The 1970s marked the early stages of Rap Hip Hop when New York DJs such as DJ Cool Herc began manipulating records to make rhythms and sounds. The genre took center stage in the 1980s after the release of the hit single “The Message” by the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Rap Hip Hop developed further in the mid-1980s by Run DMC, a group consisting of three men – Simmons, Darryl, and Jason- whom today are considered “The Fathers of Hip Hop” (Dines & Humez, 2013). As a musical genre and a widespread culture, Rap Hip Hop is one of the primary arenas in which discussions of race, racial injustices, class, sexuality, and gender happen. Additionally, rap music is a global medium that influences the way the world views Black women (Harrison, 2015). Several sociological researchers have studied and understood the relationship between Rap Hip Hop music and race (Fitzgerald et al., 2016). Therefore, this paper provides an overview of the relationship between Rap Hip Hop music of the 1980s and issues of race, class, sexuality, and gender through an analysis of the genre’s lyrics, performance, and musical issues.
The lyrics of the song “The Message” by the Grandmaster Flash shows how Rap Hip Hop relates to issues of class. The song highlights the hardships that people face when they live in the Ghetto. The chorus of the song states “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head, It’s like a Jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder, How I keep from going under” (Osumare, 2015). This chorus suggests that the people in the Ghetto are from a lower class and they face several challenges in their lives. Despite all the challenges, they all try to survive from the line “how I keep from going under.”
A philosopher observed that social class has an enormous impact on our cultural attitudes and therefore it influences the genre of music that someone listens to. Veenstra, an author and a professor of Sociology at UBC, conducted a study with 1600 respondents using telephone interviews as a means of data collection (Harrison, 2015). The study established that members of the society in a lower social class listen to golden oldies, rap and heavy metal while their counterparts in a high social class listen to jazz, classical, blues and musical theatre. Their choice of music is therefore influenced by their level of education and their wealth which are the primary determinants of social class (Dines & Humez, 2013).
In the beginning of Rap, it was associated with the African Americans in several ways. A perfect example demonstrating the relationship between this genre and the African Americans was in the late 1980s when a member of the Public Enemy group – Chuck D- referred to Rap Hip Hop as the black America’s CNN (Harrison, 2015). However, this was to suggest that rap was a media network that was controlled by the youth whose purpose was to narrate what young black people experienced in the urban parts of the United States (Dines & Humez, 2013). This quote was later adopted in the “culture wars” of the period following the 1980s by advocates who were responding to critics that suggested that rap hip hop music contributed to social ills. Violence is one such ill that conservative critics in the 1980s argued that rap music promoted.
While Rap music was mostly linked to the African Americans, the late 1980s witnessed the rise of white rappers. A good example of white rappers during this period were the Beastie Boys. They were sensational and had several hit singles including the “Fight for your Right to Party” and “Sabotage.” This was just the beginning; the present contemporary world has several white rappers including the legendary Eminem (Fitzgerald et al., 2016). It is true that some rappers in the 1980s defended the presence of violence in some of their lyrics with the argument that violence was the manifestation of American history and culture, it is also important to note that rap music was a symbol of hope for most African American people (Harrison, 2015).Several sociological studies conducted in the 20th century after rap Hip Hop took center stage in the 1980s aimed to explore the influence that rap music had on black gender relations and gender identities. Most of the studies had one common conclusion that commercial rap Hip Hop music that later grew after the 80s had destructive effects on young black women (Osumare, 2015).
Women have been a part of Rap Hip Hop expression since its inception in the 1970s. However, their role then was still not highly ranked. They were only part of the MC crews. Examples are the Funky Four plus One female group (Orejuela, 2015). However, in the mid-1980s the role of women in rap changed. Some female artists were promoted momentarily through “answer” songs. These type of songs mocked popular songs that had been done by male acts (Fitzgerald et al., 2016). “Roxanne’s Revenge” by Roxanne Shante was an answer song which responded to a song “Roxanne Roxanne” that had been done in 1984 by UTFO. In the late-1980s women had step up and were even releasing rap albums (Orejuela, 2015). A group Salt-N-Pepa of 3 women was one of the most successful female Hip Hop artists in the 80s. They are the other female artists that revolutionized rap music through women empowerment and social messages through her album “All Hail the Queen.”
Although Rap music evolved through the 1980s, their theme remained constant. Rap had the aspect of “hood politics.” However, the years following the 80s saw that the artists were maintaining strict gangsta personas (Harrison, 2015). The situation got worse in the early years of the 21st century when some of the biggest names in rap music were even considered drug dealers and convicted criminals (Dines & Humez, 2013). It is clear that the most striking difference between the Rap Hip Hop of the 1980s and that of the contemporary world is the lyrics. In the 1980s, the rap music had a narrow focus and had a minimal message on the success of the artist. This is the opposite of today’s rap music.
In conclusion, it is clear that rap Hip Hop music is a crucial forum for discussing issues of race, gender, social class, and sexuality. Therefore, the contemporary world should continue using this medium appropriately to address matters of such great importance rather than promoting violence. This paper has also established that Rap music has diffused across races, geographic spaces, and social class thus raising concerns about the legitimacy of its several non-black appearances (Fitzgerald et al., 2016). Hip Hop Rap is now a worldwide singularity, and the racial issues that surround it are not experienced within the United States alone.
- Dines, G., & Humez, J. M. (2013). Gender, race, and class in media: A text-reader. Sage.
- Fitzgerald, J., Gaskins, N., Goodall, P., Hallerton, S., Hayward, P., Mitchell, M. … & Simpson, I. (2016). Justin Burton is Assistant Professor of Music at Rider University, New Jersey, USA. His research revolves around matters of race, gender, and class about popular music, especially hip-hop, pop, and dance genres. He is the author of Posthuman Rap (forthcoming OUP, 2017) and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Music Studies (forthcoming, OUP, 2018). < Justindburton@ Gmail. Com. Shima, 10(2).
- Harrison, A. K. (2015). Hip Hop and Race. The Routledge Reader on the Sociology of Music, 191.
- Orejuela, F. (2015). Rap and hip-hop culture. Oxford University Press.
- Osumare, H. (2015). Keeping it Real: Race, Class, and Youth Connections through Hip-Hop in the US & Brazil. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 37, 6-18.