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How does rap music influence today's society through its culture and messages? Rap music is "a style of popular music, developed by disc jockeys and urban blacks in the late 1970s, in which an insistent, recurring beat pattern provides the background and counterpoint for rapid, slangy, and often boastful rhyming pattern glibly intoned by a vocalist or vocalists" (Webster's Dictionary). Even though rap music has this one definition, it represents different things to different people. It can possess messages of hope, nationalism, and it can also bring awareness to be social and political issues.
On the other hand, it can also promote negative images such as sexism, drugs, and violence. These messages have had both negative and positive impacts on American society.
Rap music began in New York during the 1970s, by DJ Kool Herc and DJ Hollywood. During this period, disco was thriving; however, the two deejays grew tired of disco and began playing with records.
While playing with these records, they spun sections of the songs on their turntables and discovered a new sound. They began playing this new sound at parties, and it began to gain popularity, thus birthing hip-hop.One positive message various artists express through their music is nationalism. Nationalism is a sense of pride within a nation and promotes the culture of that nation. However, in today's society, black nationalism is prevalent which promotes the culture of the African American community. Many rappers have used their art to express this to their audience.
American rap and hip hop recording artist, Nas, released a song "Black Zombie," which indirectly encourages, promotes, and increases the awareness of the ideology of black nationalism. In the song, Nas creates this metaphor referring to African Americans as Black Zombies. Through this metaphor, Nas is calling the African American community dead, as if they were zombies, who do not obtain their desires and "follow the system" as he stated in the song. He provides various examples demonstrating ways in which African Americans are oppressed, like zombies, who fail to control their actions, thoughts, and speech.
The idea of oppression within African Americans in America has displayed in Nas' "Black Zombie":"Yo, you believe when they say we ain't shit, we can't grow?All we are is dope dealers, and gangstas and hoes?And you believe when they are telling you lie, all on the media? They make the world look crazy to keep you inside?Why you listen when the teachers at schoolKnow you a young single parent out struggling, they think you a fool"Nas demonstrates the stereotypes that thrive regarding the black community, and this angers him. Nas then goes onto say "So stop being controlled, we black zombies." With this message he offers a solution; he encourages the idea of black-owned land and business to break out of this oppressed state. Nas uses his social platform to encourage this nationalistic feeling throughout his community. Nas is not the only rap artist to promote nationalistic feelings through his music; according to the book Black Nationalism and Rap Music, by Errol A. Henderson, artist such as Run DMC, Too $hort, Ice-T, and many more promoted black nationalism through their music. As a result of their promotion, African American accepted the ideology and began to ban together. Due to the music, African Americans decided to challenge the ideas of white supremacists. More black-owned organizations began to boom which increased the economic status of African Americans; for example, "Russell Simmons provided an organizational basis For Black acts through his Death Jam Productions and Rush Management". Simmons decided to keep the nationalistic feelings, that came with rap music, alive through the business world of music. This created more opportunities for African American artist to express their music to the world. These feelings were also passed on to today's society. However, when Run DMC and Russell Simmons began to work with whites heavily, tensions between the two social groups began to rise.
Run DMC decided to change the game and mix the culture of rap music with Rock N' Roll; the black community, however, was not fond of the idea. Henderson writes, "...Run DMC appeared to cross over and out of mainstream hip-hop (African American), and they have never really been accepted back, on a national level, by their previously black fans". This quote demonstrates the rising social tensions between African Americans and whites. African Americans dominated hip-hop and for whites to become a part of the movement was damaging to the African American community. Due to these feelings of nationalism, African Americans felt betrayed by their own, Run DMC because they decided to evolve musically.Similarly to Nas, the artist uses their platform to encourage ideas through their music, such as political and social issue awareness. African Americans have been a minority group for over hundreds of years; they have also been victims of social injustices, such as police brutality. From Rodney King to Eric Garner, police brutality continues to be a muse to artists. As the law dictionary states, "police brutality is the use of excessive and unnecessary force by police when dealing with civilians." This has been seen in many instances, especially California. During the late 1900s, police brutality was common in South Central. Police repeatedly harassed young African American teenagers, as seen in the film, which was based on real-life events, Straight Outta Compton. The problem grew to be so unacceptable that rap group, N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitudes), released a song about the issue called "Fuck Tha Police." Ice Cube starts the song off with the following lyrics:"Fuck the police coming straight from the undergroundA young nigga got it bad cause I'm brownAnd not the other color, so police thinkThey have the authority to kill a minorityFuck that shit, cause I ain't the oneFor a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun.
To be beating on, and thrown in jail" The audience can sense Cube's anger from this snippet of the song. He describes himself as "a young nigga" that "got it bad," due to the color of his skin tone. When authority heard this song by the rap group, they felt threatened especially because citizens were promoting the song. This song was creating social awareness of police brutality that was occurring, even if people were going against the police, N.W.A. wanted to bring awareness to a social issue whenpeople began to realize the issue, people's attitudes toward the police. During N.W.A's 1989 tour they received a letter from the federal government warning them if they performed their controversial hit, "Fuck Tha Police," there would be major consequences. However, they knew they owed the truth to their fans. In Detroit on their tour, N.W.A decided to perform the song, while there was a crowd of police at their show. In 2014, on "The Jonathan Ross Show," Ice Cube described how the whole Detroit police department threw fireworks onstage causing the group to flee back to their hotel where they were arrested. To the audience, it appeared that the police are punishing the group, even though as Cube reported, the police just wanted autographs, causing the audience to cause a riot outside the venue. People threw anything in sight towards the police which created utter chaos. N.W.A. then had a press conference about the incident and most of their music. In the film, "Straight Outta Compton," when asked about their music lyrics which often refer to gangs, death, and drugs, they responded that it reflected their reality. From drugs to police brutality, it was what they saw on a day to day basis. People began to resent the police due to this incident, thus earning N.W.A the "most dangerous rap group."
Finally, California reached the breaking point. As reported by CBS, on March 3, 1991, four police officers were caught on film brutality beating King when capturing him after a case. This was a shock to the world and what came next was an even bigger shock. In April of 1992, Rodney King's assaulters were acquitted by a majority white jury. The next three days were utter chaos. California was experiencing looting, riots, arson, mass levels of violence, and social unrest; leaving fifty-five civilians dead and over 2,000 injured. For the next few months resulted in unrest and riots. Among the chaos, Ice Cube released a song called, "We Had to Tear This Muthafucka Up." In the song, Cube says:"Not guilty the filthy devils tried ta kill meWhen the news get to the hood then niggas will behotter than cayenne pepper, cuss, bustKickin up dust is a mustI can't trust a cracker in a blue uniform"Cube is painting a picture of what is occurring in California; he is showing the story of the Rodney King case and its effects on society; the deadly riots, and the loss in trust of the police. The song brought much awareness to the issue and the fact that police brutality was happening all over and not just in California.Another positive message that comes out of rap music is hope. This message goes hand in hand with the message of awareness of social and political issues. Rap artist tends to respond to social issues in the world with songs of hope. For example, Tupac released a song called, "Changes," The song talks about the reality drugs, violence, and race.
However, Tupac is focusing on the changes that can be done to make the world a better place, hence the name of the song, changes. Tupac is giving his audience hope that better days are to come and the world will change for the better. In which many songs in today's society reflect against issues such as brutality, similarly today's music world and social problems.Black Nationalism and police brutality are still around and are reflected in rap culture in today's society. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many more, all victims of brutality. Due to all the brutality and innocent lives that were taken, the movement, "Black Lives Matter" was born. Many rappers have joined the movement and released songs to also support the movement. Singer Beyonce Knowles and her husband, rap artist Jay-Z, are proud supporters of Black Lives Matter and they are not afraid to make that a known fact. Not too long ago, Jay-Z released a song called, "Spiritual," that he wrote addressing police brutality. When released he wrote: "I made this song a year ago, I never got to finish it. Punch (TDE) told me I should drop it when Mike Brown died, and sadly I told him, "this issue will always be relevant."I am hurt that I knew his death wouldn't be the last·I am saddened and disappointed in THIS America - we should be further along.WE ARE NOT·"Jay-Z is using his social platform in society to get a message across to the American people. Jay-Z released the song in response to the murder of Philando Castile, who, according to CNN, was killed by a police officer at a traffic stop. Jay-Z is staying that America is staying stagnant and even though America should be making progress from racism, it is not. He is raising awareness and also give the people hope through music.Similarly, Rap artist, The Game, decided to take the issue to his Instagram, in which he has 7.4 million followers, telling his fans to join and support Black Lives Matter. He also organized a peaceful protest to "reintroduce the Los Angeles police department" to the community, along with hip-hop artists, Snoop Dogg, and Chris Brown. These celebrities are using their credibility, or ethos to get their fans to follow and support their actions, in which they are more likely to. Even though rap music has had positive messages, it is not all positive. Many rap songs promote drug use, sexism, and violence, which negatively impact society.
Rappers Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew are known for sexist lyrics and in their song "Face Down, Ass Up," 2 Live says:"I bust a nut, and then I'm breakin' outSo when you're naked, down on all foursYou better make sure that you get yours'Cause a nigga like me love ya and leave yaI got mine, hoe! SEE YA!"These lyrics are extremely controversial because it promotes the dehumanization of women and taking advantage of them. To describe a woman on all fours like an animal would be taking away their human qualities which is hugely disrespectful. 2 Live is also promoting men to act as if they love a woman to have intercourse with her and then leave her which s taking advantageof her and her body. Similarly to this song, in Rocko's, "U.O.E.N.O," rapper Rick Ross talks about drug abuse and even promotes rape. Ross says:"Put molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it. I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it."Rick Ross is implying the idea of date rape; he slipped drugs into a girl's drink and took her home and had his way with her. Children listening to this song get the idea that rape is okay and not a big deal. However, with the rape victim, they will never be the same again. Women did not stand for this, after many long, peaceful protests, Rick Ross was dropped from his Adidas' partnership. The vulgar lyrics caused women to take a stand against a problem and ended up coming out triumphant.Along with this form of crime, violence is promoted through rap music. In Eminem's song "Stan," he is writing a letter as a delusional rapper who describes violent acts against his pregnant girlfriend, such as tying her up, throwing her in the trunk, and killing her.
Even further than the music itself, the music videos are extremely sexist and degrading to woman. Most girls in music videos are showing off their body parts as if that is all they are. According to Gateway Journals, in 2007 there was a study done with seventh and eighth-grade boys that watch music videos, and wrestling videos were associated with the acceptance of date rape. So when young boys see these videos and hear lyrics like Rick Ross', which promote date rape, they believe it is acceptable behavior. Similar to this study, MTV reported that "70 percent of the students who listened to music "daily or almost daily" listened to rap and hip-hop, and when that data was compared with the students' answers about alcohol, drugs, and violence, the survey found that "substance use and aggressive behaviors among young people were significantly associated to certain genres of popular music," mainly rap·" After looking at these studies, it was suggested market alcohol to make more sales, which help the economy. However, these little sales do not compare to all the money that will be lost to these students that will become criminals. The studies show that due to rap music, these children will end up either participating in illegal activities, in prison, or ruining their lives. For all negatively connotated lyrics, some children end up in prison, with more and more criminals in prison due to rap music, this causes people to pay more taxes. The people would grow angry, maybe to the point of an uprising.
Economically, the rich would remain rich, and the poor would remain poor, maybe even poorer considering they can barely keep up with the economy as it is; this would contribute to the growing economic gap and help it to grow. As I stated before, celebrities are very influential in our society. Socially with celebrities and rap music also comes social trends, such as new languages, dances, and even fashions trends. For example, the "Milly Rock," is a new dance that teenagers do all the time because of rapper 2 Milly. Rap artist Desiigner introduced the term "GLLLTTT," which is the mockery of a gun sound, to the young American society. This term is all over social media and used by many teenagers and on a day to day basis. Also, terms like "selfie," which are now found in the dictionary are social trends that were created from music. Kanye West created a fashion statement with dresses and holes in clothing. These are just very few examples of the social influences rappers have on the society; but why are these celebrities so influential, why do we listen to them and trust them more than people we know?
According to the book, The Economic Worth of Celebrity Endorsers: An Event Study Analysis Studies, by Jagdish Agrawal, studies show that when celebrities endorse a product, it sells over 20% more. Rap artist Kanye West discussed running for president in 2020; already there were "Kanye for president" shirts made. Politically, for America, this would mean another politically uneducated president, after Trump. Celebrities are looked up to and idolized by citizens, so when they tell people to do something, they are more likely to do it. This is why their lyrics are so meaningful when celebrities promote things in their songs, good or bad; people are more likely to listen most likely follow. As studies show, 85% of people listen to music, of that 85%, 17% of male adolescence and 25% of female adolescence, said they listen to rap music for the lyrics. So if the lyrics are negative they are becoming brainwashed, after singing the song multiple times, they begin to believe rape, sexism, violence, and drugs are okay, as seen in the eighth and seventh-grade study. For positive lyrics, however, they begin also to become more socially aware of the world. Lyrics can be very dangerous if taken lightly.From the years 1998 to 2008, 10.7 of Americans purchased at least one rap album. There are about 300 million Americans, so of that 10.7 who purchased rap albums, they are either getting negative or positive messages. What do people think when they hear these lyrics; more importantly, think about the impact this music has on our lives. Rappers and their music have had political, social, economic, and historical impacts on the American society.
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