Essay on Hip Hop Culture

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When dealing with the stereotypes of African American society, it is very difficult to fathom how the average American (or Caucasian American) can understand. Yet, they seem to portray this through hip-hop. Many know that there is an enormous amount of diversity within the hip-hop industry, but it has always belonged to the African American community. Many sources indicate that white Americans are becoming more predominant in the hip-hop industry. As surprising as this may seem, it is something that is occurring at this very moment. Macklemore made it a point to talk about winning an award over the more famous artist Kendrick Lamar. He apologizes because as a white artist in hip hop, he felt that he was almost “robbing” Lamar of this award that he deserved as well. Hip-hop was born from the essence of African American culture. This is an essential part of hip-hop because it allows artists to stay true to the roots of hip-hop culture. This, however, is no longer a factor when the artists are being chosen and given awards. It is not about the authenticity of the music and being able to relate anymore, but more so about the image of the artists. Hip-hop culture, including but not limited to appearance, speech, and experience, is being obscured and “taken over” by white Americans.

There has been recent controversy about the origin of hip-hop. Keys argues that hip-hop stretches back to the African bardic tradition (Rodriquez, 649). Sociologist Paul Gilroy agrees that African traditions are important to hip-hop but argues that hip-hop emerged out of the culture of the black Atlantic more generally (Rodriquez, 649). Fricke and Ahearn make the case that rival gangs throwing block parties in the South Bronx was the catalyst for hip hop (Rodriquez, 649). These points are not certain and have not been proven, but the one major factor that these claims have is that the origin of hip hop did, in fact, come from the African American community. Being a predominantly black culture is important to the hip-hop community because this is the foundation from which they came. This is their form of expression and livelihood. It is obscure, however, how the Caucasian community still has a tendency to exploit the culture of expression for African American people.

In history, many African American citizens have been criticized for their way of expression. There have been instances where white people have covered their faces with shoe polish to “mimic” the skin color of black people. They also tried to sing like African Americans did and create songs about the life they presumed they lived. This in itself is a prime example of how whites were exploiting the African American culture. As years passed, the white culture began to see what the essence of African American society was made of. To narrow in, hip hop was a huge thing. However, several people began to notice that as big as it was, it was already on the verge of being overtaken by the white community. They copied the baggy clothes they wore, to the talk about drugs and gang affiliations (regardless of whether they were in a gang or doing drugs or not). “White folks take everything from us…”, says Paul Mooney from Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York, New York. (Clift) As a comedian, this may not seem like this is a serious statement but Mooney is very passionate about the topic. He also stated that he felt it was a “stab in the back” to black people when they try to excel in the things that their culture creates but receive no credit for these accomplishments. But when white Americans do the exact same thing, they are noticed and often times honored. This is an issue when it comes to excelling for the African American culture because it becomes harder to move up in society when the predominant race is overruling things that they have created within their society. It is becoming a typical part of society to let white culture in and “steal” things that African American people have created.

Another huge issue that is evident in the hip-hop culture when it comes to cultural appropriation is its appearance in modern society. This seems to be shown all throughout music videos. One article addresses how Australian hip-hop artist Iggy Azalea uses her image as a female hip-hop artist to portray glitz and glamor. While she uses her image to advantage in her music, African American female artists like Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim have to come up from the nappyhead stereotype that they often receive. These women receive so much grief from the industry because of the way they portray their sex appeal in their music. However, when Azalea does this in her music it is often overlooked. This, in many ways, shows how white artists are privileged in the hip-hop game. The looks of an artist often depict how people think of the artists and their music, not necessarily what the artists are trying to portray within their music. Her existence in hip-hop culture weighs heavily on her being a white female in the industry. She is one of many artists that get to see the culture evolve because of the white race. Some white artists also have to learn to code-switch and adapt to hip-hop culture in order to understand the actual concepts that African American citizens go through. She also uses language or African American English (AAE) to become more involved with the African American community. This gives white artists the supremacy to move higher up in the hip-hop game. They are privileged and are allowed the ability to speak the slang African Americans speak to appeal to their audiences. It is already hard enough for black artists to make it successfully in the industry now. With white artists ruling the scene, it is making the hip hop culture harder to obtain true authenticity of the culture.

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Authenticity is a great problem when talking about the lyrical standpoint of white artists. Many artists rap about being from “the hood” or “the streets”, but are not really a part of this culture. It is hard for people to become fully acquainted with the way that these artists deliver their messages. There is no real authenticity that can be associated with the messages that are in their lyrics. Many African Americans have had brutal run-ins with the cops, gang-affiliated accidents, or horrible crises. Whereas white people have had run-ins that are less severe. The credibility of the white community in hip-hop is not there because many of the artists started off with some type of privilege. Justin, a hip-hop DJ, and producer, told Rodriquez in “Color-Blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop”, he states, “All you have is your mom’s record collection and a turntable, so that becomes your only outlet, so you take that…” (Rodriquez, 657). This shows the true authenticity of hip-hop culture. It goes back all the way to the adversity that African American people face. It is hard to put complete trust in a Caucasian lyricist because they are not one hundred percent going through the same experiences. Authenticity is a major factor when it comes to the hip-hop community. Not every white artist hides their authenticity when developing their craft. Eminem, for example, has been influential in the hip-hop community. He has affected the hip-hop culture to an extent because of the way he chose to influence the community. He was also backed by his producer Dr. Dre. It is evident even within this example that the influences (positive or negative) were taken from the African American artists. The art of hip hop for white artists was built solely off of the foundation in which African American artists are displaying originality. Although this notion seems to be one that should be shared among all races, blacks feel as though the creativity and foundation of their craft are being tweaked by the white culture.

Within the hip-hop culture, white kids/cultures use more hip-hop for entertainment purposes. This is an important piece when addressing “who does hip hop belong?” because when fully analyzing hip hop, it is not always about the entertainment. The ventilation piece is very important within itself because it allows the artist and the audience to express themselves. In the article, ‘‘First things first, I’m the most real’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip-hop persona of Iggy Azalea’, it states, “Iggy uses blackness to highlight her own whiteness.” (Eberhardt and Freeman, 318). This quote allows the readers to understand that Iggy uses the black culture to connect with her audience and to make it evident that she is a white rapper. This method is more so to validate the fact that she is a white artist and she is using the slang terminology the African American artists use to connect with their audiences. Azalea uses her “persona to try and show what is desirable and desired of the African American female…” (Eberhardt and Freeman, 320). Nonetheless, she never had to deal with the hardships that these types of women face. When completely analyzing this situation, it is safe to say that these types of artists use what they are given (i.e., privilege) to move forward with their music. Whereas blacks have to struggle to get to better privilege. Even then, it is hard for them to earn this type of honor. It is seen through these many incidents that the hip-hop movement began and so rightfully should stay a genre that speaks for the misfortunes of blacks. It was this way many years ago in history and should be able to appeal to all citizens, but stay within the predominantly black “mind frame”,

Some may argue that there is a good mix of races in the hip-hop community, and that is the way it should be. There are many white rappers that can appeal to society because they too have gone through the same sort of things. It is good to have a sufficient amount of diversity to keep a genre alive. It creates a sense of belonging and equality when we know that there are white citizens that appeal to the lifestyle that a black person is going through. There is also room “…for enhanced cross-ethnic understanding and acceptance.” (Cutler, 238). This is a very important idea, but when evaluating the process and recognition of where hip-hop culture began it is important to know that hip-hop was built on a foundation that gave African American people the ability to express themselves and reach out to others. “Racial categories like ‘White’ and ‘Black’ are still very important ways that people in the US identify themselves and others.” (Cutler, 238). Looking at the situation from this perspective allows society to embrace the differences that are occurring within our culture, but also helps us understand that there are many ways that races differentiate themselves from others. It is vital to remember that the root and/or foundation of the entire hip-hop genre was started by African American people and is quite authentic within its very nature. When addressing whether hip hop is an art that should be publicly addressed as belonging to the African American community, there is much validity to say that it should. This craft has always been a part of the black culture and should be seen as such. The starting point of this genre came from the African American community. It is very wise and important to look at the span of history and make out the most effective judgments based on that alone. Hip-hop does belong to the African American community because they are the history of the entire genre. You will find that there are more African American citizens that came out and embraced the culture and made hip hop their own. White people later came along to embrace the fact that this was a thing. They, as J. Cole states in his song “Fire Squad”, have “snatched the sound”. The industry is becoming predominantly white and changing the sound of hip-hop. While that may seem like not a big deal to some people, it is huge to the African American culture. They see this as a moment where the genre that their roots have been encompassed by is no longer what it used to be. It becomes hard for black people to express themselves because the genre no longer feels authentic to them.

There are many ways one could see hip-hop culture. The light of the story; is that there is a sense of belonging that white America is yearning for. They find it difficult to really be a part of the entire system of hip hop so they try to “mimic” what they believe African Americans feel, think, or even mean at this point in time. Authenticity is what makes the rapper at the end of every beat or lyric. White communities do not have the same authenticity as black people because of the simple fact that more of them are privileged. Although this is not always the case, this goes for the majority of white communities. Iggy Azalea is one artist that is a prime example of this culture in white communities. She uses profound thought to show her audience that she is a beautiful white woman in the game of hip-hop. While that all may be dandy and boosts up her career, African American artists are trying hard to give off validation for looking like supermodels instead of feeling like hoes. With the privilege that comes with white artists, there is a point in the music industry where they need not dress in baggy clothes or paint their faces with shoe polish. They receive privilege which gives them the upper hand in many situations. White communities no longer show the authenticity that black communities do. For white people literally have gotten to the point they have in hip hop because blacks have “put them on to the game”. In every scenario, almost every white person in the industry has come up due to some black help. From Iggy Azalea to Eminem; in the end, the generalization because of this group will be “white people have snatched the sound”. Hip-hop belongs to African Americans based solely on history, passion, and the craftiness of the art.

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