Hip Hop And Culture Of Expression Cultural Studies Essay

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Though the title of this book denotes specific content on rap music, this chapter will more broadly explore Hip-Hop in the context of a culture of expression. Hip-Hop encompasses expression. Hip-Hop is not limited to the auditory form of rap music, or to the visual form of music videos, fashion, and dance; but should also be considered in the emotional form of how people act and react within the culture.

Hip-Hop has evolved in many ways over the last thirty years. From what began in the South Bronx section of New York as a response to many conditional factors, including the displacement of long time residents as a result of the South Bronx highway, the slash in federal funding that allowed for transportation accessibility, and a great loss of jobs. This interesting time and place - one where people were unsatisfied with the conditions that they were being forced to accept, yet with little to none power to affect change, is what ultimately gave birth to Hip-Hop (Houston, 1994). Over time, Hip-Hop has change and shifted in style and focus, mostly due to the pressures of the rap music industry and popular culture. Today, Hip-Hop has a significant presence throughout the world, specifically with youth and young adult culture. One thing that has not changed about Hip-Hop, is that it remains a representation of the "voices and visions of the culturally, politically, and economically marginal and disenfranchised" (Phillips et al, 2005).

The roles of women in Hip-Hop culture are many and can often be controversial, particularly when female mainstream rap artists are examined as role models for young girls. Though women have played an important role in the evolution of Hip-Hop, their contributions are often downplayed. Women have worked as rap artists, writers, producers, industry executives, etc. while setting the standard for much of the aesthetics of Hip-Hop that are recognized by the consumers. Despite the integral role that women have played (and continue to play) in Hip-Hop, there are some things to consider. In the article Oppositional consciousness within an oppositional realm: The case of feminism and womanism in rap and hip hop (2005), authors Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, and Stephens, urge the reader to consider three things: that women are outnumbered by men in both the artistic and corporate areas of Hip-Hop; men are more visible in Hip-Hop, presumably due to their sexist practices (read: demand for attention); and, both men and women alike have participated in Hip-Hop culture in ways that could be viewed as oppressive and liberating.

This chapter seeks to provide tools and strategies using the music therapy technique of lyric analysis to begin a dialogue on Hip-Hop that may translate into positive change for the lives of African American women and girls.


The Third-Wave

Hip-Hop is Youth

Nelson George describes Hip-Hop as "a set of cultural forms originally nurtured by African-American, Caribbean-American, and Latin American youth…" (1998). It's true that Hip-Hop has traditionally been viewed as a phenomenon spurred by and targeted to youth culture. This fact, however, becomes difficult to rationalize when much of the lyrical content is considered. The content of rap music can be vulgar, hyper sexual, suggestive, disrespectful and degrading. The scenes portrayed in rap music videos would be R-rated in film form, yet are marketed toward youth and popularized by MTV.

Hip-Hop is America's dominant youth culture and is embraced by youth globally. Historically, it has provided a space for disenfranchised youth of color, including young women, to resist oppression (Rose, 1994). Over the last several decades, corporations began using Hip-Hop as a marketing tool to target youth. Hip-Hop's fashions, dances, and music were incorporated into commercials and print advertisements. Norman Kelley describes the political economy of black American music as "a structure of stealing" that dates back to American Slavery (Kelley, 2002). He goes on to compare the black American music to the buying and selling of goods, "blacks served as commodities - objects purchased, controlled, and sold by others - while their labor was valued as an instrument in the production of cotton and other goods and services" (Kelley, 2002, pp. 7). This claim is supported by the fact that young white suburban youth represent the largest group of hip-hop consumers (Kitwana, 2005). Whitney Peoples, in her essay Under Construction, states that "the images of black male violence and aggression that dominate mainstream rap music are highly marketable in America because of already existing ideologies of racism…" (2008). And this statement holds true for women as well and the images of sexuality.

Much of the media attention that Hip-Hop has been given is around violence, misogyny, drugs, and sex. There is widespread concern about the potential influence of derogatory sexual themes in Hip-Hop and the affect that they may have on the sexual and psychological development of African-American adolescent girls (Stokes & Gant, 2002; Cole & Guy-Sheftall, 2003; Wingood et al., 2003; Pough, 2004; Weekes, 2004; Stephens & Phillips, 2005). Although no shortage of negative attention has been granted on Hip-Hop, I argue that it can be used as an effective tool for communicating a message in the music therapy setting, and can lead to an increase in collaboration among adolescent girls within a peer group, girl empowerment, and the development of coping skills that will allow girls to form their sexual and psychological identities despite what the media prescribes.

Hip-Hop Is Collaboration

Hip-Hop is collaborative by nature. From the beginnings of Hip-Hop, females would work together to find an audience for their music. The Mercedes Ladies were the first all-female crew, established in 1977. They were followed by a long line of women with stories to tell. Salt-n-Pepa hit the rap scene in 1986 and gained huge popularity because of their infectious beats, confrontational lyrics, and fresh Hip-Hop style. Their record, A Salt with a Deadly Pepa (1988) sold half a million copies and was the first gold record by a female Hip-Hop group (Phillips, L., Reddick-Morgan, K, & Stephens, D., 2005). On Hot, Cool, & Vicious, an earlier release by Salt-n-Pepa, the group becomes one of the first in Hip-Hop to bring attention to the way African-American women are treated by men, with the song "Tramp" (1986). "Tramp" is an early "dis" song against men. The song was released at a time when women's roles were changing and were yet undefined. In "Tramp", Salt-n-Pepa demand respect from the men who are perusing them. Today, both the song and group are outdated. In the music therapy setting, this matters less than it would, say, on the radio. The themes found in "Tramp" can begin a conversation about the value in rallying around a cause with like-minded peers, as well as more appropriate ways that men should treat women.

Another example of how collaboration in Hip-Hop can be used in the music therapy setting can be found in the viewing of Nelly's "Tip Drill" music video. In 2005, a group of Spelman College students and alumnae joined together to protest the "Tip Drill" video. According to a CNN News article, the group sought to urge people to think critically about how the images in the video might affect Black women today (2005). The "Tip Drill" video is one of the most controversial pieces of Hip-Hop media. The song itself, aside from the video is, to most, enough to protest. The lyrics of the chorus "It must be ya ass, cause it ain't ya face I need a tip drill." The definition of a "tip drill" varies widely, meaning an unattractive girl who has sex for money, to a stripper who can manipulate men into spending large amounts of money on them (Richardson, 2007). Whatever the definition was that Nelly intended, it is in no way respectful toward women. The video depicts a scene with many women, mostly clothed in bikinis, flaunting bodies while men throw money at them. In one notorious scene, Nelly can be found swiping a credit card in a woman's behind. Nelly claims that his video is an expression of art for entertainment. The Spelman College students shared the belief that the "Tip Drill" video was offensive and degrading toward women, so they collaborated and took a stand, not only against that particular video, but about the general portrayal of women in Hip-Hop and rap. This group of college women got the attention of Essence Magazine and inspired the national "Take Back the Music" campaign.

Regardless of race, most women (and even some men), would agree that "Tip Drill" is not a pleasant music video to watch due to its misogynistic content. It is, however, a music video that many young African-American girls are familiar with, therefore, it can be effective in music therapy. "Tip Drill" raises many issues for girls who may be shaping their sexual identity. It can be the start of a conversation about thinking critically about all of the media messages that young girls are receiving, and collectively coming up with alternative ways of communicating those messages through music without the misogynist content. The Spelman College example is also an excellent testament of how young women can create a movement to work toward racial equality and social justice.

Hip-Hop is Empowerment

Black women have been associated negatively with sexuality throughout history, with images on display in every aspect of American culture including the mass media (Collins, 2000; hooks, 1981). African-American adolescent girls, who are exposed to these images everyday, must learn to define themselves and interpret the messages within the framework of a society that repeatedly tells them, in many different forms, that they are no more than a sex object. Sexual scripting theory (Simon & Gagnon, 1986) identifies three levels of sexual scripts, which provide a framework for understanding how sociocultural and individual factors shape African-American girls' sexual script development. These levels are: cultural scenarios, interpersonal scripts, and intrapsychic scripts. Cultural scenarios are aspects in society, such as friends, family, teachers, or the media. Because sex and sexual identity has become such an awkward topic of discussion for many families, it is common that girls turn to the media when developing their sexuality. When cultural scenarios are combined with a girls' own ideas about the world, they become intrapsychic scripts.

Developing an identity can be difficult for African-American girls, because there are many conflicting messages coming from the media, Hip-Hop, peers, and family (Stokes, 2004; Stephens & Phillips, 2005; Brown et al., 2006). Using ideas and themes from Hip-Hop or rap music, the music therapist can facilitate a discussion about the conflicting messages that presented. In Hip Hop America, Nelson George describes a shift starting in the late 80's to a view that was "harsh, unsentimental, and antiwoman…" he continues, "It was a time when calling a woman a bitch became weirdly respectable (1998, pp. 185-186)."