Much of the era's music was not only a platform to boast of one's lyrical skills, but also an area to squash beef between feuding urbanites through dance and artwork as well as a rhythmic laundry list of a community's struggles and shortcomings.
By the mid 80s, the art, dance, culture, language, fashion and swagger of hip hop began to pervade areas of the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia. As hip hop began to be embraced and developed outside of the U.S., hip hop was experiencing its own evolution within the States. As tensions swelled in America's cities, hip hop's subject matter often times reflected the increasing ravages of urban poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, street violence, and gang rivalries.
The late 1980s saw the emergence of East and West coast rivalries through gangsta rap. After the popularity of artists like the Los Angeles-based group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude) and albums like Dr. Dre's The Chronic in 1992, gangsta rap became the most commercially lucrative sub-genre of hip-hop.
The subject matter inherent in gangsta rap caused a great deal of controversy and criticism from both right wing and left wing commentators, and religious leaders, with accusations of spreading homophobia, violence, profanity, promiscuity, misogyny, racism, and materialism.
Gangsta rappers often defend themselves by claiming that they are describing the reality of inner-city life, and that they are only adopting a character, like an actor playing a role, that may not necessarily reflect a life that they promote. Gone were the party anthems that promoted dance battles.
Gangsta rap ushered in a raw perspective on what was happening on America's streets. Spike Lee, in his satirical film Bamboozled, criticized the genre and compared it to black minstrel shows and blackface performances, in which performers – both black and white – were made up to look African American and acted in a stereotypically uncultured and ignorant manner for the entertainment of white audiences. Since then, former gangsta rap artists like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dog have promoted peace on the streets and have moved toward a more pop-friendly mainstream sound.
Just as rock, pop and soul experienced an evolution, hip hop continued to reflect the changing lives and audiences it spoke to through the 90s. While hip hop still talks of the griminess of the streets, those lyrics are countered by a manifesto of ‘the good life.' For many of today's rappers, gone are the days of public housing and public assistance.
They now pop (and bath in) Cristal champagne, wear iced out jewelry, drive fully-loaded sports utility vehicles, and spend evenings with multiple double-jointed Victoria Secret models that might have never given them the time of day prior to their riches. While hip hop music now appeals to a broader demographic, media critics argue that socially and politically conscious hip hop has long been disregarded by mainstream
America in favor of more commercialized gangsta rap and bling bling culture.
Many artists who attempt to reflect what they believe to be the original elements of the culture are now considered to be alternative/underground hip hop artists. Artists and groups like Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dilated Peoples, Dead Prez, Blackalicious, and Jurassic 5 are working to champion the original elements of hip hop like lyrical excellence and try to emphasize messages of unity and activism instead of violence, material wealth, and misogyny.
As hip hop reigns as a global phenomenon, it is increasingly the language of youth. Much of the
Third World has adopted it as a means of resistance and expression. Recent documentaries like East of Havana have chronicled the use of rap and hip hop as a voice of oppressed peoples.
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