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The Empire state of Mind as sung by the New-Yorker rapper Jay-Z, New York is an amazing city that fascinates the whole world. Set apart its cosmopolitan side, its skyscrapers, and its role in the US economy, the city conceals a very rich culture. It has played a primary role in the American culture; it is actually considered as a central concentration of culture if not the main cultural center in the whole world. Music is considered as a major part of what makes the New York culture; it ranges from Broadway to street shows and rap music. This latest is the item of interest in this paper since it is New York City that gave it birth as a result of a multitude of events and evolutions.
To understand the origins of the movement, we need to go back to New York's history. The city has incurred many changes during the late centuries that affected various aspects of the city life. Regardless of the variety of ethnicities that populate the city because of the mass immigration movement, the dynamism of the city and the mobility affected the settlement of different groups within the city. As the bourgeois moved towards the fashionable outskirts during the 1880s, Harlem turned into a working and lower-class neighborhood around 1920s. This downward movement enabled the settlement of Afro-American communities in there. The growth of the city is not without social problems. Riots of the population take place and delinquency nests in a city overcrowded with gradually more poor people. Half a century later, new genres of music started to appear then such as rock and hip-hop. A culture of the street developed around rap, graffiti, deejaying, break dancing and Streetwear and diffuses into the world from New York (Alridge, D. P. and Stewar, J. B., 2005).
The Bronx is considered as the native land of hip-hop culture, which has now spread far and wide all over the plant, and as a neighborhood that welcomes minorities and Hispanics
black, contributing to the melting pot image of the city. This mixture gave birth to a musical style that was very different from what was known before. "For many youth, Hip Hop reflects the social, economic, political, and cultural realities and conditions of their lives, speaking to them in a language and manner they understand" (ibid, 2005). They convey a message through aggressive lyrics that are just the mirror of their daily lives. It is a way for the youth to express themselves and communicate to the world through a contemporary black music. This music often illustrates violence that is translated into words usually proclaiming respect, showing what they are able to do and promoting their social status and try to impress the others as much as possible. As stated by Alridge, D. P. and Stewar, J. B., "In short, violence is thought to be the single most critical resource for achieving status among those who participate in street culture" (2005).
Rap music is as stated before, a reflection of the unfavorable conditions they live in, and a response of the young minority groups - Afro-Americans in this case- to what Joanna Demers qualified as "the crucial shifts in the material worlds inhabited by young minority males in hyper segregated conditions of the post industrial ghetto that became a more fertile reservoir of cultural production" which illustrates clearly how this reality is translated into a cultural concept where individuals express themselves through rhythm and music constructed through street language. The interpretations of the content of the rap lyrics as expressed by Kubrin C. E, in addition to the street language utilized are evidence for what inhabitants of neighborhoods such as Bronx and Harlem experience, and what their day by day life looks like (2005). According to J. Demers, "Rap lyrics are discursive actions or artifacts that help construct an interpretive environment where violence is appropriate and acceptable" (2006). Also, Rap music is over and over again treating the same matters. We notice that most of the songs, aside from respect and violence, speak often of drug dealing, money, sex, family, gangs, guns and personal life often affected with love and pain. All of these are organized in such a way that the rhymes are very well harmonized which gives this flow to the lyrics and makes it look like modern nasty and violent poetry that aims at conveying a specific message.
To understand this more concretely, we need to take a look at this from a closer point of you. The best perspective to understand the subject matter is by analyzing the lyrics themselves. The following is an excerpt from Hit 'em up lyrics by Tupac Shakur, who was one of the most famous rappers of New York, originated from Harlem; the song goes back to the 1990s during a period of rivalry between rappers from the two coasts:
In this song, the rivalry is though and the use of insensitive and numb words is customary. They want to show they are better than the others in a period of gang war. Also, the title of the song shows how the street language influences even the way they write the lyrics as they pronounce it in a specific way that is far from being the orthodoxy but it is just the way they live, the way they live with it, and the way they understand it. It reveals their identity that is the hip hop culture identity which is an entire way of living including attitude, slang, fashion, dance, and art.
However, rap has not always been the way we know it. The origins of the Hip hop culture in general, and more specifically rap music can be traced back to soul, Jazz, and blues which were also characterized by being urban black music as J. Demers said, "such as James brown, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Georges Clinton and other artists" (2006) This shows how rap known an evolution throughout time and that it has not always been the way we know it nowadays. It has undergone the influence of different music styles such as R&B and funk.
"From a cultural perspective, we can observe that hip hop culture is a complex system of icons and symbols, driven by music culture, youth cultural production, reflections of social realities in the US inner city and the music industry" (Kitwana, 2002). This joins the idea stated earlier and adds the iconic component which is a key element of the big apple spirit and represents another aspect of the evolution of the multicultural environment offered by the metropolis. It is as important when talking about New York's urban icons as the Brooklyn Bridge, Skyscrapers, or Broadway shows; it is the city's baby and it shows another facet that it far from being the same as the Upper East Side, a reality that is not to be neglected. No matter how harsh, violent, and brutal it is, it remains an inseparable part of the whole conception of New York City.
From New Amsterdam to New York, there have been many changes. The city is no more that little town limited to the southern part of Manhattan. It has expended to the whole island, then to Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens without forgetting Staten Island. This expansion, added to the mass immigration movement and the industrialization, together created a metropolitan area that became later the most ethnically diverse in the world which led to the development of many notions typical to that city in which everything is possible and dreams comes true in addition to culturally diverse environment which gave birth to brand new ways and trends that spread throughout the planet.