Hip-Hop is heavily influenced by Reggae and has evolved into an accessible expression of ideas, power, drugs, revolution and change. Hip-Hop and Reggae are both form of “Protest Music”. “Protest music is characterized by objections to injustice and oppression inflicted on certain individual groupsâ€¦ typically, the intent of protest musicians is to oppose the exploitation and oppression exercised by dominant elites and member of dominant groups” (Stapleton, 221). The main purpose of protest music is to express injustices within society, just as Bob Marley stressed in many of his songs.
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it: We’ve got to fulfil the book…. Won’t you have to sing… This songs of freedom? (Marley: 1983)
Reggae gave birth to Hip-Hop. As different as they have become, Hip-hop and reggae continue to have similarities with both their lyrical styles and their expression of social unrest. This paper is an analysis of Hip-Hop, its roots and the political and social aspects that are addressed through lyrics and song.
DJ Kool Herc is believed to be one of, if not the creator, of Hip-Hop. Kool Herc emigrated to New York City in 1970 and brought with him much of his Jamaican style. He set out to bring the powerful Jamaican music to parties and the streets of New York. He started DJ’ing around the city. He would spin reggae through his sound system, but found the New York crowd unwilling to groove to his Jamaican beats. The people of New York were still heavily influenced by R&B and Funk, James Brown for example. Because of this, Kool Herc started to use these genres instead of the Reggae to mix with. When questioned on the roots of his sound, Kool Herc said.
I’m from Jamaica and so I brought a lot of music from my home to work with. When people didn’t groove to it, I put some James Brown records on and scratched them with some of my kind of music. And I began to develop my Hip-Hop sound. (Shiver)
The next true pioneer of Hip-Hop was Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster Flash was heavily influenced by his father who was from the Caribbean, and used this knowledge to help progress the hip-hop scene. The progression of the Hip-Hop style would be measured by the skill of the DJ. Because of this, DJ’s wanted ways of using the turntables that could accompany the new lyrical styling. One of these new ways was called “punch phrasing”. “Punching works in Hip-Hop like punctuation in a sentence. It helps shape the flow of sounds on the record in the same way that a comma or a full stop helps shape the flow of written languageâ€¦. the punch can be used to accentuate the beat and the rhythm for the crowd” (Hebdige, 139). While perfecting this technique, Grandmaster Flash created a rap group, incorporating all of the new flavours of Hip-Hop.
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Hip-Hop was soon developing into a complete culture, not just a new genre of music. With this new culture, came new topics for MC’s to rap about. The new topics included drugs, crime and most importantly the struggles of life in urban New York, which added the political element to the music. Hip-Hop artists were out to tell it like it is, without sugar coating the truth. Grandmaster Flash, was one of the first Hip-Hop artists to stress his views in his early work.
Broken glass everywhere… People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell I can’t take the noise… Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice (Hebdige, 143)
Rappers and organisations started to emphasize the importance of getting an education and staying off drugs. They suggested that this would help alleviate the problems faced by urban youth. Run DMC often spoke in their songs of how getting an education and staying away from drugs led to their success. They knew that they could get messages across to their followers. “Rap is the only force that is reaching the unreachable.” (Bradlly) An example of Run DMC’s lyrics can be found if their song “It’s Like That”, which reflect life in urban areas and express a need for change.
People in the world, trying to make ends meet. You try to ride car, train, bus or feet. I said you gotta work hard, you want to compete. It;s like that, and thats the way it is. (Run DMC: 1983)
By the end of the 1980s the rap group Public Enemy, was striving to raise awareness of the social inequalities facing African Americans. Public Enemy wanted to fully utilise the medium of Hip-Hop and its defining elements, which made it such a good political tool to express opinions. Their success was documented by Katina Stapleton who said, “from its rough and tumble forms or the most commercial jams. Hip-hop is able to raise awareness among the general public about the issues that face youth on a day-to-day basis” (Stapleton, 221). Public Enemy thrive to be consistent with their messages, but mainly focus on African Americans, and how they are persecuted within society. Regardless of this, Public Enemy stay true to this day to the Hip-Hop style, by telling how life really is.
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Hip-Hop in the early 90’s became increasingly popular. Hip-Hop and rap progressed (in terms of popularity) into the mainstream, which was both a good and a bad thing. With the popularity rising, more people could hear the messages expressed through the music, but the imagery changed. Hip-Hop became less about seeking change in society and developing urban culture and started glorifying gang life and violence in New York and Los Angeles. Events like the Rodney King beatings caused Hip-Hop to take a fierce turn. The lyrics and social elements in Hip-Hop songs became strong and explicit, a far cry from the positive words of wisdom from the likes of Run DMC! Songs like the controversial “Cop Killa” by Ice-T led to the separation of the east and west coast of America. This feud has taken countless lives, but most famously those of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Ironically, they both glorified the kind of gang violence which led to their deaths. Not all Hip-Hop was commercial and spreading negative messages, the underground Hip-Hop movement was keeping to its roots and expressing a firm political message for equality.
In 2001 Hip-Hop emerged with a pledge for peace. To many, the Hip-Hop and rap communities are rarely on the positive side of politics, but they decided to make a strong political statement to stop all of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Hip-Hop culture which were leading to violence. The originators of the Hip-Hop community decided to submit a declaration of peace to UN leaders.
Along with leading hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambata, ChuckD the Ruff Ryders will present a Hip-Hop Declaration of Peace to UN leaders. The Declaration is the first of its kind. The declaration contains twenty-five paragraphs of thought and opinion from leading rappers about the socially conscious direction they believe rap needs to take.” (Gordon)
True Hip-Hop has kept to its ideals throughout its progression, and has maintained a high level of real life imagery. The messages contained within the lyrics have led to Hip-Hop becoming a political force, with millions of followers all over the world. As society and culture change, so does music, and hip-hop is a musical form that reflects progression. The social messages contained within Hip-Hop will continue to be strong. The Hip-Hop community has progressed to a point where music and culture feed off each other by portraying a realistic view of life in oppressed society.
Protest music has the ability to empower people. The strong content and social messages have forced politicians to accept music that has political messages. Hip-Hop has emerged from its roots in Jamaica with musical influence but most importantly, a strong political message. Without music such as Hip-Hop, society would be unable to change, because the issues facing the lower classes, would never be acknowledged.
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