The Hip-hop music genre is synonymous with the black culture, which has been used for many years as their voice and a representative of their culture. Hip Hop music is said to have originated in the 1970s in South Bronx, New York City (Cummings, 2010). It was initially played in house parties, where DJs would mix it back to allow people to dance. It was initially adopted to speak against the oppression that the African Americans were being exposed to by the whites, but over time, it has gained commercial value and is more of a profession than a lifestyle. Gangsta rap, a sub-genre of Hip Hop came into existence in the 1980s, which focused on the thug life of the people in the inner cities. People who were in active street gangs and who wanted to speak out on various societal issues commonly produced this type of music. An analysis of this sub-genre provides a clearer picture on whether this genre unified the black community by advocating for social change or whether it united them by promoting violence.
Before gangsta rap came into existence, Hip Hop was the official form of expression for the black community, and a symbol of unity at a time when they lived in oppression. The East and West Coasts each revered Hip Hop as their source of recourse. Later on, Hip Hop was split by the African American in Los Angeles who adopted gangsta rap, while those in New York City opted to rap about socially-conscious content. This later resulted in conflict, after which gangsta rap was adopted as the principal representative of rap music (Johnson, 2011). This shows the superiority of gangsta rap, owing to its social role. Gangsta rap mainly depicted the violent lifestyles of the members of the African American community who lived in abject poverty and who tried to rebel against oppression and killings by law enforcers, a clear depiction of the harsh realities that they endured as a marginalized community (Tate, N.d.). Popular names in gangsta rap include Tupac Shakur, Nas, and Snoop Dogg, among others. The evolution rap music was further driven by the deaths of prominent gangsta rappers, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. as the South region sort to fully adopt gangsta rap in order to use it as a symbol of the criminal male.
Gangsta rap, as a social tool unifying the black community, was influenced by socio-economic factors such as poverty, crime, and race, which brought into existence the culture of rap and fostered its growth since the 1980s. In the words of Keyes (2002), the streets in which members of African American descent resided sought to establish their own alternative ways of doing things, such as alternative education and economics and substitute ethics which was accompanied by substitute identity and language, since they were a community that had been segregated by the white economic supremacy. This is because they considered the situation hopeless with no hope for reforms for the black community (Kirkemo, 2007). A substitute language is evidenced by the evolution of different terms such as nigger which was used by Niggaz With Attitude (NWA.) to refer to the African American youth (Tate, N.d.). Other terms were muthafucka that was used as a curse word, and the G life, that referred to the gangsta life. The marginalization that they had been accustomed to providing them with a chance to develop survival tactics, which would also provide a way to fight the undeserved social repression that arose from the conventional society. The narrative used in gangsta rap was a combination of the social vices that they were exposed to by the white hegemony such as public policy that was never in favor of them, socio-economic oppression and racial conflict
Initially, gangsta rap was used by artists to speak of the social vices that the Blacks were facing in the inner cities where they resided. The originators of this rap claim to have used a language that people in the ghetto would relate with, as it addressed the issues that they faced daily. The hip-hop group NWA can be said to be the pioneers of gangsta rap, owing to the fact that they did not shy away from the controversial topic of police brutality in their songs, such as in Straight Outta Compton which spoke of the authority that the police in Compton had obtained, that gave them the liberty to shoot and kill members of the African American community (NWA., Ruthless Records, 1988). The community accepted such songs since they depicted the true events as they occurred, despite the fact that it created a further rift between them and the law enforcers (Tate, N.d.). These were issues that the media was afraid to address hence the artists took it upon themselves to speak out. Songs such as Fuck Tha Police by NWA referred to the oppression of the blacks by the police, as stated in the first verse of the song: Fuck tha police coming straight from the underground; a young nigga got it bad cause Im brown; And not the other color so the police think; They have the authority to kill a minority. This song depicts the despair of the black community (Kirkemo, 2007). According to Keyes (2002), many people have the tendency to misunderstand the meaning behind the lyrics used by these artists, and this has resulted in most of these songs being censored, owing to the belief that they only preach violence. The lyrics used in these songs are used to depict the relationship that exists between the street life and gangsta rap. This sub-genre spoke of the struggles that African Americans encountered, with the youths being the most affected. The lyrics, which were depicted to promote violence, only reflected the existence of these components in the black community. At this time, it was considered a rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement that had been prominent in the 1960s during which it had addressed the socio-economic issues of the African Americans in the United States (Johnson, 2011). This way, it acted as a bridge between the Civil Rights Movement and the Hip Hop Generation which strove to speak against police brutality and violence against the community.
However, with time, gangsta rap has been thought to perpetrate violence based on the lyrics and qualities of the artists that rap. The emergence of Public Enemy marked the beginning of violence in rap and communication of controversial messages since they helped to promote gangsta rap. The dominance of gangsta rap was mainly promoted with the use of the fact that most of the rappers were either in gangs, or had criminal records, while others trying to succeed in the music industry as gangsta rappers had to fabricate stories of criminality in order to promote the criminalized Black male as an image for gangsta rap (Johnson, 2011). This phenomenon was further influenced by the new, highly-aggressive techniques that were adopted by artists to spread explicit messages regarding violence within the black culture (Cummings, 2010). Street credibility was a character that is synonymous with most gangsta rappers, as they were expected to have been involved in certain criminal activities, which they would talk about in the lyrics of their raps. This was believed to maintain the legitimacy of the culture of the black community since it depicted the artists as people who had been through the struggle just like other youths in the black community. Tupac Shakur is one of the rappers who was famous for speaking of violence in his music.
However, gangsta rap did not fully play its role as a societal tool since it helped to promote perpetrate social vices. The context of violence in gangsta rap began back in the day before Hip Hop developed sub-genres. At the time, defiance was in the form of park performances without seeking to acquire permits and holding house parties. After gangsta rap came into the picture, the defiance continued with the illegal recording, production, and distribution of this music to listeners. This helped to form the basis of the violent influence that would arise from rap and impact an entire generation. Thus, the lyrics incorporated into music also speak of violence as a form of defiance of authority. Cummings (2010) highlights the fact that the message in gangsta rap highly influences the perception of people on the matter of the criminal justice system in the United States. The main message in most songs within the genre is the fact that African Americans are exempt from the mainstream society, and should therefore not abide by the public norms of behavior. These songs refer to the life lived by the African Americans as the thug life, a theme which was common during Tupac Shakurs reign as king of rap (Reeves, 2008). This theme mostly appealed to rebellious youths who were intent on defying authority (Tate, N.d.). As a result, it denounces the authority of the justice system to issue punishment upon committing a crime, citing it as a profanity in their culture. Through the use of rhyme, rhythm, and narration, they speak of the corruption that has infiltrated the criminal justice system, thereby making it biased and unfair. The reason for this is to encourage their listeners to defy the justice system and have complete disregard for its power. Examples of songs that convey these types of messages include Straight Outta Compton featuring Fuck Tha Police and Gangsta Gangsta by NWA. and Cop Killers by Ice T. (NWA., Ruthless Records, 1988; Ice T., Warner Bros Records, 1992). NWA contributed majorly to the spread of violence through their controversial lyrics such as Heres a little story bout a nigga like me; Never shoulda ben let out penitentiary in Gangsta Gangsta. T
Gangsta rap also depicted radicalism of the black community, and spread the use of firearms and exploring criminality as being a component of the black culture and a way of defying law enforcers. KRS-One and LaRock, in a number of their songs such as South Bronx and Kill That Noise and in Criminal Minded where they posed with guns was a depiction of the return of black radicalism. The death of one of their members during a street misunderstanding led them to record another rap where they posed with guns to depict the fact that self-defense against law enforcers was crucial. From this, many listeners and fans of the rap group sought to acquire firearms to use for self-defense, which further increased the violence in the inner cities.
In analyzing the gangsta rap based on musical content and the dominating, theme, violence, the focus is directed to the common elements of music for analysis such as timbre, melody, and harmony. The rapping voice used by most gangsta rappers is monophonic, since the voice used in rap. This describes the timbre of this type of rap, which is also common among all types of rap. Melody is dependent on pitch and rhythm. With regards to pitch, there is little variation since the rappers tend to stick to their original voices and tend not to follow the tuning system of the equal-tempered scale. Most songs stick to a rhythmic flow, as witnessed in several gangsta rap songs, with an attempt to use rhyme, which may be regular or irregular, depending on the rapping skills of the artist. However, failure to follow the equal-tempered scale ensures that there is no melody. In looking at the structure of gangsta rap, it has an intro then the chorus, which alternates with other verses before the outro that concludes the song (Mize, 2015). An example is Straight Outta Compton by NWA. The intro of the song is You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge, which is followed by verses that alternate with the chorus. The song is concluded by the outro which states City of Compton, City of Compton, Damn that shit was Dope!. This is similar of other gangsta rap.
Cummings, A. D. P. (2010). Thug Life: Hip Hop and Curious Relationship w...
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