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Hip Hops Influences on Society: Informative Essay

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In 1973, Hip-hop grew out of the South Bronx ruins when DJ Kool Herc developed the breakbeat, a distinguishing feature of hip-hop, which highlights the bridge of the song over tedious parts. As Kool Herc’s breakbeat gained traction, other artists took notice, two of these being Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Eventually, these three together would be known as the “Founding Fathers,” and with the help of other hip-hop influences, created what would be known as hip-hop. As time moved forward, hip-hop slowly became ingrained in the culture, developing into a form of resistance to the subjugation of working-class African Americans in urban centers. Mostly, but not exclusively geared towards African Americans, hip-hop in its early, “most real” time could act as a unifying voice for social, economic, and political issues. Tricia Rose, the author of “The Hip-hop Wars” talks about these early times of hip-hop in her chapter, “Just Keeping it Real.” In this chapter, she says, “Just keeping it real, refers to talking openly about undesirable or hard-to-hear truths about black urban street life.” Additionally, hip-hop supporters make the “just keeping it real” argument: “in response to criticism that hip-hop lyrics are contributing to negative social conditions: encouraging violence, representing the criminal life, supporting sexism and homophobia” (Rose). However, Rose points out that the problem with making such a stance is that it denies the immense corporate influence on hip-hop’s storytelling. She explains that hip-hop defenders do not recognize the negative impact that corporate record companies have on the industry. She also mentions that as a result of the commercialization of hip-hop, rappers’ stories reflecting the “fullness of black life, humanity, and depth of perspective do not turn a profit the way stories of ghetto street criminality and excess do.” In this paper, I will prove that the commercialization of hip-hop has undoubtedly moved it into a stereotyped genre, advancing the caricatures of gangstas, pimps, and hoes. However, as illustrated in the chapter, “Just Keeping it Real” and in the works of numerous artists, contributable investments made in the principle of “Just Keeping it Real,” and the backbone of hip-hop since its origination, can steer hip-hop towards a more beneficial medium for hip-hops audience.

To best explain hip-hop’s, “just keeping it real” ideal, I analyzed examples of original hip-hop songs. One of the songs that showcase this idea is “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This song was arguably one of, if not the first, hip-hop song to talk about social and political issues that were occurring in society. It gave its audience members a realistic representation of the Black Urban experience in America at the time. In the song, Flash says, “God is smiling on you, but he’s frowning too because only God knows what you’ll go through. You’ll grow in the ghetto living second-rate, and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate.” These lyrics manifest the reality of Blacks living in poor communities in the early Reagan years treated as second-class citizens. In a voice of these social and political issues, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were “just keeping it real.” After the creation of this song, hip-hop’s platform was about speaking “hard-to-hear truths” that people in society needed to hear.

“Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. is another song that proves that “just keeping it real” was ingrained in hip-hop’s origins. By talking about street life, “Straight Outta Compton” voiced hard-to-hear truths that members of society could relate to. For example, Ice Cube says, “Boy, you can’t fuck with me, so when I’m in your neighborhood, you better duck.” In this way, Ice Cube is speaking on the fact that drive-by shootings are too common in Los Angeles, and the victims were mainly bystanders who failed to get out of the way. Again, this example is similar to the one in “The Message” in that N.W.A. is simply voicing their realities. While critics may say N.W.A. promotes violence, in reality, they just keep it real in portraying the dangers of gangster life. They serve as a powerful voice for the less-represented African American people. Thus, both songs provide excellent frameworks for understanding the “keeping it real” ideal established in hip-hop’s origins.

As hip-hop became commercialized, the majority of the content put out became controlled by the corporate powers, which affected the material. Corporations were more worried about making money, instead of hip-hop’s positive cultural impact. According to Rose, corporate powers want to sell records and help artists that both “sell as many copies as possible and what won’t cause too much negative attention, friction, or resistance from society and government.” An additional effect of this is that hip-hop perpetuated stereotypes of violence, and misogyny, along with other demeaning factors while all the while making these seem okay to its audience members. Thus, “just keeping it real” had become a race to replicate the stereotypes affecting the industry, not in an attempt to keep it real, but to comply with models of industry success. Furthermore, the principle of authenticity was diverted, changing hip-hop from a powerful, meaningful platform to one focused primarily on money.

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50 Cent is one artist that was affected by commercial appeal and seemed to do whatever it took to attain wealth. In his song, P.I.M.P. 50 Cent says, “I ain’t that nigga tryin’ to holla ’cause I want some head, I’m that nigga tryin’ to holla ’cause I want some bread.” Clearly and explicitly, 50 Cent makes a sexist remark while saying he only cares about money. I cannot say for definite that this may be 50 Cent “just keeping it real,” but this just goes to show that the commercialization of hip-hop undoubtedly advanced the stereotypes of gangstas, pimps, and hoes. A more recent song that proves this point is 6ix9ine’s, Gummo. Often characterized for his outspokenness of the gang he is a part of, NineTrey gang, 6ix9ine is undoubtedly a factor in the commercialization of hip-hop. With lyrics like, “Put my dick in her backbone, I pass her to my bro” and “I’ ma fuck her, then I dash home, to the cash, ho” inevitably, 6ix9ine does not care about the negative impacts of his words, but instead cares about the money and fame that comes along with it. His lyrics are clearly both sexist and demeaning towards women. In essence, this proves that the commercialization of hip-hop altered what “just keeping it real” means. Consequently, hip-hop’s supporters are not provided with any meaningful content to improve their values in life.

Undoubtedly, the commercialization of hip-hop distorted and exaggerated the use of “just keeping it real” all while fueling the stereotypes of the gangsta, pimp, and hoe. However, the commercialization did not affect every artist, and there is plenty of hope for hip-hop to revert to its roots. Many artists incorporated the “just keeping it real” motto in their music content, but few artists were able to be heard through the noise of the commercial powers.

Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” was one song that progressed through this barrier. “The Blacker the Berry” is a song that deals with racialized self-hatred, an aspect that has always been part of the African American experience. The lyrics further emphasize this: Kendrick says, “I’m African-American, I’m African, I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village.” Kendrick explores what it means to be black in today’s society, saying that just as the dark side of the moon is never lit up, the real face of black culture is not visible in today’s America. While Kendrick Lamar is not a perfect artist when it comes to “keeping it real” all the time, this example goes to show that there are songs that still comply with “just keeping it real” and offer reflective content that is meaningful to the hip-hop audience.

Furthermore, in Kanye West’s song “Gorgeous” he describes the ugly nature of social injustice in America, ironically calling the nation “gorgeous” because of it. In a time when hip-hop seemed to be dominated exclusively by economic powers that streamlined violent, misogynistic, and sexist content, Kanye proves that he did not always become victimized by those pressures. Instead, what Kanye did was go against the grain, and he still does to this day. In the time of commercialization, Kanye and Kendrick demonstrate the truth of “just keeping it real” and pleasure us supporters in knowing that hip-hop still maintains some of its original roots.

In conclusion, the commercialization of hip-hop has had detrimental effects on the genre’s “just keeping it real” ideal. But as shown in some songs created by Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and others, hip-hop can be steered back towards its founding ideal, which gave it authenticity in the music world in the first place. In light of this, this change is not accomplishable without some significant investments by the contributors in the hip-hop music industry and the audiences that listen to its content. Best put by Rose, 'We can turn the tide by expanding our contributions in the principle of telling hard-to-hear undesirable truths that underwrite “keeping it real” to emphasize a full exploration of the historical and contemporary realities of economic, social, and political oppression that have created a definition of realness as equivalent to black criminality and street culture.” Surely, with the help of key players that help promote the notion of “just keeping it real,” along with an informed audience that is aware of the destruction of commercialization on hip-hop’s content, detachment from “gangsta” fictions and subsequent attachment to “realness” can undoubtedly be, once again, an ordinary reality in the hip-hop scene.

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Hip Hops Influences on Society: Informative Essay. (2023, November 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/hip-hops-influences-on-society-informative-essay/
“Hip Hops Influences on Society: Informative Essay.” Edubirdie, 20 Nov. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/hip-hops-influences-on-society-informative-essay/
Hip Hops Influences on Society: Informative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/hip-hops-influences-on-society-informative-essay/> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
Hip Hops Influences on Society: Informative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 20 [cited 2024 Feb 22]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/hip-hops-influences-on-society-informative-essay/
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