Rap: The Voice of the Minority

By: Krystal Temple

Verse One:

I see no changes. Wake up in the morning and I ask myself,

“Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?”

I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.

My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch.

Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.

Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare.

First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers.

Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.

“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said.

2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead.
-Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

Verse Two:

I wanted to start this with some fancy line that lives up to ‘the preceding rap lyrics’ – but I couldn’t. My grandmother doesn’t like rap. In fact she absolutely despises it.
 “I’m going to cut off MTV and VH1 and BET! I can’t believe they show such foolishness on TV!”
 I’m sure her opinion is a popular one. If I asked you to describe rap, what words would you use? It’s a popular misconception that all rappers do is talk about money, sex and drugs. However, even if this were true, wouldn’t you delve deeper into the topic and analyze the reasons why?

As I was utilizing dictionary.com, I clicked on rap music: a style of popular music, developed by disc jockeys and urban blacks in the late 1970s, in which an insistent, recurring beat pattern provides the background and counterpoint for rapid, slangy, and often boastful rhyming pattern glibly intoned by a vocalist or vocalists. (I apologize for this side note, but the definition of glibly is ‘readily fluent, often thoughtlessly, superficially, or insincerely so.’ I wonder why this adjective was chosen. Aside from other problems I have with this definition, why should one conclude that rap is done in a ‘boastful’ and ‘thoughtless’ manner? The generalization seems almost detrimental to the word’s reputation.) After I looked up rap, I looked up slang which was defined as: very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language. I don’t know about you, but I think the definition of those two words (glibly and slang) just contradicted each other. How can something be thoughtless and metaphorical? I don’t think it’s thoughtless, I think it’s brilliance – incapable of being measured. It’s an innate brilliance that a chosen few posses. I think I’ve made my point… but hey, that’s what happens when you try to define indefinable words… Anyway, that’s the story of how I looked up rap and ended up on elliptical. “Pretty accurate, huh?”

If I were to define the concept of rap by comparing it another form of art, I would compare it to Virginia Wolf’s stream of consciousness. When you hear a person speak slang, do you think of how intelligent they are? ‘Obviously, not’. When someone speaks slang, we all make an assumption that the person is uneducated, or doesn’t know any better. Is this true? If a person chooses to switch between two different “language codes”, is it wrong? Are teenagers who speak slang communicating in a dialect, or are they simply a group of ignorant people consistently making grammatical errors (according to the ‘standard English language’, of course).

Rap music breaks convention and this is what makes people scared. What happens when a minority group actually creates a form of art? What happens when this art form happens to be beautiful because it encompasses the pain and sweat brought upon its’ creators by oppression? What happens when people listen? What happens when the minorities influence popular culture?

Tupac Shakur was not only a rap artist, but he’s a person with a story. He is credited with being one of the very first hip-hop legends along with Notorious B.I.G. He was a Black man that grew up in poverty and in his raps, he often told the story of a person who had been oppressed by society. The above Tupac verse comes from a song called “Changes” from his album “Greatest Hits” released in 1998, after his death. When some people hear this song, they only hear the violence, the drugs, and the curses instead of the ‘ugly picture of reality’ it paints. I hope I helped to place this paintbrush on the canvas…The person in “Changes” is advocating for justice. He ponders upon his existence, and is tired of living in a society where his racial group has no power. One of the most influential lines in this song, is “Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.” This line addresses many social issues that are relatable today – and therefore it’s quite ironic that Tupac was rapping about this before 1998.

One way I can relate this line to today, is with the widely controversial case of Trayvon Martin. The outcome of the case had the Black community angered because George Zimmerman was not punished for shooting a young black male. This is essentially what Tupac is discussing in “Changes”. According to Tupac, society’s justice system is failing miserably and the Black community is unprotected by the very same people that are employed to protect us. This line also brings up another controversial topic: the use of the word “nigga”. This issue has been repeatedly brought up and debated over by the Black community and society as a whole. People often believe that the word “nigga” is a term of degradation, and Blacks who use the word are ignorant. I definitely do not believe that you can call every Black person who uses the word ignorant. The word has transformed itself over the years, and whether or not this is acceptable is definitely debatable. However, it would be false to say that Tupac was an ignorant individual, because of his use of the word “nigga”. In this context, he uses it as a term of endearment, to address his fellow “brothers” in the Black community. I do believe that when one uses the word “nigga” he has to be aware of its’ context. The word carries both negative and positive connotations. I think it’s unfair for people to generalize the users of this word as ignorant. This generalization has also helped to discredit the validity of hip-hop as an art form, because of the heavy usage of the word in rap lyrics. When examining the usage of the word, I think it’s important for people to study the hip-hop culture and understand the people who use it.

Rap music is the voice of the minority, and it needs to be heard. I think that when examining rap music, one has to understand that every form of art has two sides of the spectrum. Therefore, I am not going to propose to you that every rap song addresses social issues. There are rap songs that are created for pure enjoyment, just as there are songs of every other genre that are created for pure enjoyment. Some rap songs do glorify money, cars, clothing and materialistic images – but aren’t these the very images of popular culture? Aren’t these the images that all children and teenagers watch on television? I think that the glorification of materialistic images by rap artists, illustrates something even broader than an ignorant group of boasting minorities. I believe this is a direct reflection of popular culture. I think rap artists may glorify these images because minorities as a whole have been oppressed, and kept excluded from “popular culture”. Therefore these ‘materialistic’ videos are displaying our (Blacks/ minorities) newfound role/ contribution in popular culture.

Verse Three:

When people speak out against an oppressive force, they are often shunned and discredited, which is the case for rap music. This year at City College, there was a huge controversy over the Guillermo Morales/ Assata Shakur center. Ironically, Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s step aunt. She is a Black activist, who was a member of the Black Panther Party. She was accused and convicted of several false crimes, and escaped. Therefore she is the subject of a man-hunt. The Guillermo Morales/ Assata Shakur was shut down, after controversy about the center’s name. The center was a place on City College’s campus, where students advocated for rights, and fought against various social issues such as tuition hikes.

It’s quite ironic how the United States government, and institutions work in unison to maintain power and silence the voice of the minority. It is important to notice and identify this problem, when examining art created by minority/oppressed groups.  Notorious B.I.G and Tupac were two of the greatest hip-hop legends of all time, who addressed important social issues and openly spoke out against U.S government and oppressive structures.

 

Ironically they were both shot and killed. . .

(Outro)
“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said.

2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead.
-Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)