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Hip-Hop Culture in 21st Century Society

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Assignment for Media with Cultural Studies Level Two

Youth Cultures, Subcultures and Industry

Hip-Hop Culture

This essay aims to examine the importance of the Hip-Hop culture in 21st century society. It will begin with consideration of the history of Hip-Hop, discussing its stylistic adaptations, cultural preferences and concerns, referring to the studies of black culture by Ellis Cashmore and Mark Neal. Within this I will explore the ethnicity and authenticity of the culture, with reference to last years Popular Music and its Cultural Context unit. The essay will then move on to evaluate the culture's relationship with the media, concentrating on the well documented moral panics associated with the culture; I will make particular reference to the theories of Stan Cohen. By studying the political and historical patterns of the culture, I endeavour to discover the overall meaning which the culture has for its members and for society.

It is primarily important to coin what Hip-Hop is, the dictionary definition describes Hip-Hop as:

hip-hop (h p h p ) or hip hop


1. A popular urban youth culture, closely associated with rap music and with the style and fashions of African-American inner-city residents.

2. Rap music.

As a culture Hip-Hop includes four main categories of expression; Mixing, Dancing, Graffiti Art and Rapping, known as MC'ing. Hip-Hop was first recognised in New York around the mid 1970s, considered as a reaction to social movements of the time. In America the 70s and 80s were subject to negative behaviour towards black communities which consisted of Jamaican and Puerto Ricans as well as African-Americans, it was argued that the ruling of Reagan led to this behaviour. Hip-Hop culture was seen as an escape from the explosion of gang violence throughout the 1970s and 80s, providing black American youths with a space for expression, this freedom of speech led to the spreading of Hip-Hop to other cities where black communities suffered. As Tricia Rose states, 'It satisfies poor young black people's profound need to have their territories acknowledged, recognised and celebrated.' (Rose, 1994: p.11, cited in Neal, 1997: p.136) The first UK top ten Hip-Hop hit was recorded in 1979 by the Sugar Hill Gang, called 'Rappers Delight'. The recognition of this song noted the continuous exchange of musical ideas between black and white. The atmosphere created between black and white musicians from Britain and America was perfect for the sounds of black British musicians to prosper. Even though the spirit of the movement within the 1970s and 80s had waned, early 1990s Hip-Hop continued to undergo negative criticism from governments who believed it was necessary to destroy the progression of the movement. Their core tactic was to incorporate Hip-Hop into the mainstream, believing that it was the authenticity of Hip-Hop which made it popular. This commercialisation of Hip-Hop lies at the root of many changes to the culture from the early 1990s, primarily the uplifting of Hip-Hop from its communities and artistic agenda to be used as an apparatus for capitalism. Commercial hip-hop has deteriorated what so many MC's in the 80's tried to create; a culture of music, dance, creativity, and artistry that would give people not only something to listen to, but also liberty to express themselves and deliver a positive message to their audiences. The majority of famous Hip-Hop artists adhere to the commercialisation of the culture by creating music that caters for mainstream consumers, they rap about sex, drugs, violence and racism, calling themselves 'Gangsta Rappers', they sell an image of toughness but their lyrics lack authenticity and meaning. The sudden sensation of white rappers is solid evidence that Hip-Hop continues to be a rapidly exploding culture, integrating people of all races. Since releasing his debut album Infinite in 1996, Martial Mathers, aka. Eminem has flooded the Hip-Hop scene with respect from his listeners and music contemporaries, but an amazing amount of negative response from society and the mass media. For Eminem, his controversial and offensive songs strike a chord with a multitude of Hip-Hop loyalists who believe they have little to lose and everything to gain.

The global success of Hip-Hop is a tribute to the central role of African-American sounds and styles in the development of 20th Century popular culture, but it is also dependent

upon the crossover to a diverse range of audiences worldwide. Rap has demonstrated its ability to surpass racialised categories of the popular culture industry. Even with the move into the mainstream, Hip-Hop has maintained a distinctive set of cultural priorities. In the majority, Hip-Hop continues to emphasise its 'blackness'. The connection of ethnicity with authenticity is a matter of cultural pride; Hip-Hop helps to defend against the failing of black culture. Early Hip-Hop was characterised by cross-cultural approval, which is a reflection of the multi-ethnic mix of 'Ghettos' and 'Barrios'. The politicisation of Hip-Hop during the 1980s put emphasis on Black Nationalism, which reduced the evidence of non-black members. Hip-Hop was increasingly established as a medium for individuals of minority groups in society, it acted as an instrument for social commentary which is well suited to Hip-Hop's foregrounding of first-person narratives based on personal experiences. The use of race as a political rather than a natural category meant that 'blackness' was represented as a metaphorical condition with which other minority groups could identify.

There are many stereotypes and generalisations connected with Hip-Hop culture; the core criticism is that Hip-Hop promotes violence and negativity. Antagonists claim that Hip-Hop is offensive to many groups of people, an analysis which is based on rappers preaching about racial tension and the harsh conditions of living in black communities as the subject of most Hip-Hop songs. Since the commercialisation of Hip-Hop it is the 'Gangsta Rappers' who have thrived within popular culture, rapping about sex, drugs, violence and racism. The stylistic adaptations and cultural preferences of 'Gangsta Rappers' never present a complete picture of the traditional Hip-Hop culture, lending to the limitations placed on exposure and explaining stereotypes of rap, leaving violence and sexism as seemingly promoted. Spectacular youth cultures have long occupied an important position



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