April 29, 2014 Hip-Hop and its Influence on America

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Ish Balla

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April 29, 2014

Hip-Hop and its Influence on America

When I was young, my brother would sometimes pick me up and take me places like school, play dates, etc when my mother was too busy to take me. During these trips, he would always blast this loud music with a huge bass and a ton of profanity. Being young, I hated this music. I hated the fact that whenever he played it, he just had to blast the stereo speakers in the car. I hated the fact that there was not much going on lyrically in the song, all I heard was a lot of curse words and gun shots. This was my introduction into hip-hop.

As I got older, going into middle school, I started to acquire my own taste in hip-hop. Back in 2006, the songs that were out were snap rap songs such as ‘Laffy Taffy’, ‘Lip Gloss’, and the very popular ‘Crank Dat’. These songs did not have great lyrics, however they did have catchy hooks that I could listen to for days. After a while however, the hooks and the beats of these songs were not enough to keep me glued to them. I wanted something with meaning. Going into High School, I really started finding my own hip-hop music on the Internet instead of on the radio. I finally found music that had a good sound, but also a message behind it.

Today, hip-hop is easily my favorite music genre, in front of Dubstep and Heavy Metal. It sends messages that people need to hear, and also has a distinct sound to it that people can nod their head to. Hip-Hop is also significant in my personal life, as I have many friends and family members that are trying to become rappers or producers today. I believe that hip-hop is at its peak in popularity in the United States, and has had a huge impact on America and its youth.

Hip-Hop originates back in the 1970s. At the time, colleges started teaching black studies for students, the Whitney Museum of art opens an exhibit called “Contemporary Black American Art”, and the National Black Feminist Organization was founded. In the 70s, America was just coming from the end of the civil rights movement, and things slowly started to get better for blacks across the country. Without the civil rights movement, I doubt that hip-hop would have ever took off the way it did, with the country still being considerably racist towards blacks.

The father of hip-hop was a man named Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc. Herc was an up and coming disc jockey in the Bronx in New York City. He would be the DJ at various parties in the neighborhood. One day however, he decided to switch up what he would normally do. He combined “the break” in songs to give the audience a different sound. He started doing this as a back-to-school party for his younger sister. The break is the part of a song in which there are no lyrics, and just the main instrumental of the tune. Herc would play the break of one song and flawlessly switch the beat to another break from a different track, giving the partygoers no time to stop dancing (Kool DJ Herc, Merry Go Round). This was the beginning of hip-hop as we know it today.

At that time however, hip-hop was mostly known for the sound. There were no rappers, or emcees as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s Melle Mel would call them(Something from Nothing: Art of Rap). Eventually however, DJ’s needed someone to hype up the crowd. The music itself stopped being enough to entertain the crowd, so DJ’s started partnering with emcees around the late 1970s. Emcees were poets that had a ‘spoken word’ feel to them that used the beat of the track to make music for a crowd. The emcee would not only hype or entertain the crowd, but they would hype up the DJ or themselves to make them larger than life entertainers.

Hip-Hop in the 1970s was mostly about partying, bragging about oneself, and generally having a good time. Artists such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Afrika Bambaataa made music for young people to dance to at parties. Hip-Hop did not become conscious until Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released ‘The Message’ in 1982. The song was about living in New York, and the struggles of living there. This was the first hip-hop song that is considered conscious rap, in that it provided social commentary. This song laid the foundation of what was the New School, or Golden Age of Hip-Hop in the mid 1980s to mid 1990s.

During the era of the New School in hip-hop, new artists started leaving the party scene of old school hip-hop and started to transition into conscious rap. Rap groups such as Public Enemy started rapping about injustices, and challenged political and cultural ideas. Public Enemy was so popular, that their first four albums went either gold or platinum. Another new trend at the time was rappers coming off as ‘tough’ or ‘street’. Another group named Run DMC started this trend. Run DMC are considered the originators of aggression in hip-hop, and were the first group in rap to have a gold certified album, and the first to be nominated for a Grammy.

Going into the late 80s and early 90s, hip-hop started to bring a huge diversity along with it. New sub-genres started to emerge. For example, gangsta rap originated with the rap group called N.W.A, also known as ‘Niggaz Wit Attitude’. They are considered the start of gangstas rapping. They rapped about life in Compton, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, and life as a gangsta. Their lyrics included topics about drugs, prison, and police brutality. Another sub-genre of hip-hop was called ‘Horrorcore’. Horrorcore is a sub-genre that is the mostly about gritty topics such as murder, suicide, and rape. It origins date back to the 80s, however the 90s saw Horrorcore become mainstream. Eminem, a Caucasian rapper from Detriot, Michigan had his big break when former N.W.A member, Dr. Dre, signed him to his label after discovering him from a rap battle contest. Eminem’s lyrics are so morally awful, that a good majority of his music cannot be played on the radio. Horrorcore to most people is seen as a black eye for hip-hop, however I think otherwise. Many Horrorcore artists such as Eminem, Tech N9ne, and Tyler, The Creator are very good lyricists, and can rhyme words together in a fluent method. I believe that Horrorcore is just a way for these artists to vent their frustrations in the most extreme ways possible. They do not want their fans to go out and commit crimes; they just want to express themselves.

Although there are various sub-genres in rap today, artists do not like to be put into a box. For example, Tyler, The Creator’s lyrics are defiantly that of Horrorcore, however he despises when people call his music Horrorcore. He does not want his music to have a label that he would never be able to get rid of. Another artist, A$AP Rocky, is from New York. Most people would think that his music would have a New York sound to it, however, his music sounds similar to a Houston rap sound; slow and dreamy. These examples prove that there are sub-genres in hip-hop, however the viewer must be careful in putting too much stock into them and just listen to what they like.

Today in 2014, I believe that hip-hop is a fusion between old school and new school. There are various artists that go after the party scene and make tracks with catchy hooks for people to dance to at clubs. At the same time however, there are other artists that are lyrically sound, and only rap about conscious things, or things that the normal everyday person can relate to. However today, unlike past decades, labels are having less of an effect on the genre as a whole, and the Internet is becoming more and more of a platform to become the next big thing.

Music labels have become one of the easiest ways to reach one’s audience. Being signed to a music label has its pros and cons. For example, if signed to a major label, one gets the label to promote and distribute their music. This way, the artist does not have to focus too much on the business side of the music, and more on the music. However, this comes at a price. Labels will start making suggestions and changes to an artist’s sound, and the artist can lose some creative control over their music. A prime example of this is rapper Wiz Khalifa. Wiz is a rapper from my hometown that I have followed for most of his career. Looking back on his discography, there is a gigantic difference between the music he was making before he got signed, and after. Before he was signed, he was rapping lyrically, had a great flow, and seemed to be in tune with his fan base. He knew what we liked and what we did not like, and planned accordingly. However after he was signed to Atlantic Records in 2010, I could tell there was a difference in his music. He stopped getting hometown producers to produce his music, and started using mainstream producers. He started to rap slower and made more radio songs. He also started singing his own hooks, something that he rarely ever did before he was signed. People think that the before-and-after label stigma is a myth. My response to that is to just listen to Wiz Khalifa before 2010 and after 2010, and see if they hear a difference.

Being unsigned to a label however comes with its pros and cons as well. Being unsigned, one must promote and distribute ones own music, which takes time to do. This can make an artist stressed about making a living. Another con is that because they are not making the same type of money as a signed artist, they must sell more merchandise, and perform at more shows to make money. Although these are big issues for the typical unsigned artist, these artists still have the best thing going for them, which is creative control over their music. No label in their ear telling them what and whatnot to do. One can be independent and still be as successful or more than an unsigned artist. For example, Mac Miller, a rapper also from Pittsburgh had the first album since 1995 to debut number one on the billboard charts. He was not signed, had no distribution or promotion from a label, and however is still successful. It shows that if one works hard and makes good music, they can do great things. I believe if one were a real artist, they would find a healthy balance between making the music they would like to make, but also listening to their fans, as they are the ones that are following them. Labels have less of an impact in hip-hop than what they had in the past, however the Internet has changed hip-hop completely for better or worse.

The Internet has had a bittersweet relationship with rap. The Internet has brought us various different ways to find and listen to our favorite artists. An example of this would be ‘datpiff.com.’ Datpiff is a website in which rap artists release free mixtapes in hope to gain a following or just to create new fans. Mixtapes are basically free albums that establish an artist.. A perfect example of this would be Lil B. Lil B is a rapper from California that I have never heard on the radio. I personally do not care for his music, as I feel as if it is dumbed down. However it is hard to argue with the fact that the man has created a huge online following for himself. Using websites such as Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter, he has become one of raps most controversial artists. Using Datpiff, he has released 47 projects since 2007, an average of 6.7 projects a year, which is unheard of. In 2012 alone, he released seventeen mixtapes, which proves that he has a huge following. A rapper with little or no following would not be able to make that much music in such a short span of time, nor would they have a reason to. People either love or hate Lil B, but there is no denying his success.

Another way the Internet has influenced rap for the better is the fact that artists who are never on the radio or television can still gain a huge following. The Underachievers, a hip-hop duo from Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York were unheard of when they dropped the music video to the song called ‘The Proclamation’ in 2012. They blended psychedelic and conscious rap to make an Internet hit. Later that year, their debut album ‘Indigoism’ received universal acclaim from music critics. The duo was never on the radio, never on television, and now is signed to a small label in which they now have a following big enough to make money from their music. Without the Internet, the Underachievers, Lil B, and various other artists would not be where they are today.

The Internet has not been completely positive for rap however. The biggest issue that not only rap, but also the music industry faces in general, are fans getting artists’ music for free. An example of this would be the album leak. An album leak is when an artists is coming out with a major project that he or she wishes to sell in order to make money. Somehow, someway, someone gets hold of the physical album before it is released (most likely someone packaging the album) and puts it on the Internet for others to download for free. The people that download it for free then share links and websites with their friends and soon the artist has lost thousands of potential dollars. Again, this is a problem not only in hip-hop but the music industry as a whole. There is however a silver lining for an artist’s album being leaked on the Internet. Someone that would not listen to an artist otherwise, listens to their music for free, and can become a fan. That said fan could potentially buy merchandise, and also buy tickets to watch that artist perform. The money lost from one album sale, can be made into a profit just from a fan buying merchandise and/or a concert ticket. The Internet has had an impact on hip-hop, but it is easy to say that it has been bittersweet.

Hip-Hop has had a huge impact on America, especially its youth. I feel as if hip-hop is an easy access to understand African American culture. Hip-Hop is engrained into our culture. You can compare hip-hop to the ‘Cotton Club’ from the Harlem Renaissance, a nightclub in Harlem in which black artists would perform for a white audience (Watson). What made the Cotton Club so popular is the fact that whites could come and start to understand and even relate to black people. Hip-Hop is very similar in that others outside of the culture can get a small peak into what blacks go through on an every day basis. Knowing this, I believe that Hip-Hop could have potentially made it possible for the first ever African American President, Barack Obama. Knowing that a huge portion of young people voted for him, I believe that it is because youth in America are not as racist as previous generations and are accepting of other cultures, including African American culture. Maybe if there ever is a homosexual music genre we will have a first ever-homosexual president.

Hip-Hop also has a potentially negative impact on America however. It can reinforce the stereotypes that blacks are uneducated, poor, lazy, only care about material things and addicted to drugs. When the radio comes on and all you hear are slang terms, drugs, and material items such as cars, snapback hats, Jordan’s, and tattoos, it is easy for one that has no African American ties to think that that is all blacks care about, which is totally untrue. Hip-Hop must change for the better. Conscious rap needs to make a comeback to the forefront, and party rap needs to take a backseat.

Hip-Hop has had a huge impact on America. People of all walks of life listen to rap. From preachers, to soccer moms, even the President of the United States, have all admitted to listening to rap music. What makes the genre so special is that it challenges popular beliefs that most people have, and make people actually think about their values and things that they believe in. It teaches you to be yourself, and not to follow trends. Hip-Hop is the best genre in the world. It has it’s flaws, but there is no denying that it is more popular today than it has ever been, and will only continue to grow in the near future as the genre becomes more complex and rebellious than it already is.

Works Cited

G, John. "Kool Herc." OldSchoolHipHopCom. N.p., 7 Jan. 2010. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
"Kool DJ Herc, Merry Go Round." YouTube. YouTube, 26 Oct. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.
Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap. Dir. Tracey Marrow. Perf. Ice T, Melle Mel, Eminem, Nas. Indomina Releasing, 2012. DVD.
Watson, Steven. "The Harlem Renaissance." Virginia.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
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