I have chosen to conduct an investigation into the evolution and identity change in Hip-Hop music over time. I was interested to discover if the stereotypical taboo language, distasteful adjectives and aggressive verbs remained a feature in modern day Hip-Hop music. Hip-Hop is not just music; it is comprised of fashion, arts, icons, and it is a unique culture. Originally, hip-hop was created with the intention of expressing the psychology and lived experiences of young people growing up in underrepresented neighbourhoods.
In the past, hip-hop was used as a voice for disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas, and it served as a battleground for respect and recognition in the world. My initial thoughts are that, the image of the Hip-Hop and Rap scene has completely changed over the past decades. My hypothesis is that in the past, Hip-Hop was seen as merely a barrage of rather tasteless lexis, and very against homosexuality, feminism and caused an abundance of racial disputes. Many people recognised it as only this, a collection of disrespectful, meaningless words.
In my opinion, in recent years, the agenda and aims of rap artists has completely changed. Furthermore, I believe people nowadays have a greater appreciation for the originators of Hip-Hop and Rap as opposed to the listeners when their music was first released.
In order to investigate this hypothesis, I have selected a range of different album and song reviews; the changing variable of these texts is the time that they were produced and the age of the album or song they are reviewing.
The earliest of which is a review on the works of the rap group N.W.A who formed in 1986 and the most recent text being from 2018 as I wanted to discover not just how the language has evolved, but how the opinions of the consumer have changed over time. The material I have used is an array of songs and their lyrics. The sources used in this essay:
The Notorious B.I.G – Suicidal Thoughts
Review of This Is America on Pitchfork
Interview with Jay Z on a 2010 episode of USA today
Black identity is presented to be misogynistic at times in rap music, especially in its origins. For example in N.W.As 1988 track Gangsta Gangsta Ice Cube uses taboo and politically incorrect language in the exclamatory Dumb-a** hooker aint nothin but a d*ke which emphasises the groups ideology that women are mere objects, for their exploitation, as this is their reaction to being rejected. Furthermore, this shows the groups arrogance, as they expect every woman to bow down to them, and if they dont they are homosexual and not worth their time. This ideology has seeped into mainstream rap in the modern day, for example in Lil Pumps 2017 track Gucci Gang Pump uses taboo language in I f*** a bi***, I forgot her name which once again highlights the objectification of women in the rap industry, and desensitises the youth to infidelity. This perhaps shows a lack of change in identity over time in Hip-Hop. Moreover, in The Notorious B.I.Gs 1994 hit Big Poppa, Biggie uses a tricolon of nouns Money, hoes and clothes followed by the simple sentence All a n***a knows, showing how deeply engrained the misogyny is in society, as the verb knows highlights Biggies willingness to embrace the misogyny, maintaining its persistence in society. Furthermore the pronoun All perhaps shows that this is the limit of his knowledge.
However, although some realms of modern-day rap are rather misogynistic, the vast majority have adopted a respect and appreciation for women. For example in Kendrick Lamars 2015 track Complexion the rapper shows appreciate for the existence through the imperative A woman is a woman, love the creation which perhaps highlights how Lamar believes women are a gift from God, and are to be treasured and not mistreated. There were also glimpses of respect for women in older rap artists. For example in Ghostface Killahs 1996 track Camay, he uses an asyndectic list of descriptive adjectives She elegant, pretty eyes, glasses, intelligent which emphasises his love for his partner, and focuses on not just her physical appearance but also her inner beauty. Each of the verses on “Camay” is like the opposite of a club banger. Every one shows how to treat a woman with respect. None of the women in the song’s three verses are objectified or come across as promiscuous; they are all noted for their intelligence and poise, not for their sexuality. This shows signs that the identity of rap music was beginning to change, even as early as the late nineties. Another song which features a feminist agenda is Tupacs 1993 track Keep Ya Head Up he uses a loaded interrogatory in Why we rape our women? and Do we hate our women? which shows that Tupac is questioning the role women play in the rap industry. Furthermore Tupac is talking about how black guys want to be players and basically hit and run on women, and then the way we portray them in videos is shaming, slandering, and demeaning them, once again showing that not all rappers were misogynistic.
Black identity is also presented as very proud and not afraid to speak up about social and political injustices. This has been apparent from the very foundations of rap music, for example N.W.As notorious 1988 track F*** The Police. The use of taboo in the pre-modified noun phrase a punk motherf****r with a badge a gun emphasises Ice Cubes distaste and hatred not just for the legal system, but for all the police officers. The descriptive adjective Punk was a popular insult during the late eighties and nineties and described a disrespectful, rude, or otherwise unpleasant person. Furthermore, on MC Rens line, the fronted coordinating conjunction with the conversion of the noun mace to a verb, But they’re scared of a n***a, so they mace me to blind me shows how the police would not even give him a chance and further emphasises the corruption in society. Another song which promotes liberation is Public Enemys track Fight the Power. The use of plosive alliteration in the line Power to the people perhaps reflects the strength and determination the people have to overcome this adversity. This is followed by the minor imperative No delay which Public Enemy adds to emphasise how the corrupt government they are speaking against has existed for far too long, especially for African-Americans due to slavery and unequal rights as a whole. This identity has followed its way into modern day rap and hip-hop, and an array of artists are questioning and challenging social and political issues. One example of this is Childish Gambinos 2018 track This Is America which was released amid ongoing political and cultural tumult and turmoil. The use of the colloquial expression I got the strap which alludes to the glorification of gun violence in contrast with self defense. Gun violence and guns in general are huge topics in rap and hip-hop, which creates a false illusion associated with African Americans and guns, that guns are only used for violence. Moreover the use of the repeated contracted first person pronoun Im so fitted/Im so gucci/Im so pretty which reflects how some people are easily distracted from social issues by material items and social status. This further shows how black identity has remained strong through difficult periods. Another song which shows this is Joey Bada$$s 2017 release Land Of The Free. The Non-standard spelling of the proper noun AmeriKKKa shows that he believes the United States are immersed in racism. Furthermore the use of contrast in Die from sicknesses if we dont seek the health affirms the first line in the bridge (‘We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves’) and expands on it rhetorically, using the abstract nouns sicknesses and health as symbols for the corruption in America and the steps we must take to counteract it.
Although it seems that from the beginning of rap, it was used as a platform to commentate on social injustices, some songs went about it in the wrong way. For example, once again in N.W.As 1988 track F*** the police the phrasal verb in the euphemism Take out a cop or two which is slightly contradictory as they are doing exactly what the police are doing to them, in the sense that the cop he takes out may have intended no harm or menace. This can negatively impact what they are really trying to say. The songs protesting nowadays such as the above mentioned This Is America and Land of The Free are much more peaceful and less contradictory in their approach, yet just as effective. In one review on the music and culture website Pitchfork the writer uses the adverb of manner in the metaphor powerfully represents the tightrope of being black which clearly emphasises how successful he was in his execution of revealing the social injustices, and shows how black identity has become not only a lot more resilient in times of difficulty, but also a lot more self aware.
It could be argued that some aspects of rap are very masculine-centric and are all about showing mental and physical strengths (even in some ways disregarding mental health). There is the common stereotype that all rappers care about are guns and women, and this is the case in an abundance of tracks. One example of this is Eazy-Es 1987 track Boyz n The Hood. The use of the time adverbial in the simple declarative Cause the boys in the hood are always hard shows how when in a gang or something similar, it is required to always appear tough and strong, regardless of the situation.
However, there is much more evidence to suggest that rappers are open about mental health, and are helping to break the stigma on mental health. One artist by the name of Logic is not afraid to talk about mental health. For example in his 2017 track Anziety he uses taboo lexis and colloquial phrasing in People in the street going ape s***/Battling depression but nobody wanna say s*** which is very powerful and impactful, and links to the fact that some African Americans are still clinging on to that gang mentality and think its not okay to have mental health issues and to hide it. Logic here encourages people to speak out about their thoughts and break out from the stereotypical black identity. Another Logic song which links to this is his 2017 track 1-800-273-8255. The use of enumerators in the title 1-800-273-8255 is the number for the national suicide prevention hotline, and emphasises how Logic wants this to be what people remember from this song and this is what they should come away with. Moreover, there is no truer benchmark for how raps views on mental health have changed than Jay-Z. In an interview on USA Today in 2010, Jay-Z uses the exclamatory I cant believe I held that in for 12 years! which emphasises how relieved he was when he poured out his thoughts into his music, and also acts as encouragement for others to attain a platform to share their thoughts.
Although it was perceived that the OG rappers were all about a relentless life of gun crime and women, there was some early pioneers in opening up about mental health. One example of this is The Notorious B.I.Gs 1994 track Suicidal Thoughts the use of the simile and personification in I feel like f****n callin me which is extremely emotive and emphasises Biggies longing to no longer be alive. A listener at the time of this being released may not have been expecting it, as this was not the gun slinging womaniser most know Biggie to be. More emotive language is used in the rhetorical interrogatory I wonder; if I died, would tears come to her eyes?’ which emphasises how much he cares about his family, and also portrays him to be not a gangster, but a loving and emotional man, which challenges the identity at the time.
In conclusion, and in response to my hypothesis, black identity has changed largely, but not completely. Some artists are still connected to their roots, while others were miles ahead of their time. In instances where some rappers wrote about subjects like crime, violence, and poverty, the lives of people were different in the eighties and nineties, therefore, the rappers were merely recounting their own social climate. Nowadays, rappers have a wide variety of subjects to write on. The internet has provided a wide range of topics to the rappers so the rappers are now making songs according to their choice, and expressing themselves. Some rappers are creating lyrics about the social media and some are making lyrics about the new types of relationships they have. Everything has changed nowadays and therefore, the rappers have also adopted their style and lyricism to cater to this. The rappers that express themselves the most and have no limits, are the most influential and important, although may contain (as stated in hypothesis) ‘tasteless lexis. But that only makes it more authentic.