Born from the gang ridden, drug infested streets of the south Bronx in New York City there came a culture that spread like a remedy to a horrible disease. This culture, reform or social reconstruction is today known as Hip Hop. Amidst the glitz, glamour and provocative nature of Hip Hop today lies deeply rooted a movement for freedom, equality, peace and social harmony. Hip Hop, not only created the billion dollar industry but it gave an internationally heard voice to the ethnic minorities of America post civil rights movement - a voice that would echo throughout the country and the world till present.
Price (2006, p. 1) defines Hip Hop as:
"Hip Hop evolved during the 1970s as a liberation movement in the form of a diverse culture; it was a next generation civil (human) rights movement sparked by ostracized, marginalized and oppressed inner city youth. Grounded in the traditions of U.S born blacks and first and second generation Latinos and Latinas as well as people of the Caribbean origin (primarily people of Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Bahamian), Hip Hop is a product of African diaspora and combines music, dance, graphic arts, oration, and fashion with a growing aesthetic leaning heavily on material objects and media. It is a means and method of expression thriving on social commentary, political critique, economic analysis, religious exegesis and street awareness whilst combating long-standing issues of radical prejudice, culture persecution, and social, economic, and political disparities. Over the past three decades, Hip Hop culture has grown to represent urban, rural, suburban, and global communities of all ages, genders, religions, economic class and races. From a local phenomenon addressing the needs and desires of inner city youths Hip Hop has become an international multi-billion dollar institution that has virtually changed the nature of the music and entertainment industries."
Placing aside the negative connotations Hip Hop is often perceived with, such as the promotion of gang crime, violence and sexual discrimination. We can find beneath the tarnished reputation the catalyst that was utilized to bring about the execution and implementation of the above notions. This essay endeavours to look at the benefits the Hip Hop movement gave to America and the latter world in regards to the mentioned ideals. Due to the limited length of this work it will primarily focus on Rap music and Break-dancing (two of the 4 major elements of Hip Hop culture). It will aspire to expose their nature by touching on their history and present their contribution towards developing a culture of peace.
The essence of Rap music is often attributed to the African Bardic traditions of storytelling. It wasn't until the 1970's however, that in the wake of the 1960's civil rights and Black Nationalist movements that it was refined in to what it is known as today. In the aftermath of 1967, black America saw the operation of rights that allow them to fully participating in the national systems of health care, education and welfare. Although there was formal acceptance of black people to a certain degree, citizens of the inner city ghettos became frustrated when new policy had little impact on life in the strife. Living conditions depreciated and gang culture, drugs and violence flourished. The passing of hollow legislation and policy did not of give equality in living conditions and economic opportunity; nevertheless it did liberate the inner city inhabitants vocally. Bound to this liberation the ethnic minorities found an international platform to exercise their freedom of speech - this is today known as Rap music.
Keyes (2004. p.40) says:
"Rap music developed in the United States in complex relations to diverse factors that include geo politics, shifts in music industry and the music of the streets, and change in federal government policies. In response to these factors, inner city youths - Djs, MCs, Graffiti writers, Bboys and Bgirls forged an arts movement that evolved in the streets known as Hip Hop."
Rap music can be placed in to three categories: the first, known as the classic era came between the late 1970s until 1986. This was a simplistic form of rhyming and MC's were generally used as stop gaps between the DJ's changing the records to entertain the crowd. This era is also notably known as the time of block parties and community gatherings. Raping remained unsophisticated in regards to lyrical content until Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five released the record The Message in 1982. In comparison to what is known as "hardcore Rap" today the content of what we heard then may seem tame though, if observed by the historical context the message was highly controversial. These lyrics are an example of how Rap music challenged the social settings of ghetto America:
"A child is born with no state of mind, blind to the ways of mankind, God is smiling on you but he's frowning too, because only God knows what you'll go through, you'll grow in the ghetto, living second rate and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate the places you're playin', where you stay looks like one great big alley way you'll admire all the number book takers thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers driving big cars, spending twenties and tens and you wanna grow up to be just like them, huh, smugglers, scrambles, burglars, gamblers pickpockets, peddlers even panhandlers you say: "I'm cool, I'm no fool!" but then you wind up dropping out of high school now you're unemployed, all non-void Walking 'round like you're Pretty Boy Floyd turned stickup kid, look what you've done did got sent up for a eight year bid now your manhood is took and you're a may tag spend the next two years as a undercover fag being used and abused to serve like hell till one day you was found hung dead in a cell it was plain to see that your life was lost you was cold and your body swung back and forth but now your eyes sing the sad, sad song of how you lived so fast and died so young"
This record allowed the frustration of inner city African Americans to be heard by the world. Even though the popularity of such record grew across the world it would be naive to assume that once the voice was heard the solution was implemented. It did nonetheless succeed in highlighting inequality faced by black Americans, but mainly it focused on the pressures and results of mass poverty.
The formation of this expressive Art gave a unique product to the ghetto, and provided a means to aspire towards success and a channel for creativity. Rap music and Rapping gave black youths something that was their own, it allowed them to express themselves by narrating their stories in a poetic manner. Jade Foster an English language teacher from Washington in an interview conducted by Carolee Walker (2009) said "It is important for young people to know that their stories matter". Simply listening to the tale from a ghetto raised child teaches him that there is someone there to listen to his call. Speaking and being heard has a profound positive affect on the psyche of human beings. Grandmaster Flash and the message echoed the voice of a collective demographic and consequently raised the spirit of mass populations towards hope and progression.
The following era of rap music (1986-93) is known as the golden era which was highly fuelled by political lyrics and gangster rap from west coast. Groups such as NWA (Niggas with Attitude), Public Enemy and solo artists like KRS-1 grew mass followings from both black and white America. "Flava Flave", a member of Public Enemy famously wore a clock around his neck on a chain in order to symbolise that the time had come for black America to heard had arrived.
1988 saw the release of the record "Fuck the Police" from NWA which was a response to the alleged mistreatment of black youths at the hands of the west coast police. This later became the anthem and overall theme for the 1992 Los Angeles riots also known as the Rodney King Uprising. This era witnessed major conflict between black civilian and white authority in American - Gangster Rap was not considered to be a legitimate or acceptable artistic expression. NWA saw their record "Fuck the Police" banned in many states and radio channels across the world. It could be argued that that such records and words added to the racial divide in America, yet if scrutinized the majority of Gangster rap's aggression is directed towards social reform and the ill treatment of black Americans. Some Gangster Rap did promote gang violence, drugs and sexist ideology which cannot be ignored. Collectively, looking historically and presently Hip Hop culture promotes creativity and a positive outlook to life.
Rap music became a news feed to suburban white America about what it meant to be "real". In Hill's book Hip Hop and inequality, (2009. P.5) data results from when questioning a focus group of white students on why they listen to Rap music state that:
"Without fail, it is a question that causes our students - mostly white, middle to upper class to pause and consider what has become for them an iPodic backdrop to their everyday lives. Based on the lyrics they have memorized precisely, have ingested wholly and can repeat readily they come to "understand" (or think they understand), what it means to be poor, urban and stereotypically black without ever having personally interacted with anyone of colour before coming to a residential, predominantly white rural university. Further it gives them an avenue to engage, and many times, reinforce the root metaphors, mores and norms embedded in dominant ideology"
When a voice is being attentively listened to by an international audience it is inevitable to develop a following. Rap music was embraced by members of all ethnic groups across continents and Hip Hop culture prevailed to be a foundation for collective race unity in America. It opened the doors for sympathy towards inequality and revealed a shared and united voice to eradicate the racist class system. Groups such as Run DMC tackled many of the social problems faced by inner city youths but rather then teaching rebellion it taught to "stay in school". Kovacs (2009, p4) states:
"Run DMC was one of the numerous Rap combos advising kids to stay off drugs. They also told children that reading and learning was a means to escape poverty and violence. Thus one can see how rappers use their popularity to address social issues and spread a positive message in their communities."
Potent Rap lyrics from the artist Tupac Shakura, in songs such as "Brenda's got a baby" are words armed as deterrents for youths to rebel against cascading in to the ghetto traditions. This track and those alike have prompted the black ghetto youths of America to progress and educate themselves.
"I hear Brenda's got a baby But, Brenda's barely got a brain, a damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name
(That's not our problem, that's up to Brenda's family,)
Well let me show ya how it affects the whole community Now Brenda really never knew her moms and her dad was a junky went in death to his arms, it's sad cause I bet Brenda doesn't even know just cause you're in the ghetto doesn't mean ya can't grow"
The third and present era of Rap music (1993 until present) saw this genre expand throughout the globe with contribution from all continents. Since the nineties we have seen rap develop in many languages which again proves Hip Hop has no racial boundaries. Conflict resolution and peace movements have greatly taken a forth coming position of recent and rap music is being utilized to unite humanity. Hip Hop "Sulha" (reconciliation) is a term that was coined in 2006 by a group of peace activists using Rap music and Hip Hop culture as a form of resolution. A series of events since 2006 have been used as a platform for dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian communities in New York, Israel and Palestine. As can be seen in Gelfand (2006):
"Billed as an Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop showcase, the Hip-Hop Sulha is designed to bring Muslim, Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian rappers together onstage in order to foster unity and understanding. (Each act will first present its own set, with everyone joining forces for a combined effort at the end.) Proceeds from the concert will be donated to such organizations as Hand in Hand and Givat Haviva, which promote peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians."
Many examples of Rap being used as a tool of mediation can also be seen on a local scale in Bradford. "Bread Binz" a local rap group hold workshops throughout schools and colleges in the region to attract youth participation in order to distract them from street life. Rap workshops in Local YMCA's in Yorkshire provide full a syllabus which makes improving literacy for inner city youths a enjoyable activity. Aside the fact that Rap music tackles oppression and persecution on a global scale it is a tool to better education and productivity within youth. Hip Hop culture and Rap music strongly identifies with youth culture which is why is attracts them in masses. It is constantly evolving which in result keeps it mainstream and fresh. It provides realistic goals and aspirations for inner city youths and makes available good mentors.
Storr (1992) speaks about the psychological effects music has on people, although he speaks of music generally it can be applied to Rap and the influence it has on youth culture. Rap came from the youths of black America and it inspires creativity and productivity for youths across the globe:
"We are creatures of conflict who seek for reconciliation of that conflict and creatures who tend to become cut off from the emotional springs within us because of our capacity for abstraction. The hypotheses of science and the theorems of mathematics may move us aesthetically to some extent, since they provide some degree of order in the midst of complexity. But they do not, as does music, put us in touch with the emotional basis of our inner life"
Historically where there was Rap music there was Breakin, both are rays of the same light. Breakin found its birth place in the ghettos of New York, in the same Block parties and environment as Rap - they only differentiate in their physical expression. Mentioned earlier, the ghettos of New York were in continues strife since the 1960's, Price (2006, p.10) gives an account of how gang culture evolved in to Breakin crew culture:
"In 1968, gang warfare in the Bronx was extremely high. Numerous young people had been murdered, families had been destroyed, and the streets were utter chaos. When Black Benjie (Cornell Benjamin), a member of The Ghetto Brothers, was killed, a historic truce was called on December 8, 1971, at The Bronx Boys club. Hundreds of gang members met to discuss the possibilities for finding a better way to handle their aggressions and for having peace on the streets of their city. Many prominent gang leaders were present, including 14 year old Afrika Bambaataa (Kevin Donavan), who would quickly rise as a leader of the Black Spades. Although the truce did not end gangs, it did offer alternatives to the continuing bloodshed. Gangsters began to use dance and other expressive means to rid themselves of their frustrations."
By the late 1970's the Bronx was divided and each division had its own DJ, Rappers and Breakin crews. Party hosts and MC's would actively encourage participation from gang members in dancing and music. The divisions of the Bronx were later unified by Afrika Bambaataa in to what is today known as the Zulu Nation. Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu nation created a panel of arbitrators who would resolve inner city gang conflicts which is still active until today. The Zulu nation till present promotes its own order of peace and has distinct rules and regulations for conduct. Taken from the official Zulu Nation website (2010) is rule six of the official 15 commandments:
"We believe that anyone who is into any religion or faith, that religion or faith should uplift you as a Human Being, not make you into a religious slave or zombie, and that the religion should not mix falsehood with truth, and that the religion should be a fighter for Freedom, Justice, and Equality for all Human Beings as well as for anything of life that God has given to this planet so-called Earth."
The original governing body (The Zulu Nation) of Hip Hop culture still complies by these 15 principles which are evidently humanitarian and peaceful. Because Hip Hop culture has spread so vastly around the globe each nation has its own Hip Hop history and identity hence Zulu policy is not effective internationally. It could be argued in the case of Gangster Rap's negativity, that because its outcome contradicts the essence of Hip Hop legislation it is not within the culture of Hip Hop therefore Hip Hop is completely positive.
Neal (2004, p.12) comments that: "Breakin began as an articulation of physical presence featuring equal doses of competition and visual display. It was - and remains an expression of style, which amongst its young B-boy leaders, is clearly related to status and social profile". In addition to this Breakin helped to alleviate gang violence as dance battles became one way of settling disputes.
Breakin today holds the same qualities however the quantity of dancers has enormously expanded and international participation is almost over shadowing American. Competitions are now internationally publicized events and Breakin has a rank system similar to that of the British football. International tournaments such as Battle of the Year have been running since the late 1980's, which gives youths from around the world a stage to compete defending their national prestige. On a smaller and local platform Breakin is being used as an incentive in schools in the U.K to better overall health and educational well being. The demographics of Hip Hop influenced individuals are vast and its core values of implementing peace and equality have been achieved on a vast scale.
Breakin liberates human behaviour and a dancer is able to reflect his personality, mood or emotion through the way he moves. Dalton (1996) discusses the effects of the arts on people in conflict:
"It allows everybody to experiment with particular kinds of behaviour and expression and then choose one that feels rights. On top of this is the joy of just being on your feet and playing, and if everybody is able to do that with mutual understanding and respect, self-esteem must rise."
The positivity presented by Breakin can be seen all over the world, it has the ability to lift the spirits of the oppressed and give hope and aspiration towards life. Hip Hop is the tool to equip the youths in poverty stricken 3rd world starvation to narrate to the world what is sealed in their heart, to express their soul and feel good about life.
In a project lead by the United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with MTV we can see the effects Hip Hop culture can have on post conflict regions like Uganda:
"The break dance programme at the Gulu Youth Centre began in cooperation with Breakdance Project Uganda, a non-governmental organization based in Kampala, and its Hip Hop Therapy Project, which has been supported by USAID and mtvU, a university media service that is part of MTV Networks. The programme was an enormous hit with youth from its start in 2009, and has been a big draw for the centre. The project's mission is to engage young people in elements of the hip hop culture to build leadership skills and promote social responsibility, according to Josh Jones, the project coordinator in Gulu. "The Project has attracted people from every walk of life and acts as a catalyst for building mutually beneficial relationships between people of different social status across Uganda and the rest of the world,"
What started in the ghettos of the south Bronx New York has today turned in to a mechanism to unite men and women alike to one common ideal. Rap Music, Breakin and Hip Hop culture has reached nearly every part of the globe influencing people from an array of backgrounds.
Speaking from my own experience Breakin took me away from drug dealing, alcohol and violence, it filled my time with friends, discipline, goals and confidence. In the time that people experimented with drugs and other activity I was sheltered at the dance studio and sweating to excel through this passion. Breakin allow me to divulge in a new culture, see the world and interact with the unknown. The Hip Hop culture is the perfect model to evolve boys in to men and give confidence and grounding to approach anything in life.
The following is a short Rap verse written by children on conflict resolution: