Do you ever think about the lyrics and the message an artist is trying to convey to their audience? Hip Hop music or Rap music as it is sometimes called is one genre of music whose beats are strong, and lyrics send very powerful messages. This type of music today is the most popular music genre worldwide because it crosses cultures and races. Not only does it span such a diverse audience, but more importantly it has been used as one of the most powerful platforms of political activism and debate.
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Political rap, a subgenre of the larger rap genre, follows the model of uniting African Americans through the music by discussing issues relevant to the Black community and providing information about injustices the community members face. (Bonnette, Pulse of the People) This paper will look at the history of hip hop/rap and its political impact. It will address the political environment during different periods of history and the message of those writing hip hop/rap lyrics to address what they or the world was facing.
To understand the true essence of hip hop/rap one must first understand the origin of it. In the 1970’s an urban movement known as hip hop began to develop in the South Bronx of New York City. According to an article title Hip Hop is for Everybody: Examining the Roots and Growth of Hip Hop, this genre of music came about during a time when many Blacks and Hispanics were displaced and left with minimal resources, lack of leadership and lack of political power. It was stated by an article that the culture was established by African American, Caribbean American, and Puerto Rican youth. (worldpress.clarku.edu) Hip Hop/Rap music allowed individuals to voice their frustrations of feeling oppressed, vulnerable, and under-represented. It was a way for youth to release their creativity and aggression. As said in an article named ‘Hip Hop and rap as art and as an agent of change for social justice and political reform’, its another kind of language and voice for the voiceless..it’s a way for black folk nearly always silenced, rudely interrupted or vocally overrun by those privileged only by the paler color of their skin to finally and empathetically be heard. (charterforcompassion.org)
One of the first hip hop/rap artist was Clive Campbell also known as DJ Kool Herc. DJ Kool Herc was a Jamaican American DJ, he was influenced by soul, rock, funk, reggae, and dancehall. He was credited with helping originate hip hop music in the Bronx New York City, in the early 1970’s. He is also credited for throwing a hip-hop party in 1973 at 1520 Sedgwick avenue in the Bronx. At his parties he would encourage people to dance in a way that is now known as rapping. DJ Kool Herc was known as the founder of hip hop or the father of hip hop. Herc was also an influence on other hip-hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash. Although DJ Kool Herc was considered the founder of hip hop or the father of hip hop, he has never gained success musically because his work never got recorded.
Moving on to the start of the timeline of musical artist who contributed politics in within their songs, we are introduced with Marvin Gaye. Marvin Gaye was an American musician who gained his popularity from his work through the record label named Motown Records. He was shot fatally by his father after intervening in an argument brought by his parents. Marvin Gaye created a song named What’s going on, the central theme of this song came from his own life. It was said Marvin’s brother Frankie had returned from Vietnam and he noticed his outlook had changed. It was stated that He put himself in his brothers’ shoes and wrote a song that stands among the most tuneful works of consciousness-raising in American music. (www.npr.org) In within the song the lyrics had explanations to what was going on during the time period of the war for example he states in one of the lines War is not the answer. (Gaye, What’s going on) Not only did it speak about the war, but it also spoke about brutality. For example, one of the lines said Picket lines and picket signs don’t punish me with brutality (Gaye, What’s going on) he was talking about the spirit of protest that seemed to be happening everywhere in the civil rights era ranging from wages to women’s rights and even racism. His song not only changed the national conversation, it’s also helped build a gateway to give artist artistic freedom through the label Motown for example, Stevie Wonder. Prior to Marvin Gaye a group named the Last Poets who arose in the 1960’s were led to be an inspiration for many groups including Marvin Gaye. The Last Poets were one of the earliest influences on hip hop music and brought political raps, taut rhythms and dedication to raising African American consciousness.
Moving down the timeline in the early 1980’s in the streets of New York, South Bronx, rappers Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five created the song The message. It was said that many rappers regarded it as an inspiration as well as a political message (www.npr.org) Grandmaster Flash otherwise known as Joseph Saddler, is an American hip hop recording artist and DJ. He was considered to be one of many pioneers of the hip hop genre of DJing, cutting, scratching, and mixing. He later combined making a group including himself and the Furious five. The group Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five which was composed of one DJ and five rappers, was an American hip hop group that was created in South Bronx New York City. The lyrics to the song The Message that the group made describes the the stress of inner poverty. In the song it says I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise…I got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice (Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, The Message) these lyrics reflect the voice of the voiceless poor blacks in the inner city. Another lyric that catches many of the people’s attention is the chorus which states don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under. (Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, The Message) In within this quote it just also solidifies the idea that they were obviously going through struggle whether it was speaking on how money was tight or how living in such conditions were very mind blowing. The statement overall speaks as a call out that this is very hard and they are trying to keep their head afloat almost and they are confused at how they are still okay and not falling under the struggle.
Continuing down the timeline, we are introduced to a band named Public Enemy, Public Enemy is an American hip hop group who was known for their politically charged music and criticism of the American media. Their concerns sparked mainly within the African American community. In 1990 Public Enemy created a song named Burn Hollywood Burn. This song used strong emotion to help people understand how hollywood used to portray African American citizens in movies. In within the song there were a multitude of lyrics that stuck out. For example, make us all look bad like I know they had.so step and fetch this shit. For all the years we looked like clowns. The joke is over (Public Enemy, Burn Hollywood Burn), let’s check out a flick that exploits the color…red and blue lights what a common sight. Pulled to the curb gettin’ played like a sucker. (Public Enemy, Burn Hollywood Burn), and lastly as I walk the streets of Hollywood boulevard .many intelligent black men seemed to look uncivilized when on the screen. Like I guess I figure you to play some jigaboo on the plantation. (Public Enemy, Burn Hollywood Burn) In within these many quotes you can clearly tell the topic of the matter is on the many different discriminatory actions that has been made from Hollywood towards African Americans.
Proceeding down our timeline to the middle of the 2000’s and present day times, we are first introduced to Lupe Fiasco. Wasalu Muhammad Jaco otherwise known as his stage name Lupe Fiasco is a rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. Fiasco created a song named words I never said, this song included controversial political and socio-economic topics in within the lyrics. These topics included the 9/11 attacks, the Gaza war, and issues dealing with the government. The lyrics that was used in this song are strongly against the government, Fiasco states his own opinion on what he believes within the government. For example, I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit. Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets…nine eleven building seven did they really pull it? Uh, and a bunch of other cover ups. (Fiasco, Words I never said), Murdering is not Islam! And you are not observant.just listening to Pac ain’t gonna make it stop. (Fiasco, Words I never said) In these lyrics you can clearly see how he feels as well as truth. He is right, so much occurs within our government system, but we come to a point when we ask ourselves is this helping us? He speaks truth when he stands up for the Muslim and Islam, that stereotype is not true not everyone of their ethnicity is a murderer. Or even the lyric where he says just listening to Pax ain’t gonna make it stop, he speaks more truth, instead of sitting around complaining about the problems that this world is being faced with and listening to the songs many artists have made talking about the situations we as people need to get up and make a change. To briefly reflect on modern day present times, artist still find a way to include politics in their music. For example in early October of 2017, an artist named Eminem called out Donald trump stating his opinion through a freestyle rap. Some lyrics that popped out to me were, and while the drama pops and he waits’ for shit to quiet down, he’ll just gas his plane up and fly around till the bombing stops (Eminem, The Storm), It’s like we take a step forwards, then backwards but this is his form of distraction.all these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather cause a Twitter storm with the Packers (Eminem, The Storm), who keeps ignorin our past historical, deplorable factors…try to give those a voice who don’t have one (Eminem, The Storm). In within these lyrics Eminem voices his hate towards Donald Trump as well as his views on society and how people don’t realize the importance of these matters.
In conclusion musical artist in within the hip hop/rap genre contributes their strong powerful lyrics to make a point politically. Their lyrics have communicated their life and the world around them. As seen in the various articles the multiple generations have a consistent pattern with the desire to push, promote and raise awareness to the world about the issues that we are facing. In this paper I attempted to show how these artists have explained their opinions politically through their music.
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