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Rap Music

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Rap Music

The following is an excerpt from Black Noise, a book written by Tricia Rose, that describes the importance and background of rap music in society.

"Rap music brings together a tangle of some of the most complex social, cultural, and political issues in contemporary American society. Rap's contradictory articulations are not signs of absent intellectual clarity; they are a common feature of community and popular cultural dialogues that always offer more than one cultural, social, or political viewpoint. These unusually abundant polyvocal conversations seem irrational when they are severed from the social contexts where everyday struggles over resources, pleasures, and meanings take place.

"Rap music is a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America. Rap music is a form of rhymed storytelling accompanied by highly rhythmic, electronically based music. It began in the mid-1970s in the South Bronx in New York City as a part of hip hop, and African-American and Afro-Caribbean youth culture composed of graffiti, breakdancing, and rap music. From the outset, rap music has articulated the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary America. Rappers speak with the voice of personal experience, taking on the identity of the observer or narrator. Male rappers often speak from the perspective of a young man who wants social status in a locally meaningful way. They rap about how to avoid gang pressures and still earn local respect, how to deal with the loss of several friends to gun fights and drug overdoses, and they tell grandiose and sometimes violent tales that are powered by male sexual power over women. Female rappers sometimes tell stories from the perspective of a young woman who is skeptical of male protestations of love or a girl who has been involved with a drug dealer and cannot sever herself from his dangerous life-style. Some raps speak to failure of black men to provide security and attack men where their manhood seems most vulnerable: the pocket. Some tales are one sister telling another to rid herself from the abuse of a lover.

"Like all contemporary voices, the rapper's voice is imbedded in powerful and dominant technological, industrial, and ideological institutions. Rappers tell long, involved, and sometimes abstract stories with catchy and memorable phrases and beats that lend themselves to black sound bite packaging, storing critical fragments in fast-paced electrified rhythms. Rap tales are told in elaborate and ever-changing black slang and refer to black cultural figures and rituals, mainstream film, video and television characters, and little-known black heroes. For rap's language wizards, all images, sounds, ideas, and icons are ripe for recontextualization, pun, mockery, and celebration. Kool Moe Dee boasts that each of his rhymes is like a dissertation, Kid-N-Play have quoted Jerry Lee Lewis' famous phrase "great balls of fire," Big Daddy Kane brags that he's like raw sushi (and that his object of love has his nose open like a jar of Vicks), Ice Cube refers to his ghetto stories as "tales from the darkside," clearly referencing the television horror show with the same name. Das Efx's raps include Elmer Fud's characteristic "OOOH I'm steamin'!" in full character voice along with a sting of almost surreal collagelike references to Bugs Bunny and other television characters. At the same time, the stories, ideas, and thoughts articulated in rap lyrics invoke and revise stylistic and thematic elements that are deeply wedded to a number of black cultural storytelling forms, most prominently toasting and the blues. Ice-T and Big Daddy Kane pay explicit homage to Rudy Ray Moore as "Dolomite," Roxanne Shante toasts Milie Jackson, and black folk wisdom and folktales are given new lives and meanings in contemporary culture.

"Rap's stories continue to articulate the shofting terms of black marginality in contemporary American culture. Even as rappers achieve what appears to be central status in commercial culture, they are far more vulnerable to censorship efforts than highly visible white rock artists, and they continue to experience the brunt of the plantationlike system faced by most artists in the music and sports industries. Even as they struggle with the tension between fame and rap's gravitational pull toward local urban narratives, for the most part, rappers continue to craft stories that represent the creative fantasies, perspectives, and experiences of racial marginality in America" (Rose 2-3).

The biggest social dilemma created by rap in today's culture is whether it has a negative or positive impact on the youth, its primary audience, and whether or not it can even be considered music. Many praise rap as an educational tool saying women rappers are examples of aggressive pro-women lyricists and defend rap's ghetto stories as reafl-life reflections that draw attention to the burning problems of racism and economic oppression. Others criticize rap's apparent focus on violence at concerts, citing gangsta rap's lyrics of cop killing and female dismemberment and also balck nationalist rappers' suggestions that "white people are the devil's disciples" (Rose 1). While the negative seems to often cover the more positive aspects in the media, there are several reasons as to why rap is a legitimate, good form of music.

Rap offers alternative interpretations of key social events such as the Gulf War, the Los Angeles uprising, police brutality, censorship efforts, and community based education. It is also a central vehicle for open social refelction on poverty, the fear of adulthood, the desires for an absent father, frustrations about black male sexism, female sexual desires, daily rituals of life as an unemployed teen hustler, safe sex, raw anger, violence, and childhood memories. Rose says in her book Black Noise, "it is black America's most dynamic contemporary popular cultural, intellectual, and spiritual vessel," and "rappers offer symbolic prowess, sense of black energy, and creativity in the face of omnipresent oppressive forces" (19).

Hank Shocklee, a producer, defends rap producers by saying the following:

"We don't like musicians. We don't respect musicians. The reason why is because they look at people who do rap as people who don't have any knowledge. As a matter of fact, it's quite the opposite. We have a better sense of music, a better concept of music, of where it's going, of what it can do. In dealing with rap,



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