Wrapped In The Rhyme

From The Sugarhill Gang, to Tupac and Notorious, to 2 Chainz and Trinidad James, hip-hop has undergone some serious changes. What once was known for mellow lyrics thrown over a beat is now characterized by “at times several vocalists rhymed in angry unison (Kaylan 238).” There is no doubt that over time, the place and style of hip-hop has evolved in various regions. However, its effect stays the same: escape. Rap music has become popular in its ability to serve as an outlet for a type of musical urban revolt. What makes this specific sound so special? What is it that makes this genre of popular (now more mainstream) music so relatable to the general population? By analyzing various journals and authors, it is possible to glean more information as to what lies behind the flows, sixteens, and punch lines of an ever-growing musical movement.

Rap wasn’t always a massive movement. In fact, it had much more humble origins tracing back to the early 1970’s accompanying the popular sounds of disco in New York City and Philadelphia. “Many listened and danced to rappers and DJs playing on street corners, before trying hip-hop. As underground and oppositional, street-performed hip-hop grew increasingly popular, drawing large crowds for neighborhood ‘block parties’ (Warren and Evitt 142).” Block parties were very popular and DJs frequently played genres such as funk and soul. The percussive sounds of the music soon became very popular and DJs began focusing more on the percussions (similar to dub), using two turntables to achieve scratching sounds. These breaks and sharp rapping sounds became the foundation of beats that artist could then rap over. Since then rap music has taken flight as new artists, DJs, and engineers have taken the plunge and tried to create their own unique footprint in the hip-hop community.

Regardless of how flashy the artists dress, or how clever their wordplay, there is always an unwavering factor associated with the production of rap music: the story. What hip-hop has allowed artists to do is paint vivid pictures of situations in listeners’ minds, opening a window into their own world. This is what has ultimately changed hip-hop over the ages. What makes rap music so special is its ability to shed light on voices of those who ordinarily would not be heard from. This unseen, unheard struggle is what’s predominantly focused on in the music. Jenkins stresses in his article “the importance of allowing the marginalized to speak and for their voice to be raw, real, and authentic (1233).”  In hearing these stories, whether real or exquisitely fabricated, outsiders are given a look into the lives of society that is under wraps. The sounds and struggles that have become everyday routines for marginalized individuals are brought to the forefront on the music. Attali states that music “reflects the manufacture of society (30)” and that is exactly the aim of hip-hop. Rap music challenges social norms and the “Minority perspectives make explicit the need for fundamental change in the ways we think and construct knowledge (Jenkins 1233).”

Not only does rap music serve as  “a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America (Kaylan 241)” but also as a movement that has influence all over the globe. If rappers got one thing wrong it is that hip-hop is dead. If anything, hip-hop is livelier than ever before. It has taken forms not only throughout all of America, but overseas as well exposing corruption and issues within society. Even in places such as Bolivia hip-hop can be seen “reproducing elements of that haunted soundscape of cultural and economic dispossession that festered in La Paz. (Kaylan 238).” All across the globe hip-hop is evolving and finding new ways to bring social trials and tribulations of the suppressed into the spotlight. The reach and influence of rap music is alive and spreading as Brunson mentions in his article. “Hip-hop images reside within media the way organisms reside in a habitat. Like organisms, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ moved from one media environment to another, so that its message has been reborn in music video and rendered in the virtual reality environments of spike.com and youtube.com (Brunson 7).” Digging deeper into these articles and stories of the evolution of hip-hop will allow us to find the meaning and message within each respective sub-genre of rap around the world.

Researching this topic is not only important because of its cultural relevance in our time period, but also in understanding a major part of the music we listen to. It is one thing to hear the beat and bob your head to the rhythm, it is entirely another to understand and see the stories and struggles that have helped shape the music. Understanding what’s behind the bars, the beats, and the lyrics, allows us to more fully appreciate and respect an ever progressing genre of music. Once you begin to see what you are hearing then you can feel the “linguistically powerful, at times arrogant platform where minority bodies and voices [are] thrust into hegemonic and vice-regal positions in the media landscape (Warren and Evitt 142-143).”

 

Works Cited

Brunson, James E., III. “Showing, Seeing: Hip-Hop, Visual Culture, and the Show-and-Tell Performance.” Black History Bulletin 74.1 (2011): 6-12. Print. This article focuses on hip-hop as an “extension of Black American culture” and how hip-hop has impacted the culture among urban youth through music, fashion, dance, and even commercial gain. This article also dives into how hip-hop addresses racial stereotypes and reflects certain aspects of culture. W. J. T. Mitchell will also be analyzed and his opinions used to help understand the social constructs around culture.

Jenkins, Toby S. “A Beautiful Mind: Black Male Intellectual Identity and Hip-Hop Culture.” Journal of Black Studies 42.8 (2011): 1231-51. Print. Jenkins states that the minds of Hip-hop artists are the least valued trait compared to other writing-intensive fields. He claims that hip-hop artists nowadays have much more to offer the community. This article allows us to take a closer look into the intellectual side of rap music and assess its ultimate value.

Kalyan, Rohan. “Hip-Hop Imaginaries: A Genealogy of the Present.” Journal for Cultural Research 10.3 (2006): 238-57. Print. Using different areas of prominent hip-hop including New York and Hawaii, Kaylan shows how rap uses expression to resist the movements in dominant society. He uses his article to show a relationship between cultural resistance using hip-hop and political change. The new trends in hip-hop in New York, Hawaii, and Bolivia are used to demonstrate the movements created in the cultural and political fields all from the use of this catalyst: rap.

Sterne, Jonathan, ed. The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print. This book takes works from different authors and combines them to illustrate soundscapes and the changes in sounds (both how they are made and their influence on society) and pieces tem together. The articles in this book provide a look at how soundscapes have evolved over time and what brings about the changes (both positive and negative) in the sounds we hear everyday. This will be used along with the other works to help tie together the differences in the music and areas in which hip-hop evolved.

Warren, Andrew, and Rob Evitt. “Indigenous Hip-Hop: Overcoming Marginality, Encountering Constraints.” Australian Geographer 41.1 (2010): 141-58. Print. This article compares and contrasts indigenous “hip-hoppers” in different regions of the globe. This article also draws on interviews, and observations to help bring insight into how festivities, programs and emerging technology have helped pave the way for new, innovative, unique forms of music making. The geographically mobile environment and sound are examined to show how hip-hop is forever changing and is becoming popular in many places. The indigenous style of hip-hop is also put under the microscope to show how older, more experienced, artist blend with newer artists to create a whole new sound.

 

Dan Batista