Issues in Popular Music

Topics: Hip hop music, African American, Black people Pages: 5 (1898 words) Published: June 21, 2013
In the late 1980’s a hip-hop group by the name of Public Enemy began to gain prominence and popularity amongst the majority of African-Americans and other ethnicities. With their politically and racially charged lyrics, they amassed millions of fans in the United States and across the globe. In this essay, I hope to elaborate and argue about their somewhat controversial music that united an ample black audience under the common theme of black power and the fight to completely end racial oppression.

Rap and hip hop music, both have been related and linked to black music but has the term ‘black music’ been used correctly or should the term ‘black music’ even exist? According to Philip Tagg, he argues that blackness is often characterized as ‘blue notes’, ‘call-and-response techniques’, ‘syncopation’ and ‘improvisation’ but none of these characteristics can be categorized as black music. He further argues that the consideration of black music is a matter of stereotyping which can be related to racism or ethnicity. Ref: longhurst page 118-122. Oliver on the other hand has a sociological approach to his point of view; he argues that ‘black music’ would be considered as such if its listeners, performers and creators accept it. With such an approach, problems may arise from the listeners. For example, Michael Jackson can be seen from the listeners’ point of view as white or black. This type of perception can be meaningless to some but when it comes to the origin of Jackson’s music and the way his music is released and sold, it will not only show the characteristics of his music but also to the political connection it has.

Political hip-hop was developed in the early 1980’s, which was inspired by the ‘political preachers’ in the late 1970’s. Artists began using politics in their music to send out messages to the world and to cause awareness to the people. One of the best groups known for their political hip-hop is Public Enemy. (Rose, 1990) Public Enemy was one of the most influential and controversial groups in the history of hip-hop in the late 1980’s. Public Enemy was created in 1982 by the current leader of the group Carlton Ridenhour also known as ‘Chuck D’. (Longhurst, 2007) Chuck was a DJ at a student radio station in Adelphi University; this is where the group started to form. He then met Hank Shocklee collectively known as ‘Bomb Squad in addition to Keith Shocklee, and Eric Sadler’ and Bill Stephney the former executive of ‘Def Jam’. All three of them shared common thoughts, the love of hip-hop and their political views. With these thought in mind all three of them became close friends. (Longhurst, 2007) With the help of Stephney, Chuck accepted to sign on with Rick Rubin (the co-founder and the producer of Def Jam) and from there, Chuck assigned the Bomb squad as the chief producer, Stephney as the publicist and recruited a DJ called Terminator X and a fellow member in the Nation of the Islam Professor Griff as a choreographer. He also asked an old friend of his, William Drayton known as Flavor Flav who functioned as a court jester to Chuck to help out. In 1987, with the formation of the Public Enemy the first album was released ‘Yo!, Bum Rush The Show’. (Longhurst, 2007)

Public Enemy has spread their political views to their audience through their thoughtful lyrics. One of their best-known songs and one that can be used, as a great example for their type of music and political views is ‘Fight The Power’ from the album ‘Do the Right Thing’. In this song the Public Enemy encourages the people to be aware and to stay cautious and to fight for their rights. Furthermore, they fight racism and shows their pride in being black (much like other African American Groups from the time, and indeed today) as he mentions in his song (Fight The Power) ‘Elvis was a hero to most, But he never meant ---- to me you see, Straight up racist that sucker was, Simple and plain, Mother---- him and John Wayne, Cause I'm...

Bibliography: Longhurst, B. (2007). Popular Music & Society. Polity Press.
Pareles, J. (1989). Public Enemy Rap Group Reorganizes After Anti-Semitic Comments. The new York Times .
Public Enemy. (2007). Retrieved from vh1:
Reeves, M. (2008). Sombody Scream! In Stumblin through black power revisited (pp. 70-91). New york: Faber and Faber.
Rose, T. (1990). "Fear of a Black Planet": Rap Music and Black Cultural Politics in the 1990s (Vol. 33). Journal of Negro Education.
Watson, P. J. (2009). Rap Group Public Enemy Warn Of “The Obama Deception” . .
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