Oct 20, 2017 1584 Words  Pages

Hip hop music is one of the most popular genres in present time that rose to prominence in the 1980’s. The hip hop genre was born in the African American community and has since then changed into what it is today. What most individuals don’t know is that originally rap music did not contain such explicit themes as it does now; such as misogyny, drugs, crime, and violence among others. Many people may wonder what led to the introduction of such themes into rap music and why they remained popular. Crime and violence were introduced to rap music as a way to expose the unjust life in the ghettos, and even if it caused many controversies, the theme stayed and revolutionized through the years until it became a commodification.
To begin, to understand hip hop people should know the background of its origins. In the mid 1980’s, rappers began to use the hip hop sound to express the issues in their communities. Early forms of hip hop were not as conscious and were used like any other music to have an enjoyable time. Before gangster rap came to be, hip hop music was more about partying and bragging. That idea is supported by the book Hip Hop 's Amnesia: From Blues and the Black Women 's Club Movement to Rap and the Hip Hop Movement which says, “As a precursor to conscious and gangsta rap, in the 1980’s what was then called ‘hardcore rap’ eschewed the early rap and hip-hop fascinations with and themes of partying and bragging” (Rabaka 251). It was little by little that rappers became more conscious about their reality. By mid-1980’s rappers began to move away from fun and festive themes to more serious themes. As the book by Reiland Rabaka says, “Moving away from party rhymes and braggadocio… 1980’s hardcore rappers’ music and lyrics eventually began to reflect the gritty and most often grating inner-city surroundings,” hardcore rappers began to transform the way they would rap (252). The artists saw the opportunity they had to speak through the rhymes and beats, and they did not let it pass. Early rappers wanted to expose the reality of life in the ghettos through music, giving a voice to the forgotten African American community. That argument is expressed in Rabaka’s book, which says, “1980’s hardcore rappers understood themselves to be exposing the harsh realities of life in the hood” (252). By the mid 1980’s artist became more aware of the situation their community was going through and decided to change the way they protested.
Soon after, rappers began to protest in a way that made it hard to be ignored. The early themes of crime and violence in rap sought to protest and break silence. The time between the 1980’s and 1990’s was critical for the hip hop culture because they were forced to revolutionize. The place that many African Americans called home had been ignored and left to deteriorate, as the book by Rabaka expresses, “black America in the 1980’s and early 1990’s seemed like and was, thus, like a long-lost wasteland or de-industrialized desert” (255). Since the government was not listening to their community, individuals developed a way to explicitly protest. Rappers employed violence and crime in music because they wanted to break silence and speak against the inequality that many African Americans were living. The book Hip Hop Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reasons expresses, “Violence of some kind was recognized as necessary for breaking the conspiracy of silence, and complacency about economic oppression, police violence, and other social ills of the black inner city,” to explain that crime and violence was needed to make a point (Shelby and Darby 59). Many of the hardships that African Americans went through inspired rappers to speak out about the injustices they lived and saw day after day. The phrase, “Early gangsta rap classics … in their own unique way seem to eerily reflect black ghetto youth experiences… during the dark days of the Reagan and Bush administrations,” supports the claim that crime in early rap music only depicted the reality of many black individuals (Rabaka 253-254). The abandonment the government left on the ghettos allowed for a culture of conscious people to rise and protest through music.
Consequently, the hardcore hip hop music that had crime and violence was officially established in 1991 through various rappers. Different rappers in the West Coast of the country started the crime theme in rap. One of the artists who revolutionized the genre was Ice-T, who established the gangster style rap, as one book explains, “For the gangster style-Powerfully established by West Coast rapper Ice-T with his 1991 album OG” (Shelby and Darby 61). However, he was not the only one that drew attention because of his explicit criminal themes. The group N.W.A. became famous in the early 1990’s through their themes of violence and crime. Author Tricia Rose states, “The concern over hip hop violence peaked… when groups like N.W.A. from Los Angeles found significant commercial success through a gang oriented repertoire of stories,” to explain that the attention the group obtained through gang stories quickly caused concern (34). One piece that caused national alarm was the song “Cop Killer” by Ice-T, which gained success throughout its controversy. The New York Times explains that after the rapper announced he would remove the song from the album, “More than 330,000 of the original albums were sold in four months, and there was a run on stores last week after Ice-T 's announcement” (Pareles). The theme of crime and violence proved to be successful, and brought fame to different artist. Though, it would continue to bring controversy.
Although the new violent stories proved to be successful, polemic quickly surrounded the theme. Individuals reacted differently to the introduction of crime and violence into hip hop music. As it was already stated, Ice-T’s song “Cop Killer” was released in 1992 and generated controversies. One magazine published, “‘Cop Killer,’ in which the rap performer envisions taking his revenge, with a shotgun, on a ‘pig’ who has harassed him… protests snowballed across local and state police associations… and up to the Bush Administration,” stating that protestors were triggered by the violent lyrics (Pareles). The song cause so much dispute to the point of reaching the White House. Another response individuals had was to use the songs to identify the character of the singer. People began to believe that rappers were criminals that sang about their crimes, therefore their lyrics were used against them in legal instances. Scholarly author Tricia Rose’s book reads, “Prosecutors around the country have buttressed their cases with defendants penned lyrics as evidences for criminal mindedness,” explaining that the violent rhymes were used to prove the rapper’s ability to commit crimes (35). Nevertheless, not all the reactions were negative; many albums and songs became very popular. Even with all the controversies surrounding gangster rap, and many people demanding its removal, “it became quite common for gangsta rap albums to achieve ‘gold,’ ‘platinum,’ or very often ‘multi-platinum’ sales status during its heyday between 1987 and 1997,” (Rabaka254). That meant that people were listening, and enjoying the music. Gangster rap had become unstoppable, and rappers would continue to transform it.
Moreover, crime and violence in hip hop music has changed. The genre has drifted away from its original purpose. What began as a form of protest and truth-telling medium, turned into an industry that only wants to make money. The modern hip hop music is not too worried about speaking over the injustices. For example, the book The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk about When We Talk About Hip Hop, and why it Matters identifies that issue by declaring, “If black ghetto street life were really being represented, we’d hear far more rhymes about homelessness and the terrible intergenerational effects of drug addiction” (Rose 139). The stories of the individuals who struggle in modern day are not being represented. Crime and violence is used as a commercialization in music in present time , rather than to tell the truth. Furthermore, people believe that hip hop artists are telling the truth, but as a book explains, “the claim that a rapper or hip hop in general ‘keeps it real’ has become a catch all defense… the illusion that commercially manufactures rappers are unvarnished, gritty truth-tellers has gotten completely out of hand,” it is all an illusion (Rose 137). Hip hop has become a commodification; present time hip hop is not the same as its early form. The chapter “Thug Life and Social Death” reinforces the idea that hip hop has changed by revealing, “what began as a figment… now thrives as a commoditized sign of immoral rebellion, and masculine strength and black hip hop performers’ willingness to repeat these representations legitimates troubling links between American discourses of race and crime” (Jeffries77). Surprisingly enough, the music keeps selling and its popularity does not seem to fade.
Consequently, crime and violence were introduced to rap music to give a voice to the black communities, and even if its content caused debates, the theme soon became popular thus generating some changes on the genre. Hip hop music quickly shifted from carefree to a concerned genre that exposed the reality of many African Americans. However, as rap began generating money, it revolutionized into an industry. Now, it has become hard to find rappers who rhyme about the true struggles in society. What began as a broadcaster of injustices, turned into a lucrative show, whose main goal is fame.