The Power Of Hip Hop by eluruswathi


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									  THe Power of Hip Hop: The
beginnings, present DAY hip hop
and possibilities for the future

                           By: Brittany Dawson
       CopyRight by Brittany Leigh Dawson 2012

Hip hop music originated in the 1970’s on the streets in
the Bronx as a way to unite the communities
through music (hip). Over time, mainstream hip Hop has
transformed into an individualistic art that idolizes
certain aspects of society that would otherwise be
deemed as undesirable. Not only does it promote
less desirable lifestyles, Hip Hop music has evolved
into a genre of music that degrades specific groups
of people, such as, women and people of color. This
is harmful to those groups, because it does affect
how these people are viewed, Yet I believe that hip
hop has the power to create positive change in
society by sending messages that influence people
in a good way. this is evident in some local and
underground hip hop artists today, but we need to
shift our music preferences from those that
emphasize negative and harmful messaging to songs
with uplifting messages. I will start by going through
a history of how hip hop started. From there, I will
look at mainstream hip hop and what it is today,
then I will present to you what hip hop could be by
highlighting a few underground/ non-mainstream hip
hop artists and end
with a call to action
that will offer ways
to get involved.

Hip hop started on
the streets of New
York City, as I stated
earlier. In the 1970’s, a
rapper that would
soon be known as
KOOl DJ Herc
immigrated to the
bronx from Kingston,
Jamaica. He needed a
way to pay for his
sisters school
supplies, so he
decided to throw
block parties to raise
money. From there He became a disc jockey and

wanted to incorporate his Jamaican roots into his
music style. To do this he would recite improvised
rhymes over reggae records. This didn’t excite
people, so he had to adapt his style to involve
chanting over the instrumentals or percussion
sections. Once he started to do this, his music
started to gain popularity very quickly. As hip hop
progressed, there became four elements, which
included Mcing, graffiti, Bboying, Djing and currently
they have added knowledge (Chang). For people
who want more information on hip hop, read Jeff
Chang’s book “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A history of the
Hip Hop Generation”.

Popular Hip Hop Today
Hip hop or rap today has become all about degrading
                                women, glamorizes
                                illegal activities, and
                                boasting about all the
                                money the hip hop
                                artists have. THis is not
                                only harmful to
                                women, because it
                                teaches men that it is
                                okay to degrade
                                women, but it also
                                idolizes illegal
                                activities and jail time,
                                which can negatively
influence the young people that look up to these
rap artists. THis can be seen in many artists, such as
Lil Wayne, who just recently got out of jail and is
constantly rapping about topics, such as, weed and
his famous “purple drank”. In a movie titled Hip Hop:
Beyond Beats and Rhythms, the director interviews
groups of women at a summer hip hop concert and
asks them how they feel about rappers use of the
word “bitch.” Their reactions were that the artists
were obviously
not talking about them, yet when the director then
went up to a group of men and asked if that group
of women that he was just talking to were dressed
like bitches, their immediate answer was “yes” (Hurt).
I think part of the problem is, when it comes to hip
hop music. the very People that are being degraded
in the songs feel as if they are exempt, because
they don’t associate themselves with the group

the rapper is singing about, yet other people would
easily classify them into these groups. that is very
specifically what the songs are encouraging them
to do. This can be seen in quite a few examples, but
I will focus on just a few in this paper to prove my

This first artist that I will focus on is Tyga. He is a
very popular artist among the youth presently,
and also has some very degrading music and music
videos. One of his most popular songs currently is
Rack City. Here is a link to the music video if you are
unfamiliar with this song or music video Rack City.
Before watching, be warned that this is a very risque
video.. Also I would like to state that this is a toned
down version of the music video, Youtube will not
post the unedited versions anymore. Though this is
not even his most risque video, it is his most popular

Looking at this song, lyrics and graphics, the viewer
would see that it degrades women, by not only
showing them as nothing more than sexual objects,
but it also “dismembers” them. In a video by Jean
Kilbourne, she talks about how dismembering women
in media is very harmful to our understanding of
women, because it allows men to see them as
physical items rather than human beings (kilbourne).
In addition, it is also not appropriate for everyone.
Rack city is on the radio and that means that
everyone can listen to it. This means that kids from
a young age are getting the messages that women
are objects that can be bought, sold, sexed up, and
discarded. THis is not only unhealthy to be teaching
to the youth, but artists like Tyga are not artists
that they should be idolizing for apparent reasons.

Chris Brown and Rihanna
As most people know, Chris Brown and Rihanna,
already have an abusive past together. Many people
have been skeptical of them getting back together,
not only in fear for Rihanna, but also for what it
says to the public about being and getting back into
abusive relationships. Being in the public eye means
that this couple is not only always being watched,
but it also means that people look up to them. When

Rihanna produces songs like I Love the Way You Lie,
which promotes ideas of abuse within relationships
as being acceptable, it’s hard to picture the message
she, as a popular women hip hop artist, is sending
out to young women that look up to her. when she
sings about topics of abuse like in this case, she is
degrading herself.

Within the last year, Rihanna and chris brown
produced the the song Birthday Cake, which is a
video that offers a another good example of
women being degraded, yet in this video, it’s Rihanna
degrading herself, because it is her song and her
body she is allowing to be portrayed sexually in
the music video. This can almost be seen as worse,
because she is the artist and has a say in how her
music videos look. Looking at the contrasts between
Rihanna’s video and the earlier example by Chris
Browns, they are quite different. In Chris Brown’s
video, he is the star, every scene features dancing
where women are shown fully clothed and he is
shown with kids and large groups of people. This
can be seen in most of his performances and music
videos that he makes, but he made a bad name for
himself, when his abuse of Rihanna was broadcast
in the media. Rihanna on the other hand dismembers
herself, by having shoots of just her lips speaking
and showing close ups of different body parts and
shows herself in many degrading poses that over
sexualize her. Looking at the differences between
these two different kind of scenes in the same
music video, it makes me wonder who decided to
depict Rihanna in this way and why. Is it the record
company that she is part of, or is this how she
wanted to be depicted?

Underground Hip Hop with Positive Messaging
As I have demonstrated, women are often degraded
in hip hop songs, but it isn’t just women that are
hurt by hip hop music. The language and messages
of songs can hurt men, as well. In a blog on News
International, the author talks about the debate
going on around if hip Hop degrades or enhances
society. Here is a link to the blog for those who
want to read this entry. Xanna, the author, raises a
number of good points around this subject. He brings
up the facts that there are underground artists that

are spending the careers producing songs that have
positive and educational messaging, but they aren’t
in the limelight. This is not the only example of sites
that are talking about this topic. in another article,
the author quotes people as saying things like “It’s
still sexist, homophobic, in thrall to the criminal
lifestyle and as dumb as a baG of hammers” and, in a
vote on the page, 54% of people that voted believe
that it degrades society (Townshend). With this being
the case, I believe there needs to be a change in
what hip hop artists talk about and I believe that
there can be a shift in hip hop that would send
upbuilding messages, which would result in positive
outcomes. So I will highlight a few artist that aren’t
as popular, but have produced songs with positive or
educational lyrics.

Nas is an older artist, but he is also one of the most
mainstream hip hop artists that I can think of that
has produced songs to uplift his listeners. A good is
example is the song I Know I Can. This song basically
uplifts his listeners by telling everyone that if you
work hard at anything you can be where you want
to be and also talks about how easy it is to mess up
and how those situations can end up. He uses lyrics
such as “Read More, Learn More, CHange the globe,”
which I believe sends out positive messages about
change coming from knowledge.

Blue Scholars
Blue Scholars is a local Seattle group that came
out of the University of Washington around 2005.
Currently they perform songs like Motion Movement,
which not only sends life lessons to their listeners,
but also uplifts them. this group produces many
songs that talk about history in a way that gains
listeners. Those people that also listen to their
music often gain knowledge while listening to the

As you can see, there are artists out there with
positive messages that can help and teach society in
many ways, but the direction in which hip hop is going
right now is hurtful to groups of people. WHen
strong emphasis on money and misogynistic ideas
are getting pushed into society thru hip hop, it’s no

wonder why the youth learn from a young age are
learning that stealing is okay and being a pimp and
degrading girls is acceptable.

Call to action
1. Be aware. KNow what you are listening to. This
means understanding the messages the song is
presenting and understanding how those ideas are
being projected in the lyrics.

2. Stop supporting Negative messaging in songs. If you
find that the songs that you are listening to aren’t
in line with ideas you agree with, find new artists
to listen to0. There are thousands of rappers out
there that are either popular or working to become
popular. Find those that are sending a message that
you agree with and starting spreading their music
3. Actively listen to song
lyrics. Don’t just listen
to music, because it has
a nice beat. You are
receiving the lyrics
whether it is conscious
or not.

4. Get Involved in
Underground music,
such as, Zulu Nation, a
national hip hop
organization. There are
many organizations that
support up and coming
artists. by doing this, it
can help the artist that
you like become popular.

5. Support local artist
that you agree with
their messages. This
means anything from
buying their CDs or MP3 on itunes to going to their

Afika Bambaataa, known as the “Godfather of Hip
hop”, started as a gang member and today is an

intellectual and respected by fan and the hip hop
community. “He recognizes that a great deal of
ignorance exists within society, and he constantly
strives to educate the misguided, indoctrinated
masses” (Ahmed). he makes the comment about
rappers saying “Just look at yourselves, sounding
like a bunch of fools, who really don’t have any
true knowledge of self and knowledge of hip-hop
culture and what it’s all about” (Ahmed). With the
godfather of hip hop making comments like this
about current rap, I believe that this truly enforces
the idea that mainstream hip hop today needs to
transform back into something that focuses on
knowledge and education to enhance our society.
As Krs-one once said “We are hip hop, we preserve it,
we protect it and we are the ones who are doing it,
and we are not criminals. In fact, we are scholars, we
are philosophers, we are priests, we are ministers, we
are activists” (Watkins 229). If we are hip hop, what is it
saying about our culture right now?

                  Authors page
I am Brittany Dawson, a senior at the University of
Washington, studying Communications and Comparative
                                History of Ideas. With
                                graduation right around
                                the corner, I spend most
                                of my time on school, but
                                when I do have free time, I
                                enjoy playing sports and
                                hanging out with friends.

                                 Having the opportunity to
                                 write a project that I
                                 would have to publish to
                                 a website, I wanted to
                                 write about something
                                 that would actually
                                 affect people in my
                                 generation and possibly
bring awareness to people. By no means is this supposed
to be me bashing hip hop or rap, I just see the potential it
could have as a genre of music.

I love music, especially hip hop and pop, but often get
frustrated with the negative messaging that mainstream
music puts out. Being frustrated, I found a class at the
University of Washington titled “Hip Hop in the 206”, where
I was able to explore these ideas further, while also
learning about some new and exciting non-mainstream

For those who have questions or comments about this
paper, feel free to contact me at

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