Hip Hop: From the street’ to Wall Street’ Hip-hop music Is known for being an outlet for African Americans to express themselves, whether It be political criticism, social criticism, Injustice, youth rebellion, oppression or some other social concept. The music has changed form over time, from spirituals sang by slaves to powerful raps about society to meaningless degradation sang by thugs’ and ‘gangsters’. Today, hip-hop music exists in many forms, some of which hold true to the meaningfulness of sass hip-hip from the South Bronx, and others with catchy beats and meaningless lyrics created simply for ash capital.
The music coming from the South Bronx in the 1 sass was prophetic. It talked about topics concerning society and its future (Assent 1-23). Modern-day mainstream hip-hop, for the most part, is not prophetic in any sense of the word. But, with that said, one must also remember that main stream hip-hop is not all hip-hop. Mainstream hip-hop has made a transition from the street’ to Wall Street’, losing its identity In the process. In the days of slavery, church was used as a means of keeping spirits up and encouraging day-to-day life.
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Slaves were not legally allowed to learn how to read or rite, so they had to learn the Bible by listening too preacher and singing bible verses. Spirituals were songs sung by slaves that combined Protestant hymns and African music styles (Arboreal 47). Spirituals held different meanings for different people. Some would speak of freeing oneself of sins while simultaneously relating to being free of slavery; some were even used as tools to escape slavery. Harriet Tuba’s “Wade in the Water is one of the most well-known spirituals.
The spiritual was used to warn runaway slaves to abandon the path and move into or near the water to avoid dogs and their keepers (Pathways to Freedom). As time passed, spirituals evolved into a more modern form but served much the same purpose. Freedom songs were revived spirituals sung during the civil rights movement. Many came directly from spirituals with a few words tailored to fit the message of the civil rights movement. For example, the spiritual “My Mind Stayed on Jesus” became “My Mind Stayed on Freedom” during the civil rights movement (Sweet Chariot).
The undertone of civil rights music was the same spirituals used during African American’s earliest days of oppression. Another example of a spiritual turned redeem song is “Keep Your Hand on the Plow’ to “Keep Your Mind on the Prize” (Sweet Chariot). These are Just examples of how African American music evolved early on. Hip-hop culture was born from poor black and Latino youth in the South Bronx in the sass. There were four elements to hip-hop culture: rap, Digging, graffiti, and breakfasting. The culture was a way of expression for the poor originators and a way of expressing their economic and social status (Codington).
Africa Bumboat, also known as the Grandfather of Hip-Hop, was instrumental In the development of hip-hop culture. He was the first DC and led the first Hip-Hop Tour. As the face of early hip-hop, Bumboat promoted the aspects of hip-hop that Involved unity, spirit and having fun (Mitchell). Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were a Message”. The song opens up with a very powerful first verse: “It’s like a Jungle sometimes it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under” (Grandmaster Flash).
Falling in line with most early rap music, the lyrics related to society and what was taking place in the South Bronx during the time the song was written. The chorus follows with “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge/lam trying not to lose my head” (Grandmaster Flash). The Message” reflected upon the general struggles the poor were facing in the South Bronx. A large reason for the songs popularity was the fact that people could relate. People could relate to the ideas of helplessness and struggle perpetuated in the lyrics. The South Bronx was a poverty stricken area in the sass.
Denationalization and urban renewal caused a high unemployment rate of 40% and 60-80% among youth. Many were homeless because slumlords would burn down huge apartment buildings in order to collect insurance and the local government decreased social services in the area because it was seen as a hopeless lace. The distrust in social services and large levels of homelessness lead to the uprising of gangs, which appealed largely to young males. Gangs offered protection and family to those who had nothing, as well as shelter, food and a source of income for many.
Hip-hop music became an alternative to gang life (Aware). In the late ass and ass, hip-hop took a black power stance and provoked political and historical urgency into the black community. The stronghold on hip-hop culture shifted from the east coast to the west coast, where a situation similar to the South Bronx was occurring in Los Angels. West coast hip-hop was called ‘gangs rap’. Gangs rap talked about life in the neighborhoods of Los Angels and started the word ‘hustling’ (Codington). NNW, also known as “Inning With Attitudes,” is considered to be one of the pioneering groups of gangs rap.
Their crude and explicit lyrics were very controversial, but did not hinder the success of the group. With lyrics like, “When I’m called off I got a sawed off/Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off’ (Straight Auto Compton), NNW held true to the idea of criticizing society through hip-hop, though in a much angrier manner. The aforementioned lyrics from their song “Straight Auto Compton” represent the growing anger of the city youth. Their song “Gangs Gangs” painted the view of inner city kids; “Gangs, gangs, that’s what they’re yelling’/let’s not about salary it’s all about reality’ (Gangs Gangs).
NNW was brutal, but authentic in the violence in their music. At first sound, the group sounds explicit, but if one pays attention to what it is they are saying, it becomes evident that they describe life in Los Angels during very trying times. In the 21st century, hip-hop has now made a movement to the south. The classic hip-hop is beginning to take a backseat to new hip-hop which is becoming indistinguishable from pop music. Digging is now seen as alternative rap, where music synthesizing has come to the forefront. Hip-hop music has now evolved into an industry that involves unmusical culture such as acting.
The music has lost a lot of its lyrical significance and the poetry has become lacking at best. Foreign artists are also starting to emerge on the hip-hop scene. Attitude towards 21st century mainstream hip-hop can most simply be summed up by Nas’ 2006 Album: Hip Hop is Dead. But, some artists still display hope or lyrical and purposeful hip-hop, such as Kenya West and M. I. A (Light). Oil Wayne exemplifies current main stream hip-hop. His music is constantly heard on the radio to it, such as “throw up blood with my hands/my gang pippin’ insignias smoke that shush and not that reggae” (Bill Gates).
Another example of the meaninglessness of current mainstream hip-hop music is the group Three Six Mafia. Their lyrics are equally blank, “Ghetto pimp type girls say I’m the Maine/lace on the wrist with ice in the chain/Riding’ through the hood, got me gripping’ the grain/And I’m sipping’ the same while I’m changing’ the lane” (Three Six Mafia). But, not all mainstream rap has lost its awareness. Kenya West is a very unique main stream artist who has constantly striver to make his music relevant, especially early on in his career.
From his album, Late Registration, comes a track displaying a much different feeling than a Oil Wayne or Three Six Mafia track. “Man I promise, she’s so self conscious/She has no idea what she’s doing in college/That major that she majored in don’t make no money/But she wont drop out, her parents will look at her funny,” (Kenya West) is an excerpt from “All Falls Down” by Kenya West. Instead of rapping about money, cars, violence, Kenya APS about topics relevant to society, such as the pressure put on young adults to attend college.
The shift in mainstream music from contemporary rap to new school rap began with the movement of hip-hop from the east coast to the west coast. When hip-hop was focused on the west coast with gangs rap, the culture was centered on life about material things and violence. The sass hosted the upcoming of cocaine in Los Angels which spurred the accumulation of thousands of dollars in very short periods of time. But, this new rap sold. It also broadened the audience of rap music to suburban whites. With this new audience, artists began to make music that sold and hip-hop became about the money, not the people.
Contemporary rap was forced to the underground where it got significantly less exposure. Once the new rap style was in place, no one wanted to risk profits by trying to be different. Innovation came to a standstill. Hip-hop became rapping for money versus rapping for people, contemporary rappers versus gangs rappers. But, in the end, money rules, which was the cause of the shift in mainstream hip-hop (Adkins). Differences between old hip-hop and new hip-hop are extremely obvious. From lyrics, to performances, to the sound itself, old and new hip-hop differ significantly.
As talked about previously, older hip-hop was conscious and the lyrics addressed social issues, while new hip- hop consists of meaningless, but catchy lyrics. Today’s mainstream artists are talented musicians with the ability to string together rhyming, witty lines, but they carry no real meaning. One of the best current artists when it comes to witty one- liners is Oil Wayne, with lines like “get on my level, you can’t get on my level, you would need a space shuttle or a ladder that’s forever” (3 Peat).
This well-known line is witty but has no real meaning, unlike this line from Tuba, “I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward/There’s a Heaven up there and it’s ours, Black Power” (Tuba). Even the sound of hip-hop music has changed. Synthesizers are now used to create beats rather than the Digging that took place during the age of “old school” hip-hop. Modern mainstream music is the music that sells, the synthesized music that compromises lyrics and depth for a sound that sells without meaning. Today’s underground music consists of artists who embody what hip-hop was to begin with.
Underground artists usually speak issues facing society today, contrary to mainstream music that is consumed by materialism and violence. Underground listeners. There is plenty of music to be found in the underground, but the artists are not given exposure because they create music because they have something to say, not solely for the purpose of making money. Mainstream music is littered with mindless verses about unpunished violence, sex and the degradation of women, drugs, and money and Jewelry. This is the image painted for black youth by the hip- hop industry.
Kids see these rich hip-hop artists with their flashy Jewelry and tattoos, and hear them rap about violence and crime, and it influences them. Music is influential. In the same way it had a positive effect on the South Bronx in the sass, it can have a negative effect on kids today. The prophetic of the hip-hop genre has been on a severe decline since the sass, and is almost extinct today. But, the prophetic voice, today, survives meagerly in the underground. Mainstream hip-hop, for the most part, is no longer prophetic. This hip-hop has become more about the money than the people.
There are a few mainstream artists who pursue social issues in their music such as Nas, Lope Fiasco and Kenya West. But, the number of mainstream prophetic artists compared to non-prophetic is miniscule. Underground hip-hop still makes strides towards being prophetic, but with such little exposure, it does not have any real influence. Its lack of exposure is partly the fault of hip-hop listeners who do not venture past what is played on the radio. As well as underground hip-hop artists, there are foreign artists, such as M. I. A. , who are beginning to innovate and reshape hip-hop.