Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Baadassss Gangstas: The Parallel Influences, Characteristics and Criticisms of the Blaxploitation Cinema and Gangsta Rap Movements

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Baadassss Gangstas: The Parallel Influences, Characteristics and Criticisms of the Blaxploitation Cinema and Gangsta Rap Movements

Article excerpt

In October 2012, New Orleans rapper Curren$y released a mixtape online for his fans entitled Priest Andretti. Taking its name from the main character of the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly, this fourteen-track mixtape frequently pays homage to the blaxploitation movement that occurred in the early 1970s by incorporating clips from Super Fly throughout, as well as including songs entitled "Max Julien" (star of the 1973 film The Mack) and "Cleopatra Jones" (title character of the 1973 film Cleopatra Jones). Two months later, in December 2012, director Quentin Tarantino released his newest film, Django Unchained. The film, which employs many of the same tropes commonly seen in blaxploitation cinema, includes a soundtrack containing an original song written by Rick Ross, "100 Black Coffins," as well as a mash-up of James Brown's "The Payback" and 2Pac's "Untouchable" entitled "Unchained." The animated series Black Dynamite, a parody of blaxploitation cinema based on the critically acclaimed 2009 film of the same name, recently featured rapper Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion) voicing a formidable villain on the show. Even though the blaxploitation cinema movement ended nearly 30 years ago, these recent examples serve as a clear illustrations of the continued cultural relevance of blaxploitation and offer an intriguing look at the persisting and complex relationships and intersections between blaxploitation cinema and rap music.

In the years following the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans attempted to establish a cultural identity within a society that frequently continued to ostracize and systematically neglect them. By the late 1960s, angered by the lack of progress toward "first-class citizenship," many African Americans began calling for the abandonment of non-violent protest and adoption of a militant resistance to white culture. The rise of the Black Power Movement resulted in many African Americans calling for the establishment of a separate, self-defined black culture, which included Black Art.1 Artistic depictions in popular culture served as one of the potentially visible and influential ways in which the African American community could create a controlled image of black culture that reflected a self proclaimed identity while simultaneously illustrating the community's continued struggles. Through film, music, television and various other outlets, African American artists began using their mediums to appeal directly to black audiences in an attempt to spawn cultural movements that would display and bring to the forefront the cultural, social and economic struggles of the African American experience. Two of the more visible African American movements that have occurred in popular culture over the past 50 years are the blaxploitation cinema explosion of the early 1970s and the gangsta rap movement that took hold nearly two decades later. While gangsta rap has proven to be a more durable and influential movement, blaxploitation cinema played a pivotal role in providing African American artists a means to redefine black representation in mainstream popular culture, with the potential to result in either empowering or problematic impacts for the community.

Analyzing the genesis of these two subgenres, one can easily identify many similarities in the qualities and characteristics used to classify works as either blaxploitation films or gangsta rap. Because early blaxploitation films and gangsta rap served as parallel subgenres established by African American artists attempting to establish a new identity reflecting the social, political and economic issues impacting the African American experience (even in a metaphorical sense) within their respective mediums, cultural critics and mainstream consumers identified and classified the movements by many of the same qualities and characteristics upon their inception. Likewise, both modes of expression endured much of the same praise and criticisms from within the African American community as they served as battlegrounds for defining black identity in America. …

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