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Today’s chart topping rappers range in type, style and delivery, but share the hard appeal of Gangster rap. However, the principles that produced great Hip Hop artists like 2pac or Yesen Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), no longer govern the Hip Hop industry today. Rarely is there any unity among artists as voices for the voiceless or setting precedence for just causes. Presently the shared value of Hip Hop artists is preaching a life of riches and bliss unknown to most of their listeners.

Just as the Rock & Roll of the 1960s was commercialized and cleansed of its roots in protest and cultural affinity in the 1970s, nearly three decades later Hip Hop has experienced the same transformation. Labels are multinational corporations with bottom lines, and like the Rock of the 1970s, they have added glam-pop to the modern mix of Gangster rap to mass produce effigy artists who will perform on command.

In 1988 the landscape of Hip Hop was entirely different from today. It was driven by cultural identification and association with inner-city ails. Hip Hop took on vocal positions against injustice. Those who made Hip Hop music in 1988 used their vocal stature to shed much needed light on the criminalization of inner-city citizens and life. This was the year of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and NWA’s “F&*k the Police.” These two anthems in their own rights, were, and still are common mantras among poor youth across the country. Both songs born out of injustices served to those who produced them, and the suffering of many of their peers, were the dawn of a new age in provocative music.

Never before were there so many young, Black artists, all saying the same thing at one time–we will not be treated like criminals based upon our race, culture, or because the authorities say we are.

Although many early Hip Hop artists like NWA and Public Enemy weren’t connected, they were all unified against the injustices in their communities. For many in the Hip Hop industry, 1988 was the pinnacle moment of Hip Hop history.

In one year Hip Hop infiltrated mainstream entertainment with the creation of Yo MTV Raps, was christened “the greatest year in Hip Hop” by Rolling Stone, and got a Grammy Award category. The Grammy’s, however, did not televise the Hip Hop category and Hip Hop artists united against supporting the Academy.

Hip Hop 26 years ago stood on principles set forth a decade before, by the founders of the genre, and pioneers like African Bambaataa of the Zulu Nation. Hip Hop was fostered out of protests in the late 70s and early 80s. During this time crack cocaine was unloaded across America and into every ghetto, and a new virus, HIV was killing off thousands of young Americans. This was a period much like today, riddled with inner-city poverty and injustice.

From California to New York and Illinois to Texas, there was violence brewing from the criminalization of the poor. Poverty coupled with the lack of opportunity in poor communities gave crack cocaine a fertile breeding ground for street-level trade. Much like heroine in the 60s and 70s, crack was distributed and concentrated in poor communities across the states in a scattered, yet still, organized manner.

By 1988 crack cocaine was the most popular drug on the street, known mainly as “ready rock.” Ready rock became the poor man’s ticket to high rolling and a life of luxury. Drug dealing as a lifestyle quickly spilled into Hip Hop music, as Hip Hop was, at this point, the only voice of street culture.

As a result, by 1989, “Gangster Rap” evolved from earlier Hip Hop and gained rapid exposure. Gangster Rap reflected the grittiness of ghetto life with a hard and raunchy appeal.

Ice T, NWA, and the Geto Boys are legendary for this Hip Hop form, as they originated the style of telling stories about dope dealing, pimping, and street violence. Prior to the invention of Gangster Rap, Hip Hop embodied every aspect of ghetto life from violence to victory.

Circa 1990-92 there was an influx of “Conscience” Hip Hop mixed in with the now more prevalent Gangster Rap. Conscience Hip Hop, known mainly by its mellow tempos, jazzy grooves, and self-celebratory messages, was an independent movement, referred to as “Underground” Hip Hop. Native Tongues Posse, a very popular Conscience rap crew at this time, included many of the artists who were featured on Stop the Violence Movement’s 1989 hit “Self Destruction.” Coincidently the following year 1990, The West Coast All-Stars did they’re unity single,” We’re All in the Same Gang.” Which signified, that during this period in Hip Hop, it was still important to express community togetherness and cultural value.

On March 3, 1991 America was shown the truth of police brutality by the filmed beating of Rodney King. Two weeks later, Latasha Harlin, 15, was shot as she was filmed leaving a local Korean owned store in her community, after having a dispute over a soda with the owner. Rodney King’s assault at the hands of LAPD and young Latasha Harlin’s senseless death ignited Los Angeles and the nation. Fueled by racial tension, from Brooklyn to L.A., there was complete turmoil for race relations. Black America was being subjected to brutal attacks from authorities and members of other ethnic groups, and 1991 became a year of social outcry from the Black community.

The recent death of Mike Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer bares many similarities to the beating of Rodney King—no justice in the eyes of the black community, because in both examples, the cops are let off with slaps on their wrist.

In 1992, after the Rodney King verdict, Hip Hop stood up; artist Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice-T, Ice Cube, 2Pac, and members of NWA were vocal in their positions on biases in the trial proceedings, and participated in organizing community responses. The pivotal importance here is that, these were A-list Hip Hop stars standing up, and using their influence to make an impact on social inequality in their communities.

However, 22 years later, Gangster Rap has no voice against injustice, and neither do many of the popular super stars of the industry as a whole. The Ice Cubes of this generation are “turnt up” over “mollies” and “popping bottles.” The few artists who were vocal in true Hip Hop form- J. Cole, Killer Mike, Sean Combs, and Jay Electronica – among other celebrities, made a statement, but there was no unified effort. The strength in the Stop the Violence Movement and The West Coast All-Stars was their ability to unify for a shared cause around a shared conflict.

In essence the unarguable characteristic of Hip Hop is its foundation in realism, no matter how critical the message or nature of the content, it was defined as a cultural forum for assimilation. Today’s Hip Hop artists should be a voice of the people, and as such, are expected to portray, vocalize, and narrate life for those who have no voice in public discourse.

5 Responses

  1. Loraine

    Guys,Eedmai fanatikos akhortas sas kai ke1toxos kai tou “maketou” alla kai tou “Mounioth Kapelo”. Synexiste na eistai etsi euxaristoi kai dimiourgikoi to prwi me mousikh ligo ap’ola. Ta “extremes” monoi n’apofeugete, dhladh hard rock kai poly laikoures.Sas euxaristw gia thn kalh diathesh pou diamorfonete kathe prwi prin th douleia!Alexandros A.

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