Rap Music and Its Violent Progeny: America's Culture of Violence in Context

Article excerpt

America for all her protests against violent rap lyrics has failed to acknowledge her role in the creation of this relatively new art form. There is no denying the language in some rap lyrics could be construed as offensive, however, just as other music forms are not homogeneous, neither is rap music. It is far too simplistic to portray rap artists as perpetuators of behavior deemed socially deviant without placing the artists and their life experiences in context. Instead, this article considers rap music as a creative expression and metaphorical offspring of America's well-established culture of violence.

Got me worried, stressin, my vision's blurried

The question is will I live? No one in the world loves me

I'm headed for danger, don't trust strangers

Put one in the chamber whenever I'm feelin this anger

Don't wanna make excuses, cause this is how it is

What's the use unless we're shootin no one notices the youth

It's just me against the world baby (Shakur, 1993)

Rap Music has been categorized as, "A cultural evolution of the Black oral tradition and... [as] contemporary resistance rhetoric." (Smitherman, 1997, p. 21)

America for all her protests against violent rap lyrics has failed to acknowledge her role in the creation of this relatively new art form. Evidence of America's preoccupation with violent activity is pervasive and can be found, for example, in virtually all of the entertainment industry. As a result, of the prevalence of violence in music, movies, television and video games, America has nurtured an environment that some have come to call a culture of violence. If there is in fact a culture of violence, the true parent of rap lyrics is America herself, who financially rewards the glamorization of behaviors deemed socially unacceptable. Rap music, in this context, is merely another creative expression that is an outgrowth of prevailing entertainment practices.

Rap music, however, is not in and of itself, a genre created solely for profit. Deprivation and unequal opportunity nurtured the hopelessness, distrust, and early death depicted in Tupac Shakur's lyrics. America's urban centers in general and low-income minority communities in particular, are replete with poverty, police brutality, drug abuse, educational inequality, high dropout rates, and violence. The very governmental and social systems theoretically established to protect the poor, have engendered distrust. A sense of powerlessness to change conditions grounded in complex social, political, and economic issues has led artists to seek ways to express their discontent. Rap music became a cathartic outlet. As noted by Smitherman (1997), rap music has become a way for youth to voice their dissatisfaction with society employing the heritage of the Black oral tradition. Lyrics similar to those in the opening quote by Tupac, are just one way America's children, and urban Black children in particular, have chosen to articulate their anger and frustration with mainstream society. Unfortunately in the case of Tupac, a young Black urban male who was murdered, lyrics were more than a social commentary, they were prophetic. Tupac became a victim of the very violence he depicted in his music and in the process became a rap icon.

Often the terms "rap music," "hip-hop," and "gangsta rap" are used synonymously. While closely related, each has a distinct meaning. Hip-hop is a broad term referring to a cultural movement among African American youth that has influenced styles of clothing, music and other forms of entertainment. Rap music, is rooted in the African tradition of speaking rhythmically to a beat generally supplied by background music. Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc are credited with being instrumental in the development of rap music as a distinct genre in the 1970s, which at the time was party-oriented. In the early 1980s, Grandmaster Flash used rap to call attention to the deplorable conditions in inner cities. …