Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music

By Betty Houchin Winfield; Sandra Davidson | Go to book overview

9
Deconstructing the Hip-Hop Hype: A Critical Analysis of the New York Times' Coverage of African-American Youth Culture

Patrick B. Hill

Just as America was basking in the afterglow of the crossover anthem, "We Are the World," black popular music culture of the mid-1980s, with its accompanying images of hybrid identity and utopian egalitarianism, underwent profound transformations. Indeed, the emergence of "rap hit this celebration of racial melding broadside." Since then, hip-hop culture, a formation in which rap music is only one element, not only has been a key influence on the tastes, styles, and modes of personal expression among American youth, but it also represented the emergence of a new cultural orthodoxy.1

Consequently, this unique, complex cultural formation has been greeted with considerable discussion and debate in the mass media. The New York Times has been a major forum for this often controversial public discourse. The New York Times, because of the esteem with which it is held by the most powerful segments of American society, serves as a cultural gatekeeper, agenda setter, and chief arbiter of news and information. For well over a century, the Times has held an important role in American public discourse about emerging cultural developments. The Times was selected for this study because of its close, physical proximity to those African- American commumities in New York that gave birth to hip-hop culture.2 The objective of this chapter is to critically survey the New York Times' coverage of hip-hop as it occurred within the social and political context of 1980s America.3 Furthermore, this chapter seeks to compare its findings with those of an earlier study, which examined the content of the Times' coverage of Black popular music during the 1920s.4

The swirl of discussion and debate currently taking place over rap music is in many ways similar to mainstream responses to the emergence of jazz during the Prohibition era. Critics called the music "decadent," the "devil's music," and "jungle rhythm," according to John Frohnmayer, author of Out of Tune, Listening to the First Amendment?5 Cities banned jazz performances as sinful. And in Chicago, no trumpet

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