Music can be used as a powerful social impact that has the capability to attach itself to an individual’s sense of self, thoughts and moods. It can potentially alter and effect the way in which people connect, behave and think.
“Music can be a positive force; calming, relaxing and intellectually stimulating. This is true for adults, teens and children. Music can and does affect our emotions; it can create ‘channels’ in our mind, patterns of thinking. It can impart ideas and ideologies, powerfully and emotionally conveying a way of life upon the audience”.
The second half of the 20th century saw the emergence of critical action and formation in social justice movements especially within the hip hop culture. The first time hip hop was seen as a medium for expression for African American youth was the formation of the Zulu Nation in 1973 by one of hip hop’s founding fathers Afrika Bambaataa. After leaving an infamous street gang the Black Spades, Bambaataa formed the Zulu Nation, a music-based youth organisation which gave the opportunity for politically and socially conscious artist a chance to express themselves.
This profoundly impacted the change of hip hop, giving the oppressed minority of African Americans a voice to express their concerns regarding the prejudice and discrimination African Americans, social issues such as poverty and drug use and overpowered government institutions such as the police. Therefore hip hop empowered African American youth to develop an identity they could relate to.
In a questionnaire conducted with 20 people participating a question was asked: “Do you believe that hip hop from the 80’s/90’s was a medium for African American youth by giving them a voice they could relate to”. In the results, it was found that 80% of the participants agreed with the question and 20% disagreed.
In Jihan Dane Sims investigation ‘Using hip hop as an empowerment tool for young adults’ he indicated that hip hop has always been a tool for empowerment for abused minorities. He also suggests that hip hop artist use lyrics and expressions to analyse repression and imbalance among vulnerable groups. This highlights the importance music has on an individual as it can encourage identity formation and giving individuals a voice and a group they can relate to. In a study conducted by Venise Berry, she concluded that hip hop has helped African American youth living in poverty to develop empowering attitudes that have helped them connect with their culture and form individual identities.
“During the ’80s-’90s racial discrimination was disgustedly present in modern society, especially towards African Americans. Artist such as 2pac often vocalised the unjust and cruel prejudice and discrimination. Songs such as ‘Changes’ by 2pac or ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy are iconic rap songs composed to raw and honest lyrics of being a minority and the social issues in the United States. They created political and social voices to protest against being marginalised and relatable for people who suffered”- Anonymous from the questionnaire.
Studies done by The Black Youth Project found that 58% of African American youths listen to hip hop daily and also found that most African American youths enjoy listening hip hop as it is seen as a reflection of their own lives as artist touch on topics such as racism and poverty.
Tupac Shakur (2pac), a social rapper from the 1990s, challenges his listeners by exposing the reality of the prejudice and discrimination endured by the African American minority, social issues and the struggles of growing up and voicing his political views. Through the content analysis of two Tupac songs ‘Changes’ and ‘Trapped’ which present messages of Tupac’s experiences with prejudice and discrimination, the struggle of growing up and his political views.
While many critics of hip hop only focus on the negative connotations surrounding hip hop such as the misogyny, materialism and sex. It is the artist such as Tupac and his songs ‘Changes’ and ‘Trapped’ that expose these issues not only to the White American population but to the world. An important feature of hip hop has always been its significance of social, political and economic justice. Music was seen as the only way for the silenced African American minority to communicate their hardships through poetic lyrics and the potential to be heard and listened too.