Hip-hop culture has been changing throughout its history. The new genres appeared, and the values replaced each other. One of the biggest problems of modern hip-hop is the loss of connection to the previous generations and the simplification of the themes.
The origins of hip-hop culture are complex. As a genre, it appeared from the traditional African American art of word-play. Poems called “Toasts” or “Dozens” were essentially early examples of rapping (Gates 23). These rhymes reflected reality in a playful way. Musically, the style is no different. Soul and Jazz were the inspiration for hip-hop artists. And culturally, hip-hop became a way to fight the ages long oppression and segregation. DJ Kool Herc wanted to bring people together. Other early artists started to try to tell the stories of their communities and how they lived (Chang 81). All of these things created a beautiful style that allowed the young Blacks to express themselves without using violence. I have stated that originally hip-hop was a way of nonviolent protest. It helped African Americans to get themselves heard without rioting or fighting the police. Even later, when new genres, like gangsta rap, appeared, they were still protesting oppression and injustice but were more aggressive (Kelley 187). They continued the fight started by “Black Power” movements, like the BPP (Newton and Blake 74). For the longest time, hip-hop was about the problems of the Blacks. It had complex narratives and was based on traditions. It was not supporting crime and discrimination. Many artists described these things, but they were talking about ways to help the people.
However, in the late 1990s, the style started to become commercially successful. Huge recording companies started governing the mainstream hip-hop culture. They were not interested in the history or complexity of hip-hop. Any company is pragmatic and tries to make money. They promoted themes and styles that were selling well. It was usually gangsta rap. The complexity disappeared. Now, the rap was aimed at young whites, who were charmed by the ghetto culture without understanding it (Rose 3). Now the listeners did not want to hear about the real problems and difficulties of the African American lives. They were interested in tough guys, street crime, and getting girls. And mainstream rap was created for them. Instead of parodies and witty comments on the nature of racism and society, the genre gave the white adolescents stories about gangstas, pimps, and hoes. While many artists are talented, the nature of the rap culture has disappeared. It is no longer about making yourself heard. It is about being proud of some of the most questionable aspects of ghetto life.
It is easy to blame the degradation of the popular hip-hop on corporations. However, they just appealed to the public demand. The real problem is that listeners often do not know about the roots and origins of the culture. Educating the younger generation on the interesting history of hip-hop is important. That might get more people interested in complex aspects of it. If people know more about the movement some of the underground genres may become more popular, and the variety and complexity will return. Without understanding the context of the movement, young people will be attracted by the primitive images which do not reflect the true nature of the hip-hop culture.
Chang, Jeff. “Making a Name.” Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2005. 67-85. Print.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. “Foreword.” The Anthology of Rap. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. Print.
Kelley, Robin. “Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics.” Race Rebels. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1994. 183-227.
Newton, Huey P and J. Herman Blake. Revolutionary Suicide. New York, NY: Writers and Readers, 1995. Print.
Rose, Tricia. The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk about When We Talk about Hip-Hop. New York, NY: Basic Books. Print.