July 13, 2011 12:51:00 PM
Over the last 40 years, hip-hop music has been at the center of the debate over the influence of music on society. Critics argue that hip-hop has corroded American culture, that its glorification of misbehavior and female promiscuity promoted perverse morals in young people. Fans of hip-hip say it depicts reality; that it tells the stories America would rather disregard, or that the music is another form of entertainment and shouldn''t be taken seriously. Both arguments ignore the connection between the evolution of hip-hop and the American decades of my generation.
Hip-hop was born during a transition in America history. The 1960s had been a decade of historic struggles: hard-fought victories for civil rights and violent clashes over the Vietnam War. The 1970s provided a moment to exhale from these tensions. The issues continued but pop culture was less political.
One of the changes in pop culture came from block parties in the Bronx. For these parties, disc jockeys invented unique beats by mixing and matching different genres of music. Soon, people begin speaking lyrically over the beats, a practice originally referred to as emceeing and later as rapping. New dances, like breaking and b-boying -- dances characterized by moving distinctly to the beat -- developed. These were the early days of hip-hop, before it had a name. The music, and the culture that sprung from it, focused on the necessary ingredients for a party.
Unfortunately, the crack epidemic crashed the party. In the 1980s, drug suppliers realized cocaine could be produced in a cheaper form that was also more potent. The combination of lower prices and instant highs made the new form of cocaine, referred to as crack, accessible and addictive on a large scale. This resulted in a dramatic rise in use, which had devastating consequences, such as significant increases in the crime and arrest rates for young black males. For instance, economists report that the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 24 nearly doubled between 1984 and 1994 as a result of the distribution of crack.
The crack epidemic also changed the tone of hip-hop. In the 1980s, hip-hop started to reflect the outbreak of crack in the inner city. The lyrics glamorized the confrontational lifestyles of drug dealers and gangs. Artists used profanity to harshly criticized authority, particularly the police. This type of hip-hop, called "gangsta rap," was more commercially successful and controversial than the previous music. These rappers claimed to be describing the realities of the inner city, but the music also popularized the drug trade and created a culture around it.
This culture pressured boys from towns, like Columbus, and from strong families, like mine, to replicate the negative behavior in the lyrics, which spread the epidemic.
Next, the commercial success of hip-hop created a new style. The success forced record labels to pay attention, but executives wanted to profit from hip-hop''s popularity without embracing its negativity. This became easier because the commercial success made popular rappers rich, and these rappers could afford expensive clothes, jewelry, and cars. As a result, rappers made songs highlighting this success, and the upscale parties and liaisons with multiple women that came with it. These songs didn''t promote violence, although many objectified women, so they were less controversial for the record labels but just as popular with fans.
This shift in hip-hop coincided with the historic economic gains of the 1990s. This period experienced the longest peacetime economic expansion in American history. Consequently, my generation thought the glamorous lifestyle described in hip-hop during this time was available to us. Of course, the recent recession revealed that this expansion included high consumer and mortgage debt. Now, my generation enters a workforce with high unemployment and weak economic growth.
However, unlike past decades, hip-hop hasn''t evolved to reflect this reality. Mainstream hip-hop still produces three types of music: dance songs identifiable with the birth of hip-hop; songs depicting the drug epidemic, or songs describing parties people can''t attend and luxuries people can''t afford. A huge vacuum exist, and, unless a sub-genres or underground movement emerges, hip-hop will lose a large part of its audience in my generation.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
littleredhen commented at 7/13/2011 4:09:00 PM:
Teach brother, teach. Being from the same generation I totally agree. The current generation of young folks need to understand and realize that and focus on what is truely "real talk" and no longer continue to be slaves (without knowing it) trying to get the "bling-bling" and other trappings of a false sense of success. Black people especially should strive for true wealth and a real education, not just what is portrayed in the media or your particular hood. Stop thinking local and thinking global. The power to achieve lies within us all, we just need to expand our minds, not be afraid to dream, and to just do. One cannot get anywhere sitting on one's arse and just accepting the status quo. PS I enjoy your articles, keep up the good work.
zenreaper commented at 7/13/2011 8:06:00 PM:
The history of hip hop is interesting, but I think you did ONE disservice with the piece:
"This resulted in a dramatic rise in use, which had devastating consequences, such as significant increases in the crime and arrest rates for young black males. For instance, economists report that the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 24 nearly doubled between 1984 and 1994 as a result of the distribution of crack."
The crime and arrest rates went up during those times NOT because of the distrobution of crack, but because black males who USED crack chose to commit crimes. Lets not take the route that they had no choice, we ALL have a choice. And crack was available to EVERY race (I have never heard of a crack dealer that refused to serve whites or latinos).
And be advised, the SAME thing is happening again, right here in our town. And the drug of choice is SPORTS, not cocaine or cocaine derivatives. Many kids forgo the education to play football or baseball in order to get the big payoff. And like "crack", few will succeed, most will end up uneducated in dead end jobs.
nativecolumbian commented at 7/13/2011 10:03:00 PM:
I enjoy reading your posts.. You are able to write in a way that presents your view and doesn't offend ME! I agree with you most of the time. You're kinda like Bill Cosby; You hit the nail on the head and are realisic. I hope you've seen my posts before and remember that I am consistant in supporting education and parenting. My parents were sure I (and my generation) were going to Hell because of ELVIS. And in the 60's, along came the womens movement, Vietnam, and the sexual reveloution! I frankly don't know the difference in hip-hop and rap; but, I am offended when(usually a black guy) is next to me at a stop light, with the volume too high and I hear vulger words and anger.I am perfectly capable of using vulger language and I am only offended when it is FORCED on me. Keep on doing what you're doing! Maybe not in our life time, but, if enough people like you; lead by example, you WILL make a difference. You are a light, in the dark, for the black community.I think the white community feels, as I do, that its been 146 yrs. What more can we give and why should we. Our political system spawned this and and children are being "lost" every day; who could have been productive Americans!
jaymike76 commented at 7/15/2011 4:34:00 AM:
While i agree with 90% of this article i wll have to disagree with the current state of hip hop. The problem is the fans are embracing horrible, horrible rappers. It has nothing to do with the economy. I'm referring to just the skill of them. They're whole persona and what the hip hop public is allowing. That needs to stop. Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane, and others need to be locked out of making anymore songs. They and their music is ruining what i consider real hip hop. Songs with messages. Songs with a purpose. to reach our youth and tell them what they need to hear.
dznutz commented at 7/15/2011 7:01:00 AM:
This is one of the worst opinion articles I've ever read & what is the point of this article? It does not inform or educate anyone & his facts are "WRONG." You are very ill-informed about the art form.
Hip Hop came out of the Disco era. Most DJs would extend "The Break" of the Disco song (or a James Brown song) then the rapper initially would rap about the greatness of the DJ. Furthermore, Hip Hop Artist have been talking about "BLING" & girls since "Rapper's Delight."
Crack didn't change Hip Hop. The Artist stories evolved. Rappers & DJs began telling people what they saw on the street & what drugs & police were doing to their neighborhood. (Look at Grandmaster Flash's "The Message")
How can you honestly pen "Gangsta Rap" on the degredation of a town like Columbus, MS? How many of these boys come from stable 2 parent homes? How many of these boys valued their education over the quick money appeal of the Drug Trade. To say "Gangsta Rap made me do it" is the biggest crock. You might as well throw in video games made me do it too!
Also, you have the following quote in your opinion, "For instance, economists report that the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 24 nearly doubled between 1984 and 1994 as a result of the distribution of crack." Where did you get that information from? What "economist?" Why would "economist" report on the homicide rate?
Bro, I can go on & on, but this article, but why? You don't know where you going if you don't know where you come from or where you've been. I recommend a re-education of sorts on Hip Hop.
I don't know where you went to lawyer school & I commend you on furthering your education, but it's no way I would allow you to represent me, defend, or convey my point in a court of law especially after reading this half-assed written opinion on the Music & art form that I love.
colomsw commented at 7/15/2011 10:33:00 AM:
This is Scott. The previous post merits a response.
First, you state that the facts in the column are wrong, so I want to give you sources for the information you question.
You appear to indirectly suggest I was wrong to say hip-hop came from block parties in the Bronx, when d-jays invented new beats by mixing different genres of mixing and rappers started rhyming over the beat. You say say hip-hop came out of the disco era because rappers would rap over the break. Those statements are not in contradiction, really. Disco is a genre of music. D-jays would often scratch and mix/match beats to different disco songs. If you are questioning this or whether this was done at block parties here's some sources: Dyson, Michael Eric, 2007, Know What I Mean? : Reflections on Hip-Hop, Basic Civitas Books, p. 6.; Stas Bekman: stas (at) stason.org. "What is "Dub" music anyway? (Reggae)". Stason.org. Retrieved 2010-01-12;
Also, "Rapper's Delight" is the quintessential party song, which is why I said, "the music, and the culture that sprung from [hip-hop], focused on the necessary ingredients for a party."
You say the crack-epidemic didn't change hip-hop, rather the stories of the artists evolved. That's a distinction without a difference. If the stories of the artists evolve, then that's inherently changes the song and the music.
You also say the following:
"How can you honestly pen "Gangsta Rap" on the degredation of a town like Columbus, MS? How many of these boys come from stable 2 parent homes? How many of these boys valued their education over the quick money appeal of the Drug Trade. To say "Gangsta Rap made me do it" is the biggest crock. You might as well throw in video games made me do it too!"
I didn't make any of these statements. The only point I made is that hip-hop music was the most popular genre of music for black Americans in my generation, and that its music influenced us, even if we shouldn't have identified with that lifestyle.
You also question where I got the statistic about the impact of the crack on the homicide rate. I got it here:
This is a paper by economists Steve Levitt and Kevin Murphy.
The point of the column was to explain how hip-hop changed with history, especially the issues facing my generation. In hindsight, I agree, I could have made that point clearer.
Thanks for reading.
newsjunkie commented at 7/16/2011 8:31:00 PM:
Regardless of how it got here, Rap and Hip Hop have even been legitimized in the Grammy Awards, along with country, bluegrass, blues, rock, jazz, and pop. They are here to stay for awhile. That's okay. I just wish I didn't have to listen to it in my car if I didn't turn it on. There are many times I would not mind listening to rap and hip hop, but the profanity is unbearable. As for the styles that accompany it, I would rather not look at anyone's underwear in public. It amazes me that anyone thinks this looks good.
2. Lynn Spruill: Journey's end LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Partick Buchanan: Europe's real existential crisis NATIONAL COLUMNS
4. Wyatt Emmerich: America the beautiful LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Our View: Our patriotic obligation DISPATCH EDITORIALS