Music, in its dictionary definition, can be defined as vocal or instrumental sounds combined in such a manner as which to form a harmony. Yet, in its form of elaborate art, music has the power to evoke an underlying emotion in its listener while embracing them within a culture of its own. Throughout my life, music, in its ever-changing ness, has remained constant in leading me through numerous cultures, while maintaining itself as a universal language. Growing up in a Brazilian household, the sounds of Bossanova, Samba, and the infamous Funk Carioca encompassed the walls of my home, as I embraced my Brazilian heritage. Duos such as Cidinho and Doca as well as the infamous group, Bonde do Tigrão, were influential in my development of music as they explored the innovations of the drum machine, known as the “tamporzão”. With a basis on Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments, Brazilian MCs used their unique sounds in order to cover topics of sex, drugs, and money while being faced with the marginalization of the middle and upper class. In being a form of genuine expression of the severe social issues that burden both the poor and the black people within Brazil, I was able to share the experience of the pressures of Brazilian society amongst the people of my country.
Beginning with the culture and sound of Brazil’s finest genres, and continuing on with the establishment of Rap and Hip-hop culture in the United States, music has altered my perspective as I moved to America. The exploration of the different melodies and harmonies has allowed me to compare the meanings behind American rap music to the Funk Carioca that I grew familiar with. The introduction of rap music into my life expanded my knowledge of a different form of emotional expression in which I was able to view black music and culture as a parallel to my own personal culture and heritage. Hip-Hop culture, originating in New York’s South Bronx, emerged its sound through the innovative technique of stretching a song’s drum break and the introduction to the concept of breakdance. As a culture, Hip-Hop was made up of rhythmic music, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and MCs; all of which were defined and embraced by young, urban African Americans, seeking a sense of identity. In becoming the defining soundtrack of the streets, hip-hop began by embodying the resilience of the poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect that occurred within the Bronx in the 1970s.
Hip-hop was introduced to my life through the form of the infamous album “Straight Outta Compton”, in which rappers such as Ice Cube and Dr.Dre expressed their emotions about living in a poverty struck a neighborhood in California. With no such knowledge of the hardships faced with living in Compton, music gave me the privilege of opening my ears to an experience of a lifestyle that was unheard of in my musical world. Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G, Eminem, Nas, and Jay-Z are among some of the most influential artists in the music business today, as they built a musical empire that reinvented the sound of Hip-Hop music. Within the mainstreaming of Rap and Hip-Hop in the 21st century, my fascination for the genre of music evolved through the introduction of the newest rappers of today's generation. Rappers such as Kendrick Lamar followed in the shadow of the members of the N.W.As well as the infamous Tupac Shakur, use rap music as an outlet for continuous expression on issues pertaining to politics, gender, and most importantly race in America today. With a basis on Notorious B.I.G’s method of storytelling, Lamar paints a picture through his undeniable talent within the cadence and captivation of his music. In his most popular song, “m.A.A.d City”, Lamar uses a growling shout-along lyric of “yawk,yawk,yawk,yawk” to mark the first significant change in beats within the song.
With such numerous changes in the rhythmic beat within one song, the roller coaster of emotions within Lamar’s life is apparent. His prominent use of a series of storytelling methods within his music served as a guide in his life as a young black man in America. In listening to his music, I was able to listen to the poverty, danger, and drugs that a young black man is exposed to while growing up in places like Compton, The Bronx, and the South side of Chicago. In listening to Kendrick Lamar’s depiction of traumatic experiences, such as witnessing a gangbanger at the age of 9 with “his brains blown out at the same burger stand where beep hang out”, he allows the listener to share the same experience. Lamar views his voice as an instrument as he strings the song along with his controversial rhymes. The sounds of Kendrick Lamar, among others in the everlasting rap game, cannot ultimately be defined based on sound, as it explores a diverse range of raw emotions. Throughout its history, Hip-hop and rap music has influenced many through their power of intellectually stimulating messages. Rap, stemming from a culture that has often been at war against political, social, and economic oppressions, has earned its rightful position within society by providing a voice for the unrepresented. In allowing me to engage within the culture of the streets, Rap music provided me an outlet in which I could relate my personal culture to one unfamiliar to me. Much like rap, Funk Carioca originated within the slums of Brazil, as young, mostly black, people viewed it as an outlet for their frustrations with society. A kind of music that was only played at parties, most commonly known as “baile funk”, quickly, like rap, became mainstream.
The use of profanity and misogyny within both types of music, though they are in two different languages, allows me to create parallels between both of the countries that I identify with. Rap music, in its importance to me personally, has allowed me to engage in a movement in which the black culture, in its roots, is celebrated. The status of Hip-Hop and rap as black music amplifies the components that have been bound together by the shared environment in which they evolved. From the pioneering DJs of its origin to the groundbreaking rise of MCs, Hip-hop and rap culture have been influential in the development of both black culture as well as white culture. The dictation of distinct fashion trends along with the fuel for social change became mainstream as it provided Black Americans an outlet in which to express their frustrations while also feeding the appetite for vicarious thrills of White Americans. The status of Hip-Hop and Rap music within the realm of black music alters my experience with listening to music as it incorporates and glamorizes criminality and the stereotype of how a black person in America should act. The hype of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry, for example, ultimately shadowed the murders of both Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G, two of the most influential rappers in history, and added to the glamorization of criminality within rap music. Being a genre of music that has often found itself containing a negative connotation, the history of Rap and Hip-Hop in Black music has led me to develop a better understanding of the frustrations and hardships that rappers rap about. Music is considered a powerful entity in connecting numerous cultures as it allows one to explore the unexplorable. The raw emotions encompassed within distinct rhymes and rhythms create an individualized form of free expression. Music has been used as a form of artistic expression since its date of origin and will continue to do so for as long as the rap game exists. Hip-hop and rap have provided a medium in which the frustrated youth can combat the injustices that occur within society. 21st-century rappers including Travis Scott, Drake, and 21 Savage will continue to uphold the musical empire that has been built by its influential founders. Music, especially black music, will remain a constant in my life as it is shaped by the environment around me.