The Political Hip Hop Sub-genre

Artists like Tupac Shakur, Immortal Technique and Macklemore use the lyricism and technique of hip hop culture to contribute a focused array of issues to a timeless community of musical artists that employ their talent to communicate, reflect and predict political issues of human society. Music causes introspection and reaction on a societal level. This can be seen across time and culture. In the religion and culture of the Eastern world, specifically Confucianism in China, sound plays a key role in shaping the mood and cultural mold of the country. In more recent times, in the Western World, this same idea of enacting political change through music is exemplified in the recent American music scene. Artists of the 60′s and 70′s brought about social change on a massive scale, entire subcultures were created and political movements erupted onto the scene. In the 80′s and 90′s another wave of issues were brought up by a musical sub-genre of 3rd wave feminists. Politics is a lot of the time assessed from a more scientific approach, hence “political science”. An examination of the musical influence cross-culturally and across time provides for a different perspective on our understanding of the individual issues examined in addition to our concept of ourselves as a composing society.

12 Dances with the Devil

Throughout my exploration of the sub-genre of political hip hop, I found that the methodology of the songs was similar between artists. A song that is focusing on a specific issue is sometimes formed as a narrative. These songs are best compared to a short story or fable that one would find in a collection. The listener is meant to learn from the subject of the narrative. It is in these songs that we as an audience are connected to an issue on a level that is past simply understanding that an issue is out there. An individual who has experienced the events that are being spoken about has crafted a track that employs specific tones and lyrical schemes that hook our interest as an audience. The song “Dances with the Devil” by Immortal Technique is a perfect example.

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Research Proposal

In Noise: The Political Economy of Music Jacques Attali discusses music in its relation to politics. This idea that music is both influencing and exposing of modern political themes, as well as providing of a prophetic lens to the future, is intriguing and astute. To gain a deeper understanding of the music of politics, and how it affects a wide variety of subcultures and individual demographics, I chose to focus on the pertinent political messages imparted on society through the lens of a subject that I was familiar with: hip hop and rap music and culture.

Hip hop culture and rap music specifically have always interested me, and as I contemplated where to focus my research I found a reccurring theme in my musical taste. No matter what style, flow, geographical location, beat, or lyrical ability, the rappers and tracks that I enjoyed the most musically were those that directly addressed certain political topics, issues, or positions. While Attali may not have been addressing musicians who explicitly state political based content throughout their music, his theories and ideas can be applied to such content just the same. These rap artists have varying levels of impact on the present socio-political landscape. They also have a prophetic and progressive tendency that Attali theorizes about. In order to focus my research further, I chose three individual artists to research and profile as a chronological profile of politics in hip hop. These artists have discographies that cover ranges of political talking points. Each artist in juxtaposition with one another will reveal broad overarching themes concerning political hip hop as a sound community in relation to Jacques Attali’s theories.

The paper will progress chronologically, beginning with a general introduction to political hip hop. As the lens narrows, the paper will move chronologically, addressing first Tupac Shakur, then Immortal Technique, and lastly Macklemore. These three artists represent different forms of political hip hop, as well as different eras, not only in political hip hop but also hip hop as a culture. Throughout this chronological profile, I will include numerous lyrics, song titles, and album names. From tracks like “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur, a ballad dedicated to the love a son has for his mother that simultaneously addresses the issues a young black child has to deal with growing up in the poverty stricken areas of the United States, to Immortal Technique’s “Peruvian Cocaine” a creatively produced track that opens with dialogue from “Scarface” and proceeds with a beat that incorporates one of the tracks off the soundtrack of the same movie. Immortal Technique then begins to rap in the first person from the perspective of all of the individuals involved in the drug business. From the field worker to the paid off government employee, this song leaves the listener with a distinct message. Lastly, I chose to include Macklemore in my triad of political hip hop artists. While I may not be a fan of his music as much, I do recognize that he has a very intent message with each of his tracks. Also, as he is less developed as an artist as either Tupac Shakur or Immortal Technique, his work will provide an interesting contrast. A song like “Wings” for example, which is an intense commentary on consumerism in America, would mesh perfectly with the themes from the song “Rich Man’s World” by Immortal Technique, another twisted perspective on the United States corporations and consumerisms implications. However, a song like “Obnoxious” by Technique or “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” by Tupac would contradict the message Macklemore is trying to convey in “Othersiders”, a violin laced minor key song which discusses addiction and its impact on individuals.

After a close examination of the profiles of these three artists, off and on the microphone, my paper will culminate in a summarization of the common themes within this community of political hip hop. Those themes generally being concerned with the struggles of African Americans and minorities in poverty, the corruption of the government at home and abroad, the nature of corporations, especially record labels and the music industry as a whole, etc. I hope to mirror some of the methodology in Veal’s “DUB” in my research paper. The author profiles prominent figures in dub music, and in this research paper surrounding a musical sonic community similar in nature to that of dub music in Jamaica as dub is a subset of reggae just as political hip hop is a subset of hip hop as a whole, I want to emulate Veal in my profile of prominent artists in political hip hop.

 

Bibliography

Immortal Technique: ‘I’m seen as a threat to the status quo of hip-hop’. (2012, October               25). Europe Intelligence Wire. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA306503560&v=2.1&u=vol_b92b&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w

 

While this is not a scholarly reviewed article, this article is still pertinent to the topic of politics in hip hop. The subject, a multi-racial rapper Immortal Technique is an activist and a revolutionist. He is not signed to a major record company, and his songs are full of politically charged content. This rapper is a perfect example of the political component of the hip hop culture. Through an analysis of this biographical text will help build a broader profile of the political undertones in hip hop.

 

 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Team With You Can Play Against Homophobia. (2013, February 27). PR             Newswire. Retrieved from                                 http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA320561081&v=2.1&u=vol_b92b&it=r&p=ITOF&s        w=w

This article looks at the contemporary musician Macklemore and his efforts to enact change in the political sphere of America. Similar to Immortal Technique, Macklemore is also unsigned. Although his specific political message is in many ways different from that of Immortal Techniques, at least his views on the record industry and the role it plays in musical composition are in line with that of Immortal Techniques. These two artists operate in a strange middle ground, with their music popular enough to be well known across large geographical areas without the encroachment of record labels into their art form. This affords them immense flexibility and influence over at lease hip hop subculture and arguably the broader culture of America.

 

*Malone, C., & Martinez, G. (2010). The Organic Globalizer: The Political Development of Hip-Hop and the Prospects for Global Transformation. New Political Science, 32(4), 531-545. doi:10.1080/07393148.2010.520439

This article is a detailed analysis of hip hop as a whole to provide my project with a contextual background and reference source. It is a peer reviewed scholarly source that will be able to provide me with any information I need during my research of politics in hip hop.

 

*Sanford, K. L. (2011). Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur. Journal                                of Black Studies, 42(1), 3-22.

doi: 10.1177/0021934709355122

 

This peer reviewed source is the third source to feature an individual as the subject. These three individuals will serve as reference points to certain forms of political hip hop as well as different time periods of the culture as a whole. There is a distinct chronological evolution of Hip Hop that it is necessary to understand before analyzing the political aspect of that evolution. An analysis of Tupac, Immortal Technique, and Macklemore as individuals will help to give a theme to the overall analysis of the sound community that is political hip hop artists.

*Stapleton, K. R. (1998). From the margins to mainstream: the political power of hip-hop. Media Culture & Society, 20(2), 219-234.

doi: 10.1177/016344398020002004

 

In this article, the author outlines the political power of the culture of hip hop as a whole, an important consideration in the examination of the culture of hip hop concerned with politics. These two topics are closely intertwined and spoken about and pointed to by many artists including some of the above mentioned.

 

*peer reviewed