?Things Just Ain?t the Same?: Hip-Hop?s Reconstruction of the Gangster Rap Identity
Posted by Nick Niesen on October 30th, 2010
Gangster rap, or hardcore rap, is generally considered a sub genre of the larger category of rap music, which itself is a subcategory of hip-hop. Gangster rap is differentiable from other rap music in that it makes use of images of urban life associated with crime (Haugen, 2). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica definition of gangster rap, the top four images associated with the genre are violence, drugs, materialism and sexual promiscuity.
Gangster Rappers as Defining the Hip-Hop Social Group
Hip-Hop?s Rejection of Inferior Social Group Status
The Reconstruction of the Gangster Identity
I told em fight back, attack on society
Here, the poet points to American society as ?the violent one? and that he has to be violent in order to ?fight back.?
In ?Who Knew?, Eminem showed a similar viewpoint by expressing his belief that violence is a common occurrence in American society, yet not challenged in genres outside of the urban environment:
So who's bringin? the guns in this country?
Here, the poet questions the existence of violence in a country that allows firearms and violent movies.
In ?Casualties of War?, Rakim blames the United States government, specifically its Head of State, as the group causing the violence in society with their war-like ways:
I'ma get back to New York in one piece
In this text, the poet refers to our country?s decision to go to war as an example of the violence that exists amongst the majority social class.
In ?The Watcher?, Dr. Dre redefines the negative characteristic of violence by pointing to the police force as the source of violence, and therefore, referring to them as ?gangster-like?:
Here, the poet accuses the majority class of keeping them ?trapped in the same place we raised in? and that the perceived violence is only due to the introduction of ?people who look like strangers.?
In ?Justify My Thug?, Jay-Z speaks directly to members of government, raising questions about who has made the availability and use of these drugs possible:
Mr. President, there's drugs in our residence
In this example, the poet inquires as to why there is a liquor store in ?every other corner? of his community.
In ?I Want to Talk to You?, Nas uses the same approach to challenge the notion of drug distribution by asking his representatives what they would do in his situation:
Why y'all made it so hard, damn
Here, the poet claims that the distribution of drugs is not only an effect of the poverty that exists in his environment, but also a means of survival.
In ?Manifesto?, Talib Kweli actually accuses the government of being the body which allows drugs into the country:
Like the C.I.A. be bringin? in crack cocaine bailin? out of planes
In this example, the poet accuses the C.I.A. of flying drugs into the country, and again reiterates the point that it is a means of survival due to the ?supply and demand? of a capitalist society.
In ?Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangster?, the Geto Boys fully redefine the negative characteristic of drug distribution by accusing the President of being a drug dealer, and therefore, a gangster:
And now, a word from the President!
These examples show how hip-hop artists redefine the image of being drug dealers and users by again pointing to the majority class as the creator of the drug problem in this country.
In ?Respiration?, Black Star points to all the wealth surrounding urban areas, and how it absorbs the lower class in materialism, making them want parts of that wealth:
Where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
Here, the poet talks about various materialistic aspects of the majority class, and how the lower class must ?play or die? to ?stay alive.?
In ?All Falls Down?, Kanye West actually blames this materialism on American society:
It seems we living the American dream
In this example, the poet blames the ?American dream? for materialism, saying it causes people to ?do the ugliest things? for ?riches and diamond rings.?
In ?Los Angeles Times?, Xzibit also blames this materialism on the majority class, claiming that is what the youth are taught coming up in urban environments:
Welcome to L.A.
Here, the poet expresses his belief that certain aspects of materialism, including ?power and wealth? are taught to children through occurrences in society.
These are examples how hip-hop artists redefine the negative characteristic of being materialistic by showing examples of how this materialism is prevalent in the majority class, and often created within that class.
In ?Pussy Galore?, the Roots claim that the country?s obsession with sex is pushed by sexually-driven marketing campaigns:
Lookin' out the limo window up at the billboards
In this example, the poet retells a personal experience in which he saw sex advertisements as ?promotin? everything.? And in order to ?get them listening?, he claims, ?you gotta show a little skin.?
In ?Get By?, Talib Kweli blames this sexual obsession on what we view on television:
The TV got us reachin? for stars
Here, the poet expresses his belief that television creates a misconception of what people should be sexually, and that contributes to the promiscuity that is being blamed on the hip-hop movement.
Hip-hop artists have used their lyrics and poetry to influence the rejection and reconstruction of the gangster identity that plagues their social class. This is accomplished through the redefining of negative characteristics assigned by the majority class. In most cases, these redefinitions include pointing to the majority class as the real holders of these negative characteristics. The redefining of these ?gangster-like? images through hip-hop lyrics helps to reconstruct the gangster identity by questioning ?gangster-like? behaviors and which social class actually has these behaviors. So the question presented is: Who exactly are the gangsters?
Works Cited / Discography
About the AuthorNick Niesen
Joined: April 29th, 2015
Articles Posted: 33,847
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