Hip Hop: From ‘the street’ to ‘Wall Street’
Hip-hop music is known for being an outlet for African Americans to express themselves, whether it be political criticism, social criticism, injustice, youth rebellion, oppression or some other social concept. The music has changed form over time, from spirituals sang by slaves to powerful raps about society to meaningless degradation sang by ‘thugs’ and ‘gangsters’. Today, hip-hop music exists in many forms, some of which hold true to the meaningfulness of 1970s hip-hip from the South Bronx, and others with catchy beats and meaningless lyrics created simply for cash capital. The music coming from the South Bronx in the 1970s was prophetic. It talked about topics concerning society and its future (Asante 1-23). Modern-day mainstream hip-hop, for the most part, is not prophetic in any sense of the word. But, with that said, one must also remember that main stream hip-hop is not all hip-hop. Mainstream hip-hop has made a transition from ‘the street’ to ‘Wall Street’, losing its identity in the process.
In the days of slavery, church was used as a means of keeping spirits up and encouraging day-to-day life. Slaves were not legally allowed to learn how to read or write, so they had to learn the Bible by listening to a preacher and singing bible verses. Spirituals were songs sung by slaves that combined Protestant hymns and African music styles (Raboteau 47). Spirituals held different meanings for different people. Some would speak of freeing oneself of sins while simultaneously relating to being free of slavery; some were even used as tools to escape slavery. Harriet Tubman’s “Wade in the Water” is one of the most well-known spirituals. The spiritual was used to warn runaway slaves to abandon the path and move into or near the water to avoid dogs and their keepers (Pathways to Freedom). As time passed, spirituals evolved into a more modern form but served much the same purpose.
Freedom songs were revived spirituals sung during the civil rights movement. Many came directly from spirituals with a few words tailored to fit the message of the civil rights movement. For example, the spiritual “My Mind Stayed on Jesus” became “My Mind Stayed on Freedom” during the civil rights movement (Sweet Chariot). The undertone of civil rights music was the same spirituals used during African American’s earliest days of oppression. Another example of a spiritual turned freedom song is “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” to “Keep Your Mind on the Prize” (Sweet Chariot). These are just examples of how African American music evolved early on. Hip-hop culture was born from poor black and Latino youth in the South Bronx in the 1970s. There were four elements to hip-hop culture: rap, DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing. The culture was a way of expression for the poor originators and a way of expressing their economic and social status (Codrington). Afrika Bambaataa, also known as the Grandfather of Hip-Hop, was instrumental in the development of hip-hop culture. He was the first DJ and led the first Hip-Hop Tour. As the face of early hip-hop, Bambaataa promoted the aspects of hip-hop that involved unity, spirit and having fun (Mitchell). Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were a very influential early hip-hop group who were best known for their song “The Message”. The song opens up with a very powerful first verse: “It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under” (Grandmaster Flash). Falling in line with most early rap music, the lyrics related to society and what was taking place in the South Bronx during the time the song was written. The chorus follows with “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head” (Grandmaster Flash). “The Message” reflected upon the general struggles the poor were facing in the South Bronx. A large reason for the song’s popularity was the fact that people could relate. People could relate to the ideas of helplessness and...
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