Gangsta Rap: A Video

I made this video in class analyzing the cultural impact of Gangsta Rap. I argue that the attitudes expressed in the music reflect the culture created by the survival situation of the ghetto.

Race and rap music are still hot topic issues. Read this article about Trayvon Martin’s death, it has some ideas that support my own.

1990s Hardcore Hip-Hop Skrippt

Me: I never really listened to rap music growing up, and my understanding of hip-hop has always been somewhat limited. I understood the classic rap of the 80s, but never developed a taste for the harder-edged genre that followed it. Now, most people call it Gangsta Rap. But one of the first things I found when researching this genre was that there’s even controversy regarding the name, In fact, several major artists reject moniker. In a 1994 interview, the GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan said “Our music is not ‘gangsta rap’. There’s no such thing. The label was created by the media to limit what we can say.”

[Start C.R.E.A.M. verse sample]

Me: Of course the Wu-Tang has lyrics about crime and drugs:

[verse]

Me: But it’s not the whole story. Later in his verse, the GZA discusses how joining a rap crew changed his life:

[verse pt 2]

Alone they were powerless against poverty despite their crimes. Together, they were able to get money, make music, and start on the road to success.

We can already see how Hardcore Hip-hop is a music of extremes , like passion and apathy, good and evil. These are fundamental chasms we all experience, but this music seeks to bridge the gap from ghetto to a brighter future. It’s not just a music about the real despair of the poor, but also an exhortation to embrace ones own power over circumstance like this classic Tupac song.

[Start “keep your head up” chorus]

Hardcore hip-hop preaches a message of self-reliance, one that reflects its difficult backgrounds and praises independence, like Nas on his first album.[“World is yours” chorus]

The world of the ghetto is one that has its own rules and ways of getting by. Most people know of the criticisms leveled against the lyrics this music; that’s it’s misogynistic, homophobic, and glorifying violence. Hardcore hip-hop absolutely has these themes, but they came from larger cultural attitudes shaped by the difficulty of life in the areas where the music originated, especially the project buildings of post-crack New York. This is what Gang Starr are describing in their song ‘Code of the Streets’:

[Start ‘code’ sample]

It’s also the hard kill-or be-killed reality that Mobb Deep showcase in ‘Shook Ones pt. 2’:

[Start ‘shook’ hook’]

The crushing despair of GZA’s “Cold World”:

[cold world]

and the motivation behind Nas’ meditations on the meaning of existence:

[life’s a bitch]

It’s a reality that pushes young black men to deal drugs and run with gangs with the idea they can do more than scrape by working a job. By getting money, they can support themselves, their friends and family, and finally have the power over their environment that was denied to them by the power structure:

[start “CREAM’ chorus]

This is as deep as much of mainstream gangsta rap gets, focusing on success and the good life like this early hit by Jay-Z:

[Feelin’ it chorus and verse]

Using slang, brand names, and violent imagery, it’s a celebration of the success achievable through crime but there’s still a dark lining: ‘the high that you get from the lie’ is the sense of bliss that comes from escaping a dark world if just for a moment in a luxury car.

Some artists, like Biggie, contrast their success with the trials of their past, trying not to escape the ghetto but improve it for those close to them.

[juicy verse]

The relationship many rappers have with the hustling of drugs is very complex. It’s responsible for their entire lavish lifestyle but the effects of the drugs and violence tear their community apart. Many people deal crack just to get by.

[can’t knock]

It’s hard to knock the way a man provides for himself in a bad situation. The choices aren’t clear.

[changes ‘g today’]

At the end of the day, it’s about survival. The problem is that the drug game doesn’t actually provide a way out of the vicious cycle and some rappers recognize that, counseling the youth to stay away from the business:

[CREAM verse]

or expressing regret about past actions:

[Life’s a bitch verse]

The genre brings the world of the streets to the listener. IT pulls back the curtain on the problems in Black America, lays the good, the bad, and the ugly out on the table. It’s offensive, violent, and harsh, not the most relaxing to listen to but it served a vital purpose: Catharsis. Without hardcore hip-hop, poor urban youth would have had no outlet to vent their pain on society. Without Hardcore hip-hop, white america might have remained blissfully ignorant of the festering inner-cities. And without hardcore hip-hop, we wouldn’t have the progressive atmosphere of race relations today. Tupac was entirely accurate in his political assessment of in 1994, but thanks to artists like him, America has changed.

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