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Hip Hop
Posted on April 11th, 2010 at 6:15 pm by silvercc and

All of this week’s readings discussed hip-hop. I know when I was younger my mother didn’t want me listening to hip-hop because of the violence and language that was represented in the songs and videos. My argument for her was “Just because they say or do it, doesn’t mean I will.” Growing up in the projects, I could relate to some songs, which would make me like the artist even more because I’d think, “Wow…They went through this too?” I will point out what I found most interesting from each essay. 

In “Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America,” Tricia Rose analyzes hip-hop culture, specifically focusing on breakdancing, graffiti, and rap. She defines identity in hip-hop as “deeply rooted in the specific, the local experience, and one’s attachment to and status in a local group or alternative family.” Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been able to relate to hip-hop. Many rappers address their roots, sometimes by describing where they grew up, or hardships they went through. To a listener like myself who may be in the same place they grew up, or going through the exact same hardship, it gives them a sense of hope and connection with the song or rapper. However, most critics of hip-hop focus on the negativity. As Rose concludes her essay she says, “hip hop’s anger is produced by contemporary racism, gender, and class oppression.” If only the critics of hip-hop thought like this… 

In “The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop,” Murray Forman discusses the origins of hip-hop, its influences, and its struggle for inclusion within the mainstream music industry. One line that stood out to me was, “The tendency toward narrative self-awareness and a more clearly definable subjectivity effectively closed the distance between the story and the storyteller, and the concept of a place-based reality became more of an issue in evaluating an artist’s legitimacy within the hip-hop scene.” While I agree that hip-hop artists generally incorporate stories of their lives in their songs, I don’t think that listeners should take this “closed the distance between the story and storyteller” stance on what is being rapped about. A lot of song content is completely made up and meant to entertain. One should be able to detect the difference, as I assured my mother that I could when I was younger.

To further demonstrate this point I will use, “I’m From Rags to Riches: The Death of Jay-Z,” written by Cynthia Fuchs, which gives an overview of Jay-Z’s career, specifically focusing on how his image has changed and been reshaped through the years based on his success and maturity. In the essay, Jay-Z is quoted saying, “Just like Denzel in Training Day or any other actor, I was acting out a part.” He said this when asked to explain one of his video’s gun violence and the effect it could have on kids. Then she explains, “hip-hop artists are rarely granted such distance from the ‘roles’ they play; rather, hip-hop performances tend to be read as direct translations of the artists’ experiences, beliefs, and self-understandings.” So why is this treatment of song content commonly applied to hip-hop artists? I think that people get ridiculously sensitive when it comes to hip-hop, as if drugs, sex, and violence aren’t spoken of, or practiced within any other genres.

Eminem is an example of a hip-hop artist that has directly addressed this tendency to read songs as direct translations. In the intro to “Criminal” he says, “A lot of people ask me stupid f***** questions. A lot of people think that what I say on record or what I talk about on a record, that I actually do in real life, or that I believe in it. Or if I say that I wanna kill somebody, that I’m actually gonna do it, or that I believe in it. Well s***, if you believe that, then I’ll kill you.” Similarly, in “Who Knew” he raps:

who woulda thought Slim Shady would be somethin that you woulda bought?
that woulda made you get a gun and shoot at a cop
I just said it – I ain’t know if you’d do it or not 

In these songs, Eminem makes it clear that he’s just rapping and not everything he says should be taken literally. 

I know that I’ve strayed from the content of the readings but this has always been an issue that interests me mainly because my family frowns upon hip-hop and I love it! I think it’s safe to say that society as a whole, if not now but at some point, has frowned upon hip-hop. I believe that the negativity towards hip-hop is justified in most cases (because of the content) but my justification for those cases would be that hip-hop isn’t for everyone. In closing, I’d like to use a line from a (rapper) Fabolous song, “The Bad Guy,” that borrows lines from the movie Scarface. I think this line is suitable because Fabolous is addressing this same tendency. When it comes to hip-hop, the focus is always on the negative, despite the positive, empowering songs that have been released. The way I interpret this is that someone has to be the bad guy… 

You need people like me
So you can point your f***** fingers
And say, “That’s the bad guy.”

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Comments so far:

Link Here | April 12, 2010,

Hey, great entry. I agree with you that even though you see violence does not mean you will kill someone. But, I have studied child development and young children do not know the difference between real and fake when it comes to the media. I feel it all depends on the child’s family to teach them the difference.

Diane Seewald

Link Here | April 22, 2010,

Silver, this was a really good entry. I agree wholeheartedly that the backlash against hip-hop is unfortunate. By attempting to silence these voices, it is ias if society is seeking to ignore the problems that result from its systems, which hip-hop reflects upon and makes commentary on.

  Jamie Parganos |

Link Here | April 27, 2010,

You raise some great points here that I want to make sure we talk about in class. I’m particularly interested in the distinction between social reality, and the constructed reality as represented via musical performance. I think you hit the nail on the head in your analysis, but I know there are a number of equally valid counterpoints (such as Diane’s here) for us to debate.

  Amy Herzog |

Link Here | April 28, 2010,

I’ve had a similar problem where my parents would dislike some of the lyrics coming from rappers, especially when i started listening to Eminem. Growing up I always felt people focused too much on the negative part of Hip-Hop, which led me to explore other artists. Artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common are known as “conscious emcees” and i feel they definitely provide hip-hop with a good name due to their positive lyrics.

Justin Barreto

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