Rap. The rhythmic relationship between reverberating sound and resonating words.
Rap is the pinnacle of storytelling, a modern-day oratory set against the backdrop of remixes and originals.
Rap is the new and the old – sounds, ideas, stories - the recycling and furnishing of what was into what is, what could be.
Rap is a culture, an emerging movement of poets, artists, visionaries, speakers, and leaders.
Rap is art, a spectacle to be reckoned with.
In this speech, I will show that the general stereotypes against rap as “uneducated” are actually complex forms of social protest through specific songs and lifestyles of N.W.A. and Kanye West.
I do not aim to sway your opinions at this point, but instead, I hope to provide you with enough information to help make my future claims a bit more credible.
In the early 1960’s, at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, many African Americans congregated in places both public and private to spread messages about their rights, about equality, and about change.
Most civil rights scholars would name this as the rawest roots of rap.
The media demonizes rap through censorship, and constructs rap as a social problem. The condemnation of minorities, particularly Blacks, is a result of the dominating population’s “social reality” which enforces the majority’s definitions of appropriateness, morality and legitimacy. After repetition of associations between negative perceptions and rap, public discourse of rap normalizes the “demonization” and allows the language and perceptions persist.
N.W.A.’s front man, Ice Cube, coined the term “gangsta rap” and brought it into the mainstream. N.W.A.’s brutally honest and unfiltered songs showed outsiders what the gang-ridden and violence-laced streets of Compton were like.
In turn, N.W.A. became the catalyst for censorship in 1988, with their release of the iconic album, Straight Outta Compton. The album was criticized for its extremely violent content, sexually explicit tones, and endorsement of heavy drug use. The widespread negative media coverage was subsequently projected onto rap music as a whole. As these representations seeped into the national consciousness, the stereotypes within rap were increasingly being molded by the hands of disturbed audiences. Many argued they were a danger to society. Media coverage did not note the sub-cultural nature of gangsta rap and ultimately presented N.W.A.’s messages to the masses out of context.
“Fuck Tha Police”, the seminal tale of police brutality and racial profiling, chronicles the daily struggle of what it meant to be Black, not only in Compton, but in most urban environments. N.W.A. challenges the oppressive nature of the dominating white man, which is personified by the L.A. police force. It also documents the surveillance they are constantly under, condemning them even before a crime has been committed.
This resulted in the FBI’s public affairs team sending N.W.A.’s record label, Priority Records, a cautionary letter criticizing the song for it “encourages violence and disrespect towards the law enforcement officer.”
The censorship frame grew, picking at songs that delivered unfavorable messages that challenged the majority, then condemning the artist’s discography as a whole.
According to Christopher J. Schneider, author of the American Behavioral Scientist article “Culture, Rap Music, “Bitch,” and the Development of the Censorship Frame,” “pop culture is never fixed and is always in a state of flux.”
So, in order for artists to thrive, they must adapt. To be noticed, they must be extravagant. To be remembered, they must represent and embody what the masses want and need.
Schneider extends that “hip hop is the only available model for an alternative youth culture today.”
In earlier times, rock was the source of rebellion against corporations, against the system, and against the man. In contemporary times, it is rap that does the job. But what is different between the two genres is that rap serves to “validate” the performer, to “establish an identity” and create a “cultural space.” This cultural space, which can be broadened to hip-hop, the culture that holds rap as one of its elements, enables growth towards a “privileged everyday life” to those without one. It allows the marginalized to better improve their situation and make sense of the chaos (oppression, violence) that is everyday life.
So what does this have to do with Kanye?
As the unofficial voice of Generation Y, Kanye angrily discusses his disgust over the superficial treatment of corporations towards its consumers, particularly Black people. He laments that when Black people don’t have money to spend on their products, corporations disregard them, for they still believe in the generalization that Black people are typically “broke.” This social condemnation is reversed when they are seen to have money and are then exploited, milked for profit, while ultimately seeing them as a lesser counterpart. The industry that makes profit off of West as a rapper is the same one that hinders him as a human being.
According to Amos Barshad, writer for Grantland, Kanye endorses a collective “we” as opposed to his usual “me” in the track “New Slaves.” He understands that he is not the only “victim” of this corporate marginalization, that this is a widespread social problem that fails to be addressed because as long as the majority has the power and the money, everyone should be happy.
The reliance on mass media for cultural meanings perpetuates the status quo of what is and isn’t favorable. Placed in the context of rap music, fear and disgust become the normalized reactions. The media targets specific artists as perpetrators of such stereotypes, then names the whole lot as guilty. Never mind the fact that most depictions are shamelessly taken out-of-context.
Music facilitates management of a collective group identity. A shared social reality is what allows us to interact with each other, but if there are certain standards that we choose to accept without questioning, how then can we communicate honestly?
And, if we only accept certain realities in order to maintain the status quo, aren’t we the uneducated ones?
by Carina C