When the Oppressed Becomes the Oppressor: Willie Lynch and the Politics of Race and Racism in Hip-Hop Music

By Heaggans, Raphael C. | West Virginia University Philological Papers, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

When the Oppressed Becomes the Oppressor: Willie Lynch and the Politics of Race and Racism in Hip-Hop Music


Heaggans, Raphael C., West Virginia University Philological Papers


Insanity playin' on your vanity As they stomp your sense of self Tellin' you what you need to succeed

The Last Poets *

Racism is an incubus that has haunted every culture in the United States since its inception. Today, aspects of the hip-hop genre embody that spirit by promoting self-hate through exploitation, misogyny, greed, and denigration of who Blacks are as a people. The hip-hop culture and its style of music have crossed all racial and culture barriers and has been deemed the music of the twenty-first century. Yet the hip-hop culture often cloaks itself very powerfully with monolithic images in television, magazines, and music videos.

Much of the contemporary hip-hop music today has evolved from the violence of gangsta rap. Many hip-hop artists profess in their lyrics and videos to be simply speaking the truth about their realities; however these lyrics and images do not empower African Americans in these situations to get out. Instead the cycle of homicide, drugs, poverty, domestic violence, and AIDS continues to manifest itself in the black community.

Some hip-hop artists have taken on the tools of oppression and become the oppressor by perpetuating historically negative images and messages that many whites and others still hold true about black people. Part of these tools of oppression may have been invented as early as 1712.

This article addresses how Willie Lynch's infamous 1712 letter (1) is authenticated through the negative images and messages presented in hip-hop music and its effects on youth culture.

The Difference between Rap and Hip-Hop Music

Rap music has been phenomenally successful during the past decade. Songs by rappers such as Jay-Z, Eminem, and Ludacris consistently grace the music charts with their hypnotizing beats and saucy lyrics. The theme of such songs as often mentioned by rappers is "keeping it real." But "keeping it real" comes with a hefty price including defying history and degrading women at the expensive of being a successful rapper. This paper discusses the ramifications of being a rapper and the potential effects rap lyrics have on U.S. Black culture.

Today, the terms "rap" and "hip-hop" are used interchangeably. Some people have suggested that there is a difference. Rap music was a conduit to educate people about the issues of race, poverty, and social injustice with which Blacks and Latinos were faced. (2) On the other hand, hip-hop serves as an exploitation of sexist, patriarchal, and misogynistic ways of behaving and thinking. (3)

History and Its Connection to Hip-Hop Music

Controlling slaves is the most pervasive theme in the infamous Willie Lynch's letter written in 1712 to Virginians. William Lynch was asked to come to the Virginia colony to assist with problem slaves. He stated: "In my bag, I have a fool proof method for controlling your slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed, it will control the slaves for at least three hundred years" (par. 3). He continues:

   I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves, and I
   take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust,
   and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my
   modest plantation in the West Indies, and it will work throughout
   the south. Take this simple little list of differences and think
   about them. On the top of my list is "age" but it is only there
   because it starts with an "A". The second one is "color" or
   shade; ... [and the] size of plantation. Now that you have a list
   of differences, I shall give you an outline of action--but before
   that, I shall assure you that DISTRUST IS STRONGER THAN TRUST, AND
   ENVY IS STRONGER THAN ADULATION, RESPECT OR ADMIRATION. The black
   slave, after receiving this indoctrination, shall carry on and
   will become self-refueling and self-generating for hundreds of
   years, maybe thousands. … 

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