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Black Music & The Movement Part 1: Hip-hop

Part 1: The influence of hip-hop on Black movements

"I think hip-hop could rebuild America, once hip-hoppers own hip-hop... We are our own politicians, our own government, we have something to say. We're warriors. Soldiers." - Nas

Beginning in the early 70s, hip-hop was an incomparable and world changing culture. The significance of justice on the streets, Black revolution, and social economics came together in a spellbinding way. Artists were survivors and lyricists, and the music was reflective of the mentality necessary to make it through struggles Black people faced on a daily basis.

Black people in low-income areas face a lack of quality neighborhoods, school resources, healthy food options and safe communities due to racist and calculated systems. Hip-hop was a source of light that illuminated the injustice and trauma occurring in these areas. These neglected cities were no longer just "the ghetto" , but something people globally could understand.

The late 80s to early 90s were what some call the golden age of hip-hop, which began with the group Run-DMC. This period thrived with New York City's popular record label Def Jam records. With this came the manifestation of a militant side of rap. Artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A. were speaking out against the government and police force.

This era also shed light on the diversity of Black people, sound and talent. Alternative hip-hop music came to the scene with groups like A Tribe Called Quest, while gangster rap was also arising with artists like Tupac Shakur.

"If hip-hop has the ability to corrupt young minds, it also has the ability to uplift them." - KRS-One

Rap is a core part of the influential, powerful hip-hop culture; they are connected. Rap is something one does, while hip-hop is the way someone lives. Together, they can be used to as a source of education, awareness, inspiration and joy.

Some modern artists, like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, utilize their music in this way by uplifting the truth about the justice system and Black experience. In his song "Be Free" , J. Cole expresses pain and mourning for Michael Brown and other Black people shot undeservingly and unjustly by police.

"I'm letting you know that it ain't no gun they can make that could kill my soul... All we want to do is be free, all we want to do is take these chains off." - J. Cole

However, other modern artists have branched away from this militant, activism-based side of hip-hop. The criteria for what it means to be a true rapper has shifted and artists in the industry believe it is impacted the culture. We talked with Anthony Norman (DJ Outlaw), a popular DJ since the early 90s.

"The way it was in the 80s and 90s you had to be better than the next person, and now they just want you to sound like somebody else... they're all trying to be like somebody else and that's why it all sounds the same," Norman said. "People don't care about lyrics the way they used to. They care more about the beat." Norman goes on to say that a lot of music today doesn't have a long "shelf life" meaning there is a song that is hot for a few weeks and then a different one comes along and takes its place.

Other artist believe that in many cases political messages and social issues aren't heard as much. In an interview with Hot 97 radio, rapper Queen Latifah spoke on contemporary rap and how a lot of rappers have lost their guts.

"They got soft. Like when things are going on in the world, like Trump or elections, this was the stuff we chewed on," Latifah said.

While there are many talented and unique modern artists on the scene, those from the industry also remind us that there is a significant difference between being a rapper and being a hip-hop artist. We spoke with Darick Robinson (Dj Double D), former DJ from the late 80s and early 90s.

"A rapper is someone who has lyrics and a funky beat. A hip-hop artist is someone who has knowledge, wisdom and understanding of what they're rapping about," Robinson said.

Hip-hop is more than music for Black community members. Hip-hop has served as a motivator. Something to elevate consciousness and educate. It is a form of expression and storytelling. It has been utilized as a smoke signal to the ones that are struggling and a wake up call to the ones that are lost.

"I started thinking, how many souls hip-hop has affected, how many dead folks this art has resurrected, how many nations this culture connected." - Common


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