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Gabe Fernandez

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Hip Hop Hooray or No? An Analysis of Hip Hops Stigmas and their effect on the Genre
and its Surrounding Culture
In the summer of 1988, OShea Jackson, better known by his stage name, Ice Cube,
stepped into the Ruthless Records South Central Los Angeles-based recording studio to lay
down his part for N.W.As debut album, Straight Outta Compton. When he took his place in the
recording booth, Ice Cube looked at his producer, Eazy-E, in the other room and gave him a head
nod to start the beat in his headphones. A record scratch preceded the James Brown-sampled beat
to a song that filled the rappers ears. Ice Cube turned to the microphone and spit out the first
three words of his verse that became the songs title, Fuck tha Police. The ensuing verse that
the 19-year old hip hop artist would rap that day would be the subject of much controversy. To
Ice Cube, his verse in this song is simply a very angry representation of what his real-life
experiences were while living in Compton, California and his dealings with racist law
enforcement. As he states, the police are Fucking with [him] cause [hes] a teenager with a little
bit of gold and a pager searching [his] car, looking for the product thinking every nigga is selling
narcotics meaning that because he is an African-American with some expensive accessories, the
police assume that he is a drug dealer.
Unfortunately, many people did not see Ice Cubes lyrics as stories of his experiences of
racism in Compton. Instead, many people cried out about the extreme vulgarity of this music,
known as hip hop, and how it is detrimental to our society as a whole and dangerous to the
children who may hear this musics lyrics and feel the desire to emulate what these sort of lyrics
are speaking about. Those people then go on to demand for censorship of all kinds of rap music
and associate all rap with criminal activity, violence and vulgarity. In the end, enough support
backs this depiction of rap music to the point where the genre is no longer seen as music, but
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rather as a widespread social problem. Its at this point where a problem arises. This paper looks
to analyze how the negative perceptions of hip hop are not only very prevalent and very false,
but how they are also harming the genre of hip hop as a whole. This paper also attempts to look
at the larger perspective of this issue of how the negative perceptions also affect the culture
stereotypically associated with hip hop, that being low-income urban-based minorities.
While the aforementioned chain of events involving a public unfriendly to hip hop
appears to be nothing more than an eye-catching anecdote for the sake of a research paper
introduction, sadly, it is not. Every musical genre has some sort of generally uninformed stigma
attached to it and held by the general public and hip hop is no exception. However, the hip hop-
specific stigma greatly clouds the beauty of the genre to a degree not seen in other genres. As
long as hip hop continues to be clouded with images of gang violence, misogyny and general
debauchery, the genre as a whole will be forced into a niche market that represents only a small
percentage of the population of hip hop artists.
It does not help that mainstream media perpetuates these stereotypes to the fullest extent.
Sensationalizing and news tend to go hand in hand, especially in the case of television broadcast
news. News outlets immediately flock to the stories that would garner the most attention and
those stories usually revolve around a controversial topic or theme. This, according to Tai-Li
Wang, a professor at the National Taiwan University, is because of a tabloid culture that has
become of TV news as a result of ratings competition among news outlets (713). Wang also
mentions how this competition-bred sensationalism creates a news culture where reporters are no
more than news actors whose purposes are to personalize and dramatize the news more often
than they use officials and authority figures to support the legitimacy of their stories (711). One
may ask, what does this mean for the general, news-watching public? This means that TV news
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stations will push for very simple, attention-grabbing news stories to be the main focus of their
programs so that viewers will stay interested. These simple, attention grabbing news stories
include crime, accidents, disasters, and celebrities.
Just a simple look at the evening news will show examples of sensationalism behind hip
hop-related stories. For example, when a rapper is killed, local news stations do not celebrate his
life, but rather they talk about the violent nature of his lyrics and show clips of his music videos.
Whenever rappers, like Kanye West, make exuberant purchases, popular tabloid newspapers and
news programs all around the country are quick to publish what he buys on the front page,
making it their headlining stories. In todays media-driven society, these stories end up in front
of the faces of millions of people across the nation. To many of those people, these news stories
are the only forms of exposure they will ever have to hip hop. As a result, every rapper, or even
any person who talks rhythmically over a beat, is now associated with this faux hip hop culture
that is portrayed by mainstream media in a broad overgeneralization created by people ignorant
of hip hop. One prominent example of this overgeneralization can be seen during a Sean
Hannity interview of Karl Rove where Mr. Rove refers to the rapper Common, whose lyrical
content mostly focuses on uniting the African American community and being proud of its
African heritage, as a misogynist and a thug (Pierce). With incidents such as these added to the
sensationalism-based mantra on most television news networks, hip hop will continuously be
subjected to the comments of people who think like Mr. Rove and not by those who truly have
an understanding of the genre.
But what sort of different stereotypes are portrayed by mainstream media? In their article
titled Condom Use and Hip Hop Culture: The Case of Urban Young Men in New York City,
Muoz-Laboy et al discuss the stereotype of hip hop and sexually risky practices. According to
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their preliminary research, Muoz-Laboy et al found that hip hop culture, which they classify as
a system of symbols and urban practices that encompasses a range or constellation of related
forms of social and artistic expressions, such as clothing style, break-dancing, graffiti, and rap
music and video, is often blamed for fueling sexually risky practices among urban youths,
specifically, in the case of the study, the lack of condom use (1082). This negative association
effectively creates two very unfortunate outcomes: first, it makes it seem as though hip hop
promotes unsafe sex; second, the association causes the public to believe that urban youths are
sexual miscreants who purposely ignore safe sex practices because of the influence of hip hop.
Muoz-Laboy et al address how these associations are perpetuated by stating, Popular
discourses on young mens health risks often blame youths cultures such as the hip hop culture
for increased risk practices but do not critically examine how risk emerges in urban young mens
lives and what aspects of youths culture can be protective (1081). In other words, popular news
sources will be very quick to blame hip hop and those associated with it for the plagues of urban
youth, but will fail to realize that the connection between the two seems to be a correlation and
not causation.
Hip hop is also categorized by a sexual stereotype, more specifically that hip hops lyrics
are overly misogynistic and always portray women as sexual objects. In their article, The Words
Have Changed but the Ideology Remains the Same: Misogynistic Lyrics in Rap Music, Terri M.
Adams and Douglas B. Fuller boldly proclaim how misogyny has become a consistent topic in
rap music ever since the late nineteen-eighties. They define misogyny in rap as the promotion,
glamorization, support, humorization, justification or normalization of oppressive ideas about
women (940). Adams and Fuller add that this misogyny falls under one or more of six themes:
derogatory statements towards women about sexual relations, statements involving violent action
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towards women, references to women causing trouble for men, claiming women use men,
references to women being beneath men, and references of women as usable and easily discarded
beings. Jasmine N. Ross and Nicole M. Coleman take this idea one step further by stating how
modern hip hop has created a sexual script for women known as the Video Girl script which
portrays women as using their sexuality to gain fame and success within the entertainment
industry.
As with all other negative stereotypes of hip hop, associating hip hop with misogyny
obviously causes the general public to lose any sort of positive perception it may have previously
had for the genre. This negative stereotype also adds another unfortunate layer to the stereotypes
of hip hop. If hip hop is seen as inherently misogynist, then it effectively eliminates a place for
women in the genre. According to Jason D. Haugen, the association adds rapping to an already
decently-sized list of things that women can do to appear unladylike, a stigma typically seen as
negative according to Haugen (432). Haugen adds that hip hops association with misogyny
suppresses the idea that female identity can be prevalent in hip hop when there is clearly a strong
female presence in the genre including Mia X, Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, the Lady of Rage, and
Missy Elliot, just to name a few.
Sadly, the stereotypes and stigmas attached to hip hop do not stop at sexual deviance.
One of the most prominent stereotypes that is associated with hip hop is that the genre is violent
in nature. This stereotype has been prevalent since around the middle of the 1990s. In their
article, Black Youth Violence Has a Bad Rap, Jabari Mahiri and Erin Conner discuss this
stereotype by stating how numerous popular media outlets attempt to commercialize the content
of violence-based rap lyrics so much so that it seems as though all hip hop is violent in nature.
The authors cite UCLA urban studies professor, Peter McLaren, and his analysis of hip hop-
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focused articles in major news magazines, such as Newsweek, Time and U.S News & World
Report. McLaren found that the vast majority of these news articles reinforced a link between hip
hop and specific negative themes, one being violence. He explains how this is a result of U.S
culture thinking that violent rap is Strutting apocalyptically across the urban landscape because
many people believe that todays gangsta rappers have, for some listeners, become the new
black super heroes for children in urban communities (183).
Mahiri and Conner use McLarens description of U.S cultures perception of hip-hop
lyrics as a springboard of how these lyrics are affecting the same cultures perception of urban
youth. The way in which media and other general discourses portray to the public how hip hop
culture is dangerous and violent creates this perception that urban youth, especially urban youth
of color, are a part of this group that is known as the dangerous others rather than actual
human beings, according to Mahiri and Conner (121). The term dangerous others, coined and
defined by Noam Chomsky, comes from the idea that in any society there is a group of people
that fall into this category and are ultimately turned into the scapegoats of that society. Chomsky
furthers this idea by saying, The building up of scapegoats and fear is standard You dont
want people to look at the actual source of power; thats much too dangerous, so, therefore, you
need to have them blame or be frightened by someone else (Chomsky 134). In other words, its
easier and more convenient for a societys leaders to have this group so that if any problems arise
in that society, the blame is not put on them but rather on the scapegoated group. Through the
words of Dwight Conquergood, a connection can be made between Chomskys dangerous
others and urban youth. According to Conquergood, urban youth are inscribed by stigmatizing
images of social pathology in the official discourse of the media and the legal system as well as
in social welfare and public policy institutions (Conquergood 3). In summary, the idea that hip
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hop is violent in nature not only damages the perception of the genre, but also the perception of
people who live in urban communities as well.
Not only are these stereotypes harmful to those and what they portray, but they are also
grounded in falsehoods. Regarding the idea that hip hop promotes unsafe sex, this stigma can be
disproven through an article written by Mandy J. Hill et al, HIP HOP for HIV awareness: using
hip hop culture to promote community-level HIV prevention. In the article, Hill et al discuss the
charity organization Hip Hop for HIV Awareness. This organization provides free tickets to a hip
hop concert in exchange for completing sexual education sessions and an HIV test. The articles
findings suggest that an increase in knowledge and in self-awareness related to unsafe sex and its
consequences are the results of the brief, HIV-focused community-based intervention among
young adults that the charity provides. The idea of hip hop promoting unsafe sex can also be
disproven through an article written by Nghana Lewis. Lewis discusses how the hip hop
community reacted very appropriately when HIV/AIDS began to break out in the African
American community. From Magic Johnsons announcement of his diagnosis to rapper Eazy-Es
own announcement, the hip hop community realized that they could help spread awareness of the
diseases using their own resources. Rappers like Kanye West and Common are two examples
that Lewis cites, showing rappers who have begun their own relief work in order to bring
awareness and to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs (2-3).
This idea of hip hop promoting unsafe sex is further disproven in the article written by
Muoz-Laboy et al. The authors state that the real cause of unsafe sex practices in the hip hop-
associated society comes from the environment that the youths grows up in, not from the music
they listen to. This conclusion was drawn as a result of the authors study that asked whether
condom use, or a lack thereof, was directly connected to hip hop culture. As the studys
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conclusion indicates, they discovered that, in fact, while there was correlation between the two
events, they were not statistically associated with differences in their sense ofcondom-use
self-efficacy (Muoz-Laboy et al 1085). Muoz-Laboy et al expanded upon their findings by
saying that blaming the unsafe sex practices of urban youth on the music they are listening to
greatly harms any examination into what legitimately causes these different issues in urban
youth. Rather than being looked into, the causes of these issues are written off as simply being a
result of the inner city connection to hip hop (1084).
In Youth Perspectives on the Intersections of Violence, Gender and Hip-Hop, Diana
Hernandez, Hannah Weinstein and Miguel Muoz-Laboy address the accusation that hip hop
promotes violence. They state how, during their background research, interpersonal violence in
mostly urban or inner-city areas is a result of immediate situational factors. These factors include
a high volume of drugs, alcohol intake, and guns (588). This means that any factors that are
not directly related to any of these categories, including hip hop, are most likely not the cause of
inner city violence. The authors add that hip-hop is simply an artful articulation of the everyday
experiences of growing up in violent urban neighborhoods as opposed to being violent for the
sake of being violent (589). Hip hop does not cause violence, but rather it depicts scenes in
which violence is already present. In his article, Culture, Rap Music, Bitch and the
Development of the Censorship Frame, Christopher J. Schneider blames hip hops violent
image on informal state-sponsored censorship of rap music during the 1980s and 1990s that
sought to police any sort of rap music. The censorship established the idea that hip hop was not
truly a form of art, but rather a widespread social disease (37). Additionally, these state-
sponsored censorships made a concerted effort to selectively choose hip hop lyrics that discussed
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violence and make them as widely known as possible so that the general public would demonize
the entire genre while being exposed to a small percentage of what hip hop really is.
Schneider also speaks about the misogynist label attached to hip hop in his article. He
discusses how, while it is unfortunate, misogyny is part of the dominant cultural framework
due to the United States ongoing patriarchal society. Sadly, almost every genre of music played
and listened to today contains at least some form of misogyny. Schneider adds that for hip hop to
be especially demonized for being misogynistic is an insult to the genre and to those who make
hip hop music; the accusation appears to be nothing more than a faulty excuse to make the genre
appear as horrible as possible to the public.
Even considering all of these refutations of the numerous hip hop stereotypes, it is Mahiri
and Conner that make the most important point that could be made to counter any generalization:
these hip hop songs that have violent lyrics are not indicative of the whole genre (122). As
almost all other articles have touched upon, the type of hip hop that conveniently falls into most
negative stereotypes of the genre is perpetuated by popular media and other discourses.
However, only one type of hip hop is actually specified in almost every single article that
discusses this subject. That specific type of hip hop is known as gangsta rap. Haugen defines
gangsta rap music as differentiable from other rap music in that gangsta rap makes use of
images of urban life that are often associated with crime. He adds that the imagery of gangsta
rap includes the selling and using of illegal drugs, firearms and their use on other people; various
sorts of crime (murder, armed robbery, pimping, etc.); and what might be regarded in some
circles as promiscuous sex and that while most of these things are typically not confined to the
inner city or ghetto in the real world, gangsta narratives usually are (431). Basically, he
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means that this rap music depicts gangsta images in gangsta territories while no other forms
of hip hop really do.
With just one look at Haugens definition, it is no wonder that someone could think all of
hip hop is violent and misogynistic if their only exposure to it is the subgenre of gangsta rap.
Violent imagery fills the lyrics and themes of these songs making gangsta rap a convenient target
for those who want to claim that the whole genre of hip hop is bad. What unfortunately happens
is that all of these articles, specifically the ones that argue how hip hop is harmful to society,
mention gangsta rap in their introductions without really defining what the subgenre entails but
only refer to the genre as rap for the rest of the article. The obvious issue with this is that,
without specifying gangsta rap, the article runs the risk, intended or otherwise, of giving the
reader the impression that they are referring to rap as a whole genre instead of that one particular
subgenre.
But even if this miswording of the articles that decry hip hop as a dangerous music genre
is ignored, the logic followed by these very articles becomes very flawed to the point at which
their intended arguments are no longer viable. An example of this can be seen within articles
arguing that hip hop promotes misogyny; ironically enough, these articles end up being
misogynistic themselves by characterizing women as helpless individuals whose identities are
determined by the messages portrayed in hip hop and hip hop alone. Both Ross and Colemans
and Adams and Fullers articles embody this flaw. These articles also end up being somewhat
racist as well as they only refer to African-American women as the ones who are affected by hip
hops misogyny rather than all women.
There is no question that part of hip hop music does embody the very culture that the
general public perceives negatively. As seen through N.W.As 1988 hit Straight Outta
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Compton, with lyrics like, Heres a murder rap to keep you dancing, with a crime record like
Charles Manson. AK-47 is the tool, Rick Ross 2006 hit Hustlin, which has the chorus
Everyday Im hustlin, or Lil Jons hit Get Low, containing the lyrics Shorty crunk-so
fresh, so clean. Can she fuck? That question been harassing me in the mind. This bitch is fine, it
would be foolish to deny that themes such as violence, drugs and misogyny exist in hip hop.
This however, is not where the problem stems from. As rapper 50 Cent states in an interview
with Oprah and Don Imus, Hip hops a reection of the environment that we grew up in, its the
harsh realities that end up in the music meaning that the music is not trying to be vulgar for
vulgaritys sake, but rather the vulgarity, violence, drug reference, and misogyny simply reflects
what surrounded these rappers throughout their entire lives (50 Cent).
The problem occurs when those who are in the dark about hip hop generalize and over-
categorize an entire genre of music without attempting to fully understand that these negative
perceptions are not indicative of all hip hop music. One of the great qualities of hip hop is how
many subgenres it contains. Even the three examples of hip hop songs that perpetuate these
negative stereotypes themselves come from three different styles of hip hop. N.W.A represents
west coast gangsta, Rick Ross represents southern coke rap, and Lil Jon represents crunk rap. To
condemn an entire genre based on negative stereotypes encouraged by the media does not seem
logical. There are entire subgenres dedicated to discussing how these very issues give hip hop a
bad reputation and plague the whole hip hop community. The subgenre known as conscious rap,
which includes rappers such as Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Lupe Fiasco, and Joey Bada$$,
challenges the dominant cultural and political status quo, specifically that which affects the
African American community. With such a vast span of subgenres, it would seem necessary for
more scholars to bring these points to light so that the general public can at least be more
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informed. Otherwise, not only will hip hop never truly be appreciated as a genre, but those
associated with the hip hop culture, through their own choice or not, may find themselves just as
demonized, if not more.
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