F**k Donald Trump, they yell in unison. These are the lyrics that can be heard sounding out of the mouths of young African Americans across the country. It is the chorus to rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle’s famous song entitled “F**k Donald Trump” (FDT). The song is a single from YG’s album Still Brazy. It was released to criticize and express the dissatisfaction in the African American community in regards to views and actions of the then Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump. As one listens to such bold and militant words, how could anyone claim that rap music is no longer what it used to be. This song shows obvious comparisons to NWA’s F**k da Police, a group known for their bold social stands. Music in the African American community has always been used to comfort, celebrate, resist, and to escape. It is a pillar of the community, foundational to who African Americans are as a people. The older generation, declares that rap has diminished in quality, that it no longer serves the purpose of social justice and has become noise. This is invalid. The purpose and integrity of rap is not diminished. Rap is doing what music has always done for people of color; it is connecting them, acknowledging the struggles that are daily faced and overcome, while demonstrating how to do it with flair and vitality.
Rap music is a subgenre of Hip Hop. Hip Hop is made up of four elements, DJ’ing/scratching, graffiti writing, MCing/rapping, and B-boying. Over the years the other three have decreased in popularity and today the terms Rap and Hip Hop are used synonymously. Just as Hip Hop did, Rap music influences the way people walk, talk, dress, and relate to one another. Among mainstream America, the Rap culture has become the stereotype of African Americans. However, contrary to the simplistic representation it is given, rap is a matter of life and death. It is the expression of the chase of the American dream and the willingness to do anything to attain it. Rap is a culture of overcoming struggle. It is the scars of what was done to a people. It could never depreciate in value.
The art of Rap is a derivative of Funk and Disco, both are derivatives of R&B. Early rap is rhyming laid over remixed disco beats. These origins are displayed in the driven beats of funk and disco. Rap, Funk, and Disco are all alike in their hard-driven nature. In comparison with funk and disco, R&B is very melodic. One of the most important aspects of R&B is content. R&B is a genre of emotion. Its content is often thought to be limited to only romance. However, that is not all it entails. It can express ideas on virtually anything: social climate, self-love, technology trends. African Americans took elements from these genres and created something fresh and new. In early rap, the element of call and response was very visible. This aspect was still evident when rap took the form of MCing. The main element of rap is the flow. This originally stemmed from the rhyming. Rappers use to rhyme in couplets or would rhyme every other word. This evolved to changing the emphasis on words, effectively changing the sound of the word in order to create the effect of rhyming. Furthermore, the elements of rap have changed due to technology. Synthesizers have changed the game. They add complex layers of polyrhythms. These polyrhythms are held together with auto-tuned melismas’. Auto tune alters vocal and instrumental pitch, creating another layer of sound. Rap is a very complex and ever-changing art that should be held in high esteem and appreciated. Furthermore, it would not be what it is today without the innovation and passion of its artists.
Tupac Amaru Shakur better known as Tupac was born on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, New York City, New York. At a young age Tupac displayed a natural affinity for poetry and theatre. His mother enrolled him in the Baltimore School for the Arts and that grew his love for poetry and acting even more. Tupac and his mother later moved to California where he would begin selling drugs on the very streets on which his mother battled her drug addiction. Here he began to put together complex Rap music. His music can be described as “hood consciousness”. Most of his songs bare the harsh reality of what is taking place in the ghettos of America. His songs expose drug and sex ridden communities. His songs describe violence, they bring to light the secrecy and neglect in African American families. He is best known for his songs “Dear Mama”, “Changes”, “Holla if ya Hear Me”, “California Love”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, “Keep Ya Head Up”, “All Eyez on Me”, and “Ghetto Gospel”. Even as he sheds a light, he also offers encouragement and solutions. Paradoxically, Tupac is known for making gangster rap mainstream.
Jermaine Lamarr Cole better known by his stage name J. Cole was born on January 28, 1985 at a US army base in Frankfurt Germany. After his father left his mother, she moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina. She remarried, however after a few years that marriage disintegrated after their stepfather became abusive towards Cole’s mother and brother. This led his mother into an addiction to crack cocaine. J. Cole always had an interest in music. While holding odd jobs throughout high school, he would spend his money on producing his songs. After high school, Cole attended St John’s University in New York City and graduated magna cum laude with a Masters in communications. He is best known for his songs “Wet Dreamz”, “Crooked Smile”, “Power Trip”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “Lost Ones”, “No Role Modelz”, “G.O.M.D”, and “Deja Vu”. J.Cole is credited to being one of the few rappers who still displays a level of social consciousness in 21st century rap.
Summary of Section: When asked to describe rappers such as Tupac and J. Cole, the term “woke” is applicable. This term “woke” means that they are socially aware. Both rappers display this awareness in their music. Tupac’s music describes a life of sex and drugs, poverty, violence, and police brutality. On the other hand, J. Cole describes teenage pregnancy, teenage insecurities, crime, and growth in self-love. Their experiences are different, allowing for a wider spectrum of experiences. One artist’s level of consciousness does not supersede the others, they are simply different.
James Todd Smith better known as LL Cool J was born on January 14, 1968 in Bayshore, Long Island, New York. LL Cool J stands for Ladies Love Cool James. He is known for songs such as “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “I’m Bad”, “Rock the Bells”, “Momma Said Knock You Out”, “Doin It”, “I Need Love”, and “Hey Lover”. He started rapping at the age of nine and always knew that he wanted to be famous for rapping. He left school at a very young age, signing to Def Jam records in 1984. He then crossed over and became active in the movie industry. He has appeared in movies such as Last Holiday (2006), Charlie’s Angels (2000), Slow Burn (2005), S.W.A.T (2003) and Deliver Us from Eva (2003). Currently he is on shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles (since 2009) and Lip Sync Battle (since 2015). LL Cool J changed his rap persona very often during his career. He went from bops (songs with catchy tunes that you can dance or vigorously bop your head to), to love songs, to a harder sound, to sexy songs. LL Cool J is considered a pioneer in rap music.
Migos is a rap group consisting of three members, Quavious Marshall (26), better known as Quavo, Kiari Cephus(25), known as Offset, and Kirshnik Ball (22), known as Takeoff. Quavo and Offset are cousins and Takeoff is the nephew of Quavo. They were all raised in the suburban town of Lawrenceville, Georgia. Quavo began rapping, amid ridicule from their peers. He then convinced Offset and Takeoff to join him and they became a group, then known as the Polo Club. In their music they describe partaking in illegal activity. Offset explains it by saying that “making music takes dough”. They needed money for studio time as well as clothes and jewelry to look the part. They have managed to turn Trap music, a sub-genre of Rap, into mainstream culture. They made this variety of music popular through their distinctive offbeat “triplet” rhyming style, rapping to a frequency of three beats in a standard 4/4-time signature, heavily laced with the bass heavy Southern sound. Trap music has made way to a whole new culture of dancing, dressing, and talking. They are known best for their songs “Bando”, “Versace”, “Freak No More”, “Hannah Montana”, “Handsome and Wealthy”, “Fight Night”, “T-Shirt”, and “Bad and Boujee”.
Summary of Section: These artists produced “Bops”, music that can be played at a party or in the club. Their music does not display a deep level of social consciousness. It is strictly entertainment, some call it commercialized rap. This form of rap has always existed, it is not new, as most would want to believe. Entertainment rap is often looked down upon because of its lack of conscious content but it is has its place in the development of the culture. It shows a clear lack of understanding to limit rap music to conscious rap. Rap encompasses all aspects of life, the good and the bad. Both Migos and LL Cool J have shaped the way young people dress, and talk. Their music has even inspired new dances, they have revolutionized the rap culture.
Earl Simmons, known as DMX (Dark Man X), was born on December 18, 1970. DMX grew up in the School Street Projects of Yonkers New York. He was a lonely boy and would often wander the streets alone. He became street smart. DMX’s rise to fame was slower, he began by featuring on a lot of artists singles. Then with the exposure he got from acting in Belly (1998), he went on to drop his first major album which shot him to fame. DMX is best known for songs such as “X Gon Give It To You”, “Party Up”, “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, and “Where the Hood At”. DMX is one of the pioneers of true gangster, hardcore rap. All the work he has done from music to movies has displayed the streets in its most raw form.
Keith Cozart, known as Chief Keef, was born August 15th, 1995 in the southside of Chicago, Illinois. The southside of Chicago is referred to as “Chiraq”, due to the levels of violence that take place in the community. Chief Keef began rapping at the tender age of five. By high school he had a steady fan base. Chief Keef dropped out of high school at fifteen in order to pursue his rap career. His most popular songs are “Love Sosa”, “Faneto”, “Earned It”, “I Don’t Like”, and “Kills”. Chief Keef is known for pioneering a new form of rap known as Drill music. Drill music is a very aggressive, violent, sub-genre of trap music. Its content depicts killing and gang activity. Gang activity in Chicago is entwined in the Drill rap culture. There is a lot that is said on these tracks that pertains to what is occurring between gangs in the neighborhoods.
Summary of Section: The level of violence that Chief Keef and other Drill artist showcase in their songs and videos is not new to Hip Hop culture. DMX was also heralded as very gruff and raw. He has talked about the effects of the hood on his life. The level of violence and aggression in their songs can be explained by the violent environments they were brought up in. The artist’s music is a reflection of who they are and what they have been though. Their music is a reflection of the state of many low-income neighborhoods in the United States.
Rap music is shaped by the culture and the culture is shaped by the music. It has not diminished in quality, but has changed to adapt to its audience and the challenges they face. When rap was first formed, the general social climate was one of formation. African Americans were trying to develop a culture for themselves in the wake of the civil rights movement. In this day and age the social climate for African American youth is not necessarily of formation, rather it is of reclaiming and living boldly in who they are. The current culture is one of acceptance. They have accepted the poverty, the crime and violence. They understand that these things have sadly become a part of the culture, but they are not defined by them.
Many people look down on these young men and women who have climbed out of the trenches of the ghetto through music. They judge them for flaunting and flashing the riches they have been able to attain. They look down on them for being proud of their street riches and lack of education. However, why is the current dispensation being attacked for what has always been in hip hop, Rappers have always flashed their jewels and boasted about the many women they sexually encounter, nothing has changed. Furthermore, they should be proud of their survival. Their story has joined a long list of African Americans who have overcome the odds.
Critics are absolutely right in declaring that rap is not the same. Rap music has grown and adapted to the changing scenes of history. The one one thing that has not changed is Rap’s ability to depict the social, economic and cultural nuances of a people searching for an identity to call their own.
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