By: Keliza Lewinson
As a timeless and rather personal creative outlet, music stands as perhaps the most popular and influential mode of artistic expression for both musicians and listeners. Hip-hop, a music genre which began as a meaningful underground movement of conscious rap by minorities in the Bronx of New York City, has surpassed all other genres of music in terms of popularity in the past year. Due to the immense use of streaming services by Millenials, hip-hop’s heavy influence and consumption by the masses cannot be ignored. However, regardless of popularity, Hip-Hop has proved unable to escape the a range of negative stigmas associated with the art since its beginnings. Though some may not like to admit this, with the power to start trends, sway the public opinion, and spark important conversations, Hip-Hop has obviously become ‘The Culture’. From the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry, to Kanye West expressing recent his ideology about slavery, controversy in Hip-Hop has remained in the limelight of American mass media. Hip-Hop’s far-reaching influence and cultural impact lends the genre a vital position as a vehicle for social change.
From its beginning in that late-1960s, Hip-Hop has been used for Black and Latinx people to express their frustrations with their current social circumstances. Arisen out of the South Bronx during a time in which violence, mass incarceration, unemployment, and racism riddled the city along with other predominantly African American cities, hip-hop served as an artful reflection of these realities. These systematic problems, along with the Black Panther Party’s Black Power movement, resulted in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”. Marked as “an influential political and conscious hip-hop track, decrying the poverty, violence, and dead-end lives of the urban poor of the time,” the first ever majorly successful hip-hop song set the tone for hip-hop music to come. The genre would continue it’s tradition of creating a commentary of socio-political problems as they would impact minority communities more.
In 2013, New York’s then police commissioner William Bratton blamed Hip-Hop for a fatal shooting that happened at a T.I. concert. He particularly blamed the genre for “basically celebrat[ing] the violence.” Though many can agree that hip-hop is confrontational, if verses seem excessively violent, they appear so due to simple reason. The violence in Hip-Hop music is a result of self expression, for many rappers the violence the rap about is a reality for them and many others in minority communities. NWA’s “F*ck the Police” was made and originally wasn’t supposed to make the LP. However, after a violent confrontation by the Police, Dr. Dre had a change of heart. From NWA’s “ F*ck The Police” to Kendrick Lamar’s recent album “DAMN”, rappers have been using Hip-Hop to report what was going on around them and thus so, getting a reaction from the masses it was reaching.. In Ferguson after the unjust murder of Mike Brown, protest chants went from “hands up, don’t shoot” to riots yelling “F*ck the Police”. The influence of that song was so immense that people who tweeted “#fuckthepolice” or “#blacklivesmatter” were considered threats by Baltimore city police after the unjust killings of Freddie Gray.
Hip-Hop has held its own through the odds and ridicule and has been able to become one of the most influential genres in music. Hip-Hop, once a genre that people didn’t think would last, is now a genre that many see as a gateway to riches. Hip-Hop is accused of being to blame for America’s violence, when really it is just a projection of what’s going on in minority communities. Nothing will change in relation to violence in Hip-Hop music if policies are not enacted to counteract the damage being done in minority communities. Hip-Hop is a cry for help from the minority communities and it has gone in popularity partly due to it telling stories of situation to people who can relate. The accessibility and inclusivity makes hip hop makes it such an effective therapeutic tool for the masses.