop culture are separate. Hip hop music was developed by inner city black Americans. It referenced their daily struggles with violence as men and especially as black men living in the inner cities. Hip hop culture is a result of corporations profiting from the black experience and what it means to be black in America.

Last year’s 2017 Grammy nominations included some of music’s most influential hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-z whose music has topped mainstream charts on numerous occasions. Kendrick Lamar’s hit song i love myself is an example of how hip hop music can be self empowering too, Dreams of realities peace, blow steam in the face of the beast, sky could fall down, wind could cry now, look at me motherfucker I smile. This line in the song illustrates that no matter how bad your real life situation is, one must remember to always try and keep a mental smile on no matter what your situation.

Culture is profitable when it is created to be. Hip hop culture is materialistic because when profit is introduced to the mix artist only become popular and mainstream gettin airplay when they express their material and sexual desires while work they do to help the community is ignored or overshadowed by what is present in popular media. For example; Nelly was invited to speak at a fundraiser for cancer at Spelman College , being that his sister actually had leukemia, but after the airing of his video for Tip Drill many women threatened to protest the event forcing him to cancel his appearance after stating they felt uncomfortable having someone that could so blatantly disrespect women, especially black women, speak at their event. Nelly, being very popular and reputable with his music career, had a voice to make an impact by telling his story and what he experienced with his sister was overshadowed by a negative music video he believed he did for entertainment purposes only. This goes to show that consumers do not separate entertainment from artist personal lives.

In the article Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity by Marcyliena Morgan, she examines the moves made by women in hip hop and what role they play. Female MCs use hip hop to develop and display their lyrical skills as well as present and challenge what it means to be a young black woman in America and the world. They do not use their musical and verbal genre to destroy the veil of race, gender, and class discrimination. (Morgan). The hip hop experience for black woman is a tool that is unique and powerful in helping them have a voice that they were at one point in time not allowed to have.

I believe that hip hop music transcends race and can be used as a tool in schools to teach students to be critical and express themselves, when separated from profit. Artist like Kendrick Lamar, JCole, Nas, Lupe Fiasco and others have a following based on their creativity and lyricism. Nas’ imagine that paints a picture of a world where black people aren’t discriminated against and could live freely from the war on drugs and war for masculinity. The violence that is depicted in hip hop music is a result of their history and context. When used for its poetic flows and critiques of current events hip hop actually improves literacy as well as critical and analytical thinking among students. While Byron Hurt believes that hip hop’s content is unacceptable its popularity and sales show hip hop and this hip hop generation is here to stay (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade 2016) .

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