Dating back to the times of slavery, the black community In America has historically used music as a vehicle for self-expression and Introspection. The blues was the original form of musical self-expression, and was conceived from “field hollering”, the melodious manner In which slaves working the fields and forests aired out grievances and gave their opinions on their present situation.
The use of music for communal empowerment and expression of self within the black community is still seen today, but is seen in the more contemporary genre of hip-hop music which originated in the early ass in the New York Inner City. Grandmaster Flash is credited with being one of the original pioneers of the hip-hop movement and musical genre. The idea behind the hip-hop movement was one of peace – solve problems with words not guns; and “The Message”, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s most popular song released in 1 982 fiftieth album The Message, served to embody perfectly the group’s creed.
Similar to how It Is possible to understand the problems and qualms the slaves had by listening to the blues, understanding the contemporary problems of the black community was made possible via the hip-hop tedium. “The Message” discusses and boldly brings to the forefront Issues of poverty, the cyclical nature of socio-economic stagnation, the plight of women, and lack of education all pressing issues that plagued the black community specifically those living in the inner city.
In this paper, I will carefully examine several technical musical elements of hip-hop music as seen in “The Message”, its lyrics, instrumentation, visualization, melody, tempo, mood, and illustrate their impact on the aforementioned thematic content of the song. Furthermore, I will affirm that hip-hop sic, like its predecessor the blues, is a thriving mechanism for self-expression, a product of resistance, and if applied appropriately, a thriving facilitator of awareness and catharsis.
Grandmaster Flash and his musical partners The Furious Five founded the hip hop movement In response and resistance to the turbulent condition of the black community In his Bronx neighborhood where the crack epidemic was ravaging the social infrastructure, and black on black violence was on the rise as a result. They’re aim was to create harmony through music, and create an alternative form of venting motion rather than turning to violence. Using catchy disco and reggae beats, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five created the hip-hop sound, and thus a platform for the inner city youth to express anger with words, not weapons was created.
While the beat and instrumentation of a hip-hop song drive the rhythm, augment the melody, and influence the mood and overall tone, its lyrics carry the majority of thematic weight. The resulting interplay of the lyrics and the instrumentation serve to encapsulate the song’s universal message. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”, Is no exception. Specific Instrumentation and varied methods of visualization combine to generate song’s mood, which serves to complement Its lyrical content. This Interplay Is seen explicitly during the opening seconds of the track.
Following the initial percussion, jungle. Sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under” – effectively preparing the listener for a discourse in coping with struggle. This feeling is immediately reaffirmed by the instrumentation, the sound effect of glass breaking, followed by the opening line “broken glass everywhere, people pissing on the stairs, oh know they Just don’t care. ” Grandmaster Flash uses the metaphor of the “Jungle”, to insinuate the unpredictable, volatile, annalistic nature of life in the inner city which pits hungry soles amongst one another to fend for themselves.
The second image he brings into play, of people urinating in public to the indifference of those surrounding, serves to demonstrate the kind of conditions omnipresent in the ghetto: a public that is desensitizing to uncivil behavior. Additionally, the instrumentation of the baseline and the chorus serve to augment the songs message. The baseline, a perpetual, consistent descending chord progression, fosters the notion of life being a slow and steady dose of challenges that tend to weigh one down. The moderate tempo, marked by a drum and the baseline, form a consistent, steady beat that creates the illusion of time passing.
The constant downward chord progression builds on this notion of time passing, and suggests that Just as regular as the passage of time, is the constant necessity of dealing with problems. Additionally, implementation of the synthesizer to create a psychedelic chord progression that is eared exclusively during the chorus of “The Message,” creates an aura of instability and further amplifies the feeling of volatility that characterizes life in the inner city as alluded to by the earliest referenced metaphor of the Jungle as rapped by Grandmaster Flash in the first line of the song.
While the aforementioned musical elements have the capacity to suggest and augment the thematic content, the lyrics are the primary propagator of the artist’s message in hip-hop music. In “The Message,” Grandmaster Flash seeks to heighten the awareness of the conditions of he inner cities, implicate the system that creates the conditions, and also illuminate upon the state of mind that results from living in such conditions, and its consequences. Poverty is the first issue he addresses, and raps “l can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise no more/Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice… Tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far/’Cause a man with a tow-truck repossessed my car. ” The picture Grandmaster Flash paints describes the depressing reality of poverty. Many inner city dwellers are often physically, socially, and economically trapped to the confines of their living situation. Lack of financial stability in the inner city prevents many residents from improving their situation, and in effect leaves an entire community socially and economically stagnant and living with “rats in the front room, roaches in the back/Junkie’s in the alley with a baseball bat. In the author’s case, one shared by countless other inner city residents, the ability to even catch a breather from the depressing sites and life of the inner city is not even feasible due to lack of transportation. Another image that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five portray is a “crazy lady living’ in a bad/Eating’ out of garbage pails, she used to be a bag-hag. ” While this image serves as another reinforcement of poverty in the ghetto, it also brings to light the plight of a single woman in the ghetto.
The crazy lady, Grandmaster Flash explains, used to be a dancer however at some stage in her life “she went to the city and got Social Security/She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t demonstrates the realities of life for a poor, single woman trying to make a living in the inner city. In “The Message”, her ambition to be a dancer was squashed by the ace of opportunity and resources of the inner city, and the only form of “social security’ she could find was provided not by the government, but by the neighborhood pimp.
Due to the constraints placed on her life potential by her living situation, she forwent a dance career for prostitution, and eventually homelessness and the dubious honor of being the “crazy lady living’ in a bag. ” The failure to succeed for this single woman represents the plight of many single women of the inner cities whom are held in economic submission by their financial situations and have to exult to prostitution for “social security,” only to end up homeless and helpless.
One of the primary causes for many inner city dwellers to be trapped in social and economic stagnation is the fact that they are not eligible for work that would take them away from the inner city. This can be directly attributed to the lack of substantial education that many urban residents receive. Grandmaster Flash, writing form the point of view of a father, illustrates this point. “My son said: ‘Daddy, I don’t want go to school/Cause the teacher’s a Jerk, he must think I’m a fool/And all the ids smoke reefer… Through the son’s description of what his education is like, Grandmaster Flash illuminates the true environment at inner city schools. Because there is lack of community contribution to the education system, the only financial backing the inner city school board receives is the government issued sum from state’s education budget. As a result, many inner city schools are poorly equipped, and their lack of resources restrains the inner city student’s potential.
Furthermore, many of the children of the inner city are products of broken families and at a young GE are already forced to cope with oppressive life issues. The result is turnover from the schools to the streets, where the only education is the code of the streets, not individual morality. Grandmaster Flash best elucidates this point again through the son, who tells his father “All the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper If I Just got a Job, learned to be a street sweeper. The fourth verse of “The Message” is the most poignant verse of the song, in which Grandmaster Flash reaches out to the vast population of inner city residents by describing the conditions f the ghetto, and the individual mindset that it extracts. He extrapolates that upon birth, God is smiling on you but he’s frowning too Because only God knows what you’ll go through You’ll grow in the ghetto, living second rate And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate.
In this passage Grandmaster Flash discusses the paradox of God, and how while he smiles on all his children, he frowns on those living in the inner city, for he knows that the “second rate” life that residents of the inner city live only lead to cultivation of hate. He does on to describe how places that were once sweet memories turn sour, ND that the only role models there are for the youth are the “thugs, pimps, pushers and big money makers/driving big cars, spending twenties and tens… However, despite the glory of making money, the next step down that path is one of Jail time and imminent death. Grandmaster Flash concludes the verse, Mimi was cold and your lives so fast and died so young,” a fitting description of the unnatural life of those living in the inner city. By utilizing the vehicle for expression that is hip-hop, pioneers Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five were able to create a song that could speak to entire populations of oppressed African Americans.
Any Black American whether they hailed from Bronx, New York or Compton, Los Angels could relate to the images and attitude expressed in the song “The Message. ” Similar to how hearing peers sing the blues during times of slavery helped the slaves cope with hardship, hearing a hip- hop artist voice his blues through a different musical medium performed the same cathartic experience. Additionally, for those incapable of relating on a tangible level to what Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five described, the song educated those on hat ghetto-living entailed from a first-hand, primary source.