Rap in general is often quite a controversial genre due to its lyrics. From an outside perspective there is question as to why there is so much vulgarity in the language. (Rebollo-Gil, Guillermo 2012) We see this in everything from lyrics, tweets, and interviews from rappers. I was under the assumption that the violent, misogynistic, and gang inspired lyrics of rap came from the background and culture of the predominantly urban rap audience and industry.
I wanted to trace gangsta rap's origin, from the poverty stricken inner cities and block parties, to specific groups like N.W.A., to find out what background they came from. This way, I can better trace how it was a relevant thing in the past and why it is still relevant today. Even with all I know, I was curious why and how this started. The urban areas seem to be full of angry people, but it was never clear to me why these people were angry or why they turned to music to release these emotions. Rap today still seems to be generally misogynistic and violent, even in suburban areas where you would not assume to see this culture emerging. The question remained, “What about rap's origin made these gangsta lyrics such an intrinsic part of the culture?”
I decided to direct my research around a few general areas, like culture, lyrics, and the environment (both political and geographical) and how they worked their way from party music to gangsta rap. I went about cross-checking facts between multiple articles, many of which would cite a more well known article which usually was the one I ended up using. These included scholarly articles and periodicals using EBSCO, Google Scholar, and JSTOR. I wanted to make sure I got a good look at the culture and the lyrics. The scholarly sources look more in depth to the culture and social issues surrounding the lyrics and time period, while the periodicals look more in depth on the individuals, allowing for broad and specific looks at what brought about the gangsta rap movement. I looked at the history of some of gangsta rap's most influential members, such as N.W.A. and dove into the history surrounding the cities at the time rap was becoming more popular, looking at how conservative politics and economic decline in the 1970s are viewed as the causes of this violent form of self-expression.
Rap was, in origin, an outlet for kids to let go of the violence and antisocial behavior from the urban areas. Michael P. Jefferies’ article “Hip-hop Urbanism Old and New” discusses the origin of rap in its culture with the inner city and how that influenced its topics prior to commercial changes for mass media. This also works to examine the influences of violence, neglect, and gang activities on rap music. Jefferies emphasizes that, “Early hip-hop was a direct response to economic violence and neglect. When famed DJ Afrika Bambaataa organized block parties in the South Bronx in the 1970s, his explicit aim was to mediate the antisocial behavior and violence that sprung up when gang socialization and the illicit economy took hold of blighted city neighborhoods.” (Jefferies 707) Jefferies’ point is that hip-hop and rap block parties were put in place to protect the community from the dangers of gang socialization. This was still during the party era of music and these kinds of block parties that brought rap into the urban consciousness, would be one of the ways that rap becomes an oppositional culture.
! thought that rap's violent culture came broadly from the difficulties of urban life. I was surprised to find that rap originated in a much more peaceful way and was pushed to treachery. Tricia Rose, whose expertise extends to post civil rights era black U.S. culture, popular music, and social issues is commonly cited for her article "'Fear of a Black Planet': Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics in the 1990s". In it she discusses where the change in culture occurs and how this alters the lyrical content of rap. She goes in depth on how the structures that set rap back built its content. (Rose 277) After reviewing Rose's article, I am more inclined to believe that while the parties Jefferies referred to may have had the intention of preventing violence, the heavy policing and containment of these events contributed to the persecution of the urban blacks. The persecution shown at these events was simply a microcosm for the persecution they would see on a regular basis as urban children.
Theresa Martinez touches more deeply on what Rose brings to our attention and discusses the formation of oppositional culture in her article, "Popular Culture as Oppositional Culture: Rap as Resistance". Martinez brings up an important point in this. She says that gangsta rap was a cultural response to the poor living conditions of the city and the institutional discrimination that blacks at that time were shown. (Martinez 266) I agree with this notion because it adds up to the language and political structure of the lyrics as well as the development of the culture.
This idea matches what Margena Christian's had to say about N.W.A.'s famously controversial record "Fuck Tha Police" in her periodical article "PARENTAL ADVISORY: THE HISTORY OF N.W.A.". In the article she notes, ""F— tha Police," N.W.A.'s most controversial joint, proved prophetic. The subversive-yet-brutally honest song, written by Ice Cube and MC Ren, seemed to channel the ignored voices in urban areas across America. The song's aggression, often mistaken as a call for violence, acknowledged their pain and frustration." (Christian 96) In this quote pushes the idea that N.W.A. was pushing a song that spoke for the ignored urban community. This also compares well to Martinez's piece because the police described aptly represent one of the unfair institutions that held urban blacks down.
So why has gangsta rap and it's influences lasted this long despite the industries commercialism? When you look at gangsta rap as an oppositional culture that came together as a result to urban poverty from conservatism and institutional discrimination, it becomes clear that rap was the purest way to express the political life problems the people in these areas went through. For a long time these people didn't have the ability to show the public the tribulations that they went through, so through rap they could discuss these issues in a way that was shocking to some. I believe this still exists today, as people need an expression of self, especially with raps loyal following.
Christian, Margena A. "Parental Advisory: The History Of N.W.A." Ebony 66.8 (2011): 94. Middle Search Plus. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.
Jeffries, Michael P. "Hip-Hop Urbanism Old And New." International Journal Of Urban And Regional Research 38.2 (2014): 706-715. EconLit. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Martinez, Theresa A. "Popular Culture As Oppositional Culture: Rap As Resistance." Sociological Perspectives 40.2 (1997): 265-286. Business Source Complete. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.
Rebollo-Gil, Guillermo, and Amanda Moras. "Black Women And Black Men In Hip Hop Music: Misogyny, Violence And The Negotiation Of (White-Owned) Space." Journal Of Popular Culture 45.1 (2012): 118-132. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Rose, Tricia. "'Fear of a Black Planet': Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics in the 1990s." The Journal of Negro Education 1991: 276. JSTOR Journals. Web. 8 Oct. 2014.