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Joshua Montao

Level VI
The Importance of Rap
Sometimes cultural changes can throw a veil over seeing and even forgetting important
historical fights. This is the case of rap music. The musical foundations of the genre prevail until the
present time and its cultural roots are reminded, yet that past phase of rap is thought through
stereotypes and it has passed to be part of an avoided truth of society. When rap gained popularity,
the best thing to happen was to give to a racially oppressed part of society a platform to speak their
minds. Instead, unfortunately, the genre have suffered many cultural changes, leaving behind the
developed legacy of a plea for justice. Of course, cultural heterogeneity has also brought musical
and lyrical richness to the genre. This is why it is crucial to point out carefully what are the
damaging factors of these changes for the message of demand almost lost through the pass of time.
The relevance of the analysis of rap at present is great because of the cultural root this genre have
and the changes that have influenced its historical importance in order to have a reading of culture
as a whole from a determined social perspective.

Rap music was born in the decade of 1970 with remarkable acts like DJ Kool Herc and
Afrika Bambaataa. Another innovator of the genre, Kurtis Blow, explains the beginning of rap this
way: In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighborhoods of the South
Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from
spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting
rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling
life in the 'hood, hip-hop spilled out of the ghetto.1 Rap music started as the way of expression
found by a marginalized part of society, responding to an exclusionary and elitist culture that
overpriced admissions to clubs where the most famous music was disco. Rap appeared in a first
moment to entertain the youth of majority-black suburbs with combinations of different kinds of
1 http://www.hiphop-network.com/articles/general/kurtisblowversionofhiphop.asp

music and poetry. And it was preserved the historical denounce of injustice inherited from the blues
of the slavery era. The most proximate precursors of the message of rap are James Brown, Gil
Scott-Heron, the Lumpen and many others spoken-word artists. In the 80s, the musical fight for
justice and cultural diversity in rap grew with the appearance of Run DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A,
the Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and more. Each artist contributed
to the genre by their own means i.e. Cypress Hill emancipated cannabis and Latin culture, A Tribe
Called Quest and De La Soul brought sounds heavily influenced by jazz and the Beastie Boys
introduced white people to the genre with wide acceptance being gansta rap the most controversial
variation of the genre. Public Enemy and N.W.A were well known for introducing a more explicit
expression of how life was in the ghettos and the perspective of the world from a 'ganster'. Later,
this would impact in establishing stereotypes within the genre instead of giving a message about
social living. These groups would have more fame in the decade of the 90s, years when rap gained
much recognition and other important acts were introduced such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop
Dogg, MF DOOM, Madlib, Missy Elliott, OutKast, Hieroglyphics, Dan the Automator, J Dilla,
Eminem, Aseop Rock, Rage Against the Machine and others. In this decade the richness of diversity
was established in the genre and women took a lead role that developed entirely in the next decade.

Even though the diverse topics and cultures that rap was and is able to wrap up for the
natural versatility of the genre being its bases pretty basic: rhythm and poetry, it did not lost its
historical message of a oppressed culture in the beginning of the decade of 2000. Moreover, the
genre introduced more social problems to its lyrics such as sexism (Lil Kim, Kelis), xenophobia
(M.I.A, Immortal Technique), homophobia (Mykki Blanco), existentialist problems (Death Grips)
and more. But the denounce of injustice based in racism and poverty started to die as the
mainstream scene of the genre was getting wealthier. The lyrics began to respond to the logic of the
music market. With this, the new generation of rappers adapted to the demands of the market and
talked about money, parties, women as an object and personal problems without an existential

transcendence. One notable example of this is Lil' Wayne. He started rapping about life in the ghetto
but later choose to talk about what was and is viral and fashionable. Another rapper that reproduces
this but also maintains the influence of gansta rap present is ScHoolboy Q. In other cases like P.
Diddy or Drake, there is no message of social demand because they grew in less conflictive circles.
A few rapers have chosen to keep a political and social posture in their lyrics about concerning
things such as Saul Williams, Zach de la Rocha and recently Kendrick Lamar with his song The
Blacker the Berry. This new wave of mainstream rap have given to the genre a pop characteristic,
and with this it has been left behind all the problems that were the cause of the appearance of rap
music. Social conflict is not profitable anymore, and although the objectification of serious
problems to sell them is also a terrible problem at least it had the concern in the public eye. At
present is very important to recover this historical legacy for all the racist injustice that persists in
the Western culture. The recent deaths of black North American civilians, the racial stratification in
cities, neighborhoods, schools and universities, the xenophobic politics of boundaries and deaths in
them are making an urgent call to think social problems, and so this is not the time for rap music to
stop pursuing change and justice.

In conclusion, the relevance of the historical message of rap music is important in the
current condition. The lost of this political demand in the mainstream scene of the genre has helped
to developed one of the main problems of post-modernity, generating indifference among the youth
and popular culture about problems like poverty, racism and injustice in general. While the concern
of social problems is gaining popularity in other fields of popular culture (one great example of this
was the 2015 Oscars), rap has a historical and cultural charge to bear that must not be forgotten.
This is a due to the people that gave to the genre its bases.