Hip-hop culture emerged as an urban shockwave in the late 1970s from the Bronx, New York, as a result of global instability that allegedly ignored black Americans and Latinos. Although the Bronx was instrumental in the development of Hip Hop, it continues to be an integral part of black American culture and African diasporic cultural practices. Hip Hop’s transition can be traced back to a time of generational change in the black community. Hip-hop music evolved naturally from music and dance-focused movement produced by local associates to a mainstream global youth culture (Romano, 2016). Therefore, forming the basis of this research will be the need to investigate how hip-hop has changed and contributed to the American history.
Early Hip Hop Influencers
Similarly, the concept of rhymed verses remain an essential part of the African American culture both in the private and public realms. The growth of hip-hop inadvertently led to the emergence of variant forms of music genres while influencing others such as Rhythm and Blues (R&B), Funk, Soul, Jazz, and Rock and Roll. As the hip hop genre grew sporadically, so did the variant forms such as the spoken word, improvisational street poems and emceeing. The underlying reason why hip-hop became immensely popularly was its clarion call for social change through words, ideologies and actions since most of the initial works met a considerable amount of prejudice the African Americans faced. More compelling was the increased violence in American sprawling inner cities (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2008). Hence, the emergence of rappers such as Scott-Heron, KRS One and Public Enemy served to propagate the social change agenda that resonated well with most of the socially minded and politically inclined audiences.
Most significantly, the role of the black church cannot get understated for apparent reasons. First, the leadership of the church led by black preachers and clergy often combined testimonials and parables in a way that captivated the audiences and gave the sermons the substance and enthusiasm that was lacking. Inherently, the popularity of the black church got based on the call and responses technique where a preacher started a line and the congregants joined in unison thereby creating a connection between the preacher and the congregation (Wilson, 2015). As such, historians posit that the bond formed by the call and response technique got adopted by emerging rappers who used the method more efficiently to connect with their audiences during concerts. In the same way the preacher managed to create an encouraging and discursive form of public address with the congregation, the hip hop artists involve their audiences to enhance their interactive experience.
Another earlier form of influence on the hip hop culture was the competitive oral competition known as “playing the dozens “where emerging rappers combined humorous insulted and oratory skills in a battle to intimidate and humiliate their opponents to silence. As hip hop continued its transition, the oral competitions became famously known as rap battles and provided the opportunity for aspiring artists to establish their credentials in the rap genre. Muhammad Ali best exemplifies the oratorical contest where he often spoke to his opponents in jests with short rhymes to belittle his prospective opponents, often stupefying them. Therefore, rap battles as an art of oral tradition relied on embellishing rhymes with exaggerations to bolster the status of the rapper (Wilson, 2015).
Imperatively, comedians led by Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Flip Wilson contributed significantly to the development of hip-hop by using their oratory gifts to enhance the style, rhythms and stories of the street experience in the comedic narratives. As in the case of the dozens play, the comedians used dark humor to stupefy and provoke while imbuing their various narratives with expert social commentary that epitomized the black experience. As entertainers, they told stories that every black person resonated with by punctuating them in a style unique to the black Americans (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2008). Consequently, early music rappers exploited oratorical prowess to impart knowledge and promote social consciousness through rhymed verses that also formed narratives about the tribulations that the Africans American people were undergoing. The skillful interweaving of vocal skills and storytelling traditions influenced hip-hop through lending it the lyrical platform for cultural and social expression.
The Role of Hip-Hop in Influencing African American Culture
As an overwhelming influence on the black community in the United States as well as the entire community, hip-hop has revolutionized the music industry and has transitioned into a formidable tool to voice the concerns of the society both as a social and political platform (Kitwana, 2004). The inception of hip-hop has therefore influenced and uplifted American communities to view the world from a general perspective while at the same time agitating for equality among the ethnic minorities and the white majority. Invariably, hip has become the voice of the voiceless and the flicker of hope to the downtrodden and marginalized ethnic minorities forming part of the US widely diverse US communities (Romano, 2016).
On the contrary, opponents of the hip hop culture hold a somewhat condescending view on the ramifications of the resulting culture because the aggressive nature of the music genre and its potentiality to propagate violence, nurture and promote rebellion. According to critics, the provocative lyrics, therefore, form the basis upon which all social evils thrive. Despite the emergent issues and opposition hip-hop has faced in the recent past, it does not negate the fact that it remains the most efficient and vocal outlet for many Americans to air their grievances (Collins, 2006). Hip hop has enabled rappers and emcees to express their opinions freely about the society, the government and the treatment of the Africans American for decades now. Consequently, the provision of a sound outlet or platform for expression makes hip-hop a globally recognizable cultural art for uplifting the black community and would benefit the society entirely if the those opposed to hip-hop tied to embrace it.
Hip Hop in the 20th Century
The dawn of the twentieth century saw the extensive social changes that changes in the American history and social culture. The evolution of the hip hop culture during the same period was characterized by aggressive radicalization of the hip hop culture. Arguably, scholars often refer to it as the period of emancipation (Shank, 2010). The new crop of rappers morphed into gangster rap, a variant of hip hop that was marked with severe form of gun violence, masochism and a severe dislike for the law enforcement officers. As a revolution, the period points to a time when the African American community needed to get heard and their grievances sorted despite the reluctance of the state to address them (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2008). Eventually, a significant animosity grew between the hardcore rappers that the police force considered criminals.
The apparent clamor for equal rights for the black community became politically charged and motivated as more rappers and their followers became socially conscious of their plight. Poverty and lack of an active economic empowerment among the African American youth exacerbated the situation as hip hop evolved to become a vehicle through which the black community agitated for their rights. Other than spic-economic issues that emanated from the struggle, the traditional marginalization of ethnic minorities and discontent form injustices lent the hip hop culture the impetus it needed to spearhead social restructuring of attitudes and opportunities through musical expression. During the late 1980s, the hip hop music gained significant following globally but it was in the 1990s when the genre acheived a significant milestone as a tool for conveying social awareness and got marked by the changing experiences that culminated in the creation of a veritable “Hip Hop Nation” (Collins, 2006).
Consequently, despite the uproar and controversy bedeviling the legitimacy of the music in terms of musical presentation which was branded violent with vulgar connotations, hip-hop became a national symbol with massive social and cultural significance because of the power it had amassed towards uplifting the African American, Latinos and other ethnic minorities at the federal level. Conversely, even the white community started embracing hip hop as the new force of social identity as exemplified by the rise of artists such as Eminem and Paul Wall. The popularity of hip-hop was further fueled by how it managed to revitalize the other dying genres such as rock and roll. As it continued to enjoy the limelight, white collaborators identified the opportunity to relate with the black struggle and enhance their careers in music hence breaking the perceived underground barrier to the mainstream (Collins, 2006).
The emergence of hip hop as a formidable political vehicle in the 20th century became the creation of the predominantly marginalized African Americans who saw it as a platform to talk about their hardships in life. The white majority soon realized that there existed some sense of reason in the political persuasions of the music genre while also appreciating the beauty it brought. The release of Eminem’s “The Slim Shady LP” in 1999 granted white Americans the opportunity to associate and experience the hip hop culture which made them more aware of the political struggles of the black population. As a global phenomenon, hip hop went from being a street corner routine for most youths to an international craze that would then last for several years to follow (Kitwana, 2004).
Redefining Cultural & Political Norms
Almost synonymous with hip hop were the daily struggles of the poverty stricken neighborhoods that encouraged the need for political agitation to address racial discrimination and economic isolation of the ethnic black communities. Additionally, the rights given to the black community started to ebb after the civil rights movement left the subsequent generations at a loss on how to determine the more subtle forms of racism, discrimination and internal political dissent (Romano, 2016). The changes in the national social climate continues to this day where Black Nationalist remain vocal in identifying the importance of the black identity and culture for political struggle. Hip hop therefore continues to exploit the theme of Black Nationalism to explore the challenges that inherently confront the African American in the post-civil rights era (Collins, 2006).
The rise of artists like Tupac, P-Diddy and Nas were able to create a balance between the promotion of black rights and self-determination in the face of growing racism. Also critical to the hip hop movement was the need to address the intense vulnerability of many youths with respect to the vicissitudes of daily struggles and the desire for a figure that could champion the resistance towards overt and subtle forms of injustices. In a similar way, hip hop became regarded as an essential phenomenon in empowering the marginalized black youth who would otherwise lack a central pool of relatable leaders. Fundamentally, hip hop culture redefined cultural and political norms and practices within the United States by helping to establish new modes of learning, behaviour and social interaction. As a remarkable voice for social reform, the nineties saw a marked increase in the establishment of street gangs as a direct response to social emancipation. The elaborate emphasis placed on the street in the upbringing of communities of lower socio economic standing augmented the power of street education.
The emergence of the popular culture and the media played a significant role in shaping young lives who relied on hip hop as an alternative curriculum (Collins, 2006). Currently, young African Americans continue to have their lives constructed around hip hop to create validated selves and a formal sense of community linked through the sharing of notions of what it means to be black and marginalized in the United States. Street education directly related to the culture of hip hop music and consequently empowering both the thematic elements of the music genre. Many youths today have incorporated hip hop into their lives to the point where they have completely redefined their methods of social interaction. Hip hop as a culture therefore acts as a fundamental social medium which many men and women of color exploit particularly in the US to help construct their gender and identity.
Positive Impact on American History
Unification and Education
One of the positive effects of hip hop culture exists in its ability to act as a great unifier of diverse populations in the United States. Though it started as a sub culture among the African American communities, it has grown exponentially to become a unique and global culture that embraces ethnic diversity. The fact that hip hop currently embodies cultural diversity and has crossed over the cultural divide demonstrates its ability to unify millions of youths in America and beyond (Romano, 2016). As such, its prominence can get reflected in the prominent urban street style of dressing coped from the hip hop artists. The characteristic features of such urbaneness often gets punctuated by baggy pants, caps worn backwards as well as expensive sneakers which gives both white and black teenagers a sense of identity.
Essentially, hip hop has been known to promote social and political awareness among the youth of today with rap music educating people from several perspectives and helps to raise social issues. Rap music has provided the channel for people to freely air grievances on political, economic and social issues. Thus, it becomes important in making the youth aware of the world around them and the conditions they face in the society hence empowering them to discuss ways in which they can make meaningful and positive contribution towards the society (Shank, 2010). Some of the issues pertinent to the educative role of hip hop is awareness creation where the community becomes aware of the existing racial discrimination, individuality and the importance of education in creating the ultimate empowerment. Hip hop has also grown to become a source of inspiration and identity that makes people undergoing the same challenges relate to the hip hop culture and has the power to unite the people despite the struggles espoused by the rappers in their lyrics.
Through education, a new understanding has emerged that makes rap music create social awareness in the communities around the country. As a tool for communication, rap music has often spoken against the negative aspects of life such as gun violence, drug abuse and marginalization of the ethnic minorities. Imperatively, several artists have emerged as crusaders for peace and none violent acts (Rose, 2008). Fundamentally, by communicating messages and discriminations relating to the youth, hip hop provides the opportunity for facilitating positive changes in people’s lives. Rappers like the late Tupac Shakur were often criticized for their lyrics which painted a bleak picture of the urban America. While such songs were intended to influence consumers, they managed to also bring an awareness to the country’s social problems especially with regards to those living in the inner cities characterized by widespread violence and unlawfulness. Prevalent issues such as drug addiction, poverty, police brutality and racial discrimination often marked the themes of lyrical presentation of the rap music. However, some lyric content were tailored to meet a specific audiences with a particular positive message (Kitwana, 2005). To this end, there were songs that out rightly denounced the excessive gun violence witnessed in predominantly black communities such as Chicago and Detroit in an attempt to improve quality of life. An example of such a song was entitled “Self Destruction”, composed and performed by the East Coast All Stars to create awareness of the high power and influence in their music in bringing a positive change.
Despite the significant strides made by the hip hop music, its reputation has deteriorated as a form of music that promotes violence, sexual exploitation as well as embodying street warfare and gangs, consumption of drugs and alcohol including sex and misogynistic attitudes towards women. Another fact that makes hip hop music unpopular in some quarters is the perceived frequent use of profanities in the lyrical contents. Regardless of the social perception of hip hop, it has still managed to generate a massive fan base in the United States and beyond with different demographic listeners mostly among youths (Kitwana, 2004).
Some aspects of the themes promoted in rap music are valid and often contribute to the negative stereotyping of black community hence the need to expose the positive side of hip hop. Similarly, rap music has had positive influences on the society regardless of the constant scrutiny and backlash from the media which associates it with some of America’s adverse impacts on the general population. Although it becomes plausible to acknowledge the existence of some aspects of rap music as negative, blanketing the entire hip hop art therefore becomes unfair to the artists as well as the people who enjoy it. As part of the national history, rap music that is positive can serve the purpose for which it has existed for more than three decades which is; to promote and improve social consciousness and highlight common issues bedeviling the community.
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