What does it profit
a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? This is the question faced
by the current hip hop artist. As defined by Cheryl L. Keyes, the author of
the book Rap Music and Street Consciousness, "Hip Hop is an urban youth
arts movement comprised of graffiti, emceeing, disc jockeying, and breakdancing;
a street attitude displayed through gestures, stylized dress, and language"
(1). Hip hop was originally birthed in the Bronx during the early 70’s to stop
gang violence. Afrika Bambaataa, deemed the "godfather of hip hop,"
was the first to set up artistic battles as an alternative to violent disputes.
Bambaataa himself was a Black Spade Gangster, yet he did this all for the benefit
of the community. Even though there were pushers and thugs present at the hip
hop park jams, it was all about positivity and having fun.
Today the hip
hop scene is almost the complete opposite. Artists are claiming to be thugs
and gangsters; disrespecting women, glorifying violence, and promoting drug
use in their lyrics and videos. This trend has led to too much media glamorization
of thugs and gangsters in hip hop music. When someone is known to listen to
hip hop, the average "adult" assumes the person listens to the mainstream
thug artists. Most people do not realize there is another type of hip hop available
that does not get media attention. A kind of hip hop where the rappers do not
pretend to be thugs. Where the rappers recite rhymes intelligently and make
you think about what they are saying. This kind of hip hop is unknown to most
people. Instead the thug image has been ingrained into people’s minds as to
what people believe hip hop is.
According to the
International Recording Industry hip hop is the fastest rising music market.
In addition to that the Recording Industry Association of America already ranks
hip hop as the second most popular form of music. Given these statistics there
is no doubt that hip hop is big a part of American culture. However the thug
image is not hip hop. In a recent Internet interview, DJ Lord Ron a respected
DJ and producer, discredits the thug image in hip hop.
the validation in being a hooligan, a gangster, a mugger?..It’z a wack validation
because REAL thugs move in silence and any real street person who represents
being from the streets respects that code of silence na mean. Now, when I see
or hear these artists claiming to be thugs. I see nothing but followers of a
trend just for the dollar bill na mean. I even heard the bubble gum group ‘B2k’
use the word ‘Thug’… Do you really think these artists are real thugs?…A
person can be anything they want to be in this society and to blame others for
your actions of being this thug is straight up wack yo!… America is in
love with violence & sex it does sell but there are many other topics that
these rappers can write about."
DJ Lord Ron starts
out by saying that real thugs do not go out and boast about the things they
do. The real thugs keep it in the street. For a real thug to go on an album
and boast about the things they have done would basically serve as a confession
and would lead to them going to jail. Lord Ron states that the "thug"
image is being followed because it is the current trend; it is what is selling.
The people who are buying into the thug image do not realize the motives behind
these artists is strictly money. The consumers buy into the thug image as reality.
The people who listen to that music begin to think that it is acceptable to
do the things that are being talked about in the songs. Listening to constant
talk about violence and drugs does affect people. Here is an example of what
these people are listening to.
The following lyrics
are from one of the more popular rappers Eminem, from his song "Killing"
from the Marshall Mathers LP, You faggots keep eggin me on til I have
you at knifepoint, then you beg me to stop? Shut up! Give me your hands and
feet I said shut up when I’m talkin to you You hear me? Answer Me? Or I’ma kill
This violent excerpt
is just one of the many examples from Eminem. Eminem clearly relies on shock
value to get attention. Another popular "thug rapper" is 50 Cent,
here is the chorus to his hit song "In Da Club".
You can find
me in the club bottle full of bub. Look mami I got the X if you into taking
drugs I’m into having sex, I aint into makin love. So come give me a hug if
you into getting rubbed.
This song talks
about taking drugs and having sex as everyday things. Kids are going around
singing this chorus as casually as if they were singing the alphabet. 50 Cent
is what is wrong with hip hop today, almost like a microcosm of what’s wrong
with what the general public see as hip hop today. 50 Cent started off as a
reasonably talented lyricist. Then he got shot. This provided the media with
a marketing spark and had him touted as the next Tupac. Now it is almost impossible
to watch music television without seeing 50 Cent promoted in some way. Rappers
such as Eminem and 50 Cent have taken a firm control over mainstream hip hop.
However, some hip hop artists are doing what they can to make a positive difference.
One example is the group Blackalicious, which consists of members Gift of Gab
and Chief Excel. Gift of Gab addresses the thug scene in the following excerpt
from the song "Shallow Days".
But music does
reflect life and kids look up to what you’re portraying and mimic what you act
like. Its time for a new day an era in rap, conscious styles, makin’ them aware
of the happenings but their ears seem more steered towards self-annihilation
so then they might laugh and write this off, like I’m out here just blowing
wind, maybe label us soft or unreal, something they can’t feel, while they keep
yelling murder murder murder, kill kill kill.
The Gift of Gab
starts out by trying to reach the thug rappers and make them realize that kids
look up to them and mimic the things they do. He wants to start a new era in
rap with socially conscious lyrics. However, he knows what is going to happen,
he is going to be written off and the people will continue on with their ways.
To the mainstream audience the message of positivity is thrown into the "soft"
category. The mainstream audience labels music with positive messages as not
"real" when in fact the thug image is what is not real. A big part
of the thug image problem is the media such as MTV, BET and the radio. The media
is a money-making business and decides what is to be popular and who the next
superstar artist will be. The media outlets essentially spoon-feed society what
to listen to, this in turn shapes the product they are selling. If the media
only plays songs and videos with thugs and gangsters then the new artists coming
up will conform to these standards so that they can make it in the business.
artist that is struggling to survive day by day will naturally get desperate.
In this desperation
the artist will do anything for that recording contract which will end his struggles.
In the quest for the recording contract the artist will conform his talents
to what is popular so that he may be popular. This in turn leads to an influx
of thug and gangster copycats. The solution to this cycle is in the power of
the fan. The radio and television stations need a wake up call. The reason the
stations keep playing the same thug music is because they keep getting bombarded
by requests from kids. The fans of good music and people who care about the
youth must call in to their radio and television stations and demand quality
music. If enough people call in the media will listen. The only problem with
this solution is that a campaign must be made in order to really pull it off.
Although it will take lots of organization a successful campaign is possible.
In the words of the famous social scientist
Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
The media helps
shape the hip hop artist but the individual artist still holds some responsibility
for the current state of hip hop. The mainstream artist has been using the same
thug cliché for several years. The repeated use of this formula has cut
off the creativity that once drove the hip hop culture. Hip hop had always been
about trying new things before other people could think of it. Hip hop emphasized
creativity. Now as long as this formula is selling nobody is going to change.
Furthermore, hip hop is losing soldiers. The pressure for the real hip hop artist
to sell out to the masses has never been higher. To illustrate this point is
Krs One; a hip hop pioneer. Krs One was one of the most respected true hip hop
artists and several of his albums are considered by true hip hop fans as classics.
However he lost a lot of respect after working with mainstream artists such
as Puff Daddy. In an interview with ThaFormula.com, Krs One was asked about
his change of style that started in 1996, Krs responded with, "I have to
compete; this is the whole real issue. I may not be able to continue my legacy
as a classic Hip hop record maker. It’s like, either I get with the Neptunes
and let them produce a hit LP for me or … I don’t know… I am not being
Krs One fell victim
to the commercialization of hip hop by tailoring his style to appeal to the
masses. The reason for Krs One changing his style is money. Krs One noticed
that the less talented mainstream artists were making a lot more money and he
sacrificed his music to get a piece of that pie. This has happened to other
artists as well and most have been unsuccessful in crossing over to the mainstream.
The mainstream artists hold the biggest responsibility. What we need for them
to do is to make revolutionary changes using the power they wield with their
popularity, but as long as the money is being raked in it is doubtful this will
What needs to happen
is to get more grassroots artists and organizations striving towards creativity
instead of record sales. The way for this to happen is to support these artists.
One way to support them is to simply spread the word about them. These artists
do not get media attention therefore it is up to the people to let the other
people know. Another step to support these artists is to stop downloading their
songs off the Internet. These artists need the record sales more than a platinum
selling artist does. Although the Internet allows these artists to gain exposure,
they also need to be supported financially by people buying the albums. The
financial desperation of some of these artists often leads them to adopting
a thug image to attain record sales.
There is no doubt
that America’s infatuation with sex and violence is also to blame for thug glorification.
The reason this image is being sold is because there is a big market for it.
As long as something is not illegal Corporate America will supply it. Society
as a whole has gotten used to this. In a recent survey people were asked if
they were offended by rap music, 70% of the people were not offended. Society
has been numbed and for the most part is not easily offended, but another reason
they are not offended is because they do not know the history of the hip hop
culture. If all the people surveyed knew the foundation of hip hop they would
be repulsed by what is happening to it. The people who are going out and purchasing
these multi-platinum thug artists’ albums must learn about the history of the
culture. Once the people know the foundation of hip hop they will come to realize
that what they had been purchasing is not quality music.
The change must
start with the people we need to decide how we want to be represented in the
media.. Corporate America will continue to do anything in their power to make
as much money as possible. The mainstream artists will continue to conform to
what corporate America wants them to do. It is the people that must say that
they have had enough. This is not just going to happen on its own it is going
to take a movement. There are several ways to get involved and the people can
start by visiting the forum at Anti-Thug.com. Here the people will find a medium
with which to discuss the issues that lie within the mainstream media. This
will allow the people to develop their foundation. In the words of DJ Lord Ron,
"I know my foundation, people, do you know yours?"