balladeer of moons

163,877 poems read

  1. How is manhood defined by American Culture? How is it defined by Hip Hop and Rap?
Since the days of the wild open frontier, America has been a centerpiece of violence and the  
glorification of violence.  We were originally a nation born and bred in rebellion, a norm for a country
under oppression.  A cult of individuality and reckless abandon grew out of the
West and South in American outlawry, with the gun as its central symbol.  This gained an urban identity
and took on more definition in the twentieth and current centuries.
The American male, ideally, is stoical and emotionless (gender role expectation), often of few words, and
always stands his ground. With the onset of hip-hop music and culture in the early seventies, the
particular elements of more intensified violence, woman-hating (misogyny), and homophobia were
added and blended with an already well-delineated, if image-based, formula of masculinity. The
brutalization and subjugation of women has always been a prominent part of this subculture’s values.
Dominance must be complete. Weaker, easily intimidated males are controlled and the remaining part
of humanity, womanhood, must also be degraded. These false semaphores and
images are perpetuated by the striking arm of the popular culture and its main weapon, the national media,
which bombards the retina daily with electronic symbols to shape and influence our
collective consciousness.
  1. What are the origins of Hip Hop and Rap music?
Hip hop started at dance parties with the improvisations of DJ’s. They would throw in spontaneous
instrumentals during a set and some would join in by beat-boxing with their hands. Originally, hip hop might have
been a new social gospel with important messages about social inequality. No one of course wanted to
hear about this, so its message evolved into something violent and materialistic, and therefore more
profitable. Rap is the adding of rhymed phrases to hip hop style music, and has street origins in the
doing of the dozens (Eg. 8 Mile). B-dancing or old style breakdancing developed alongside early hip hop.
This form has passed through many stages and many do not even associate rap or hip hop with
gangsterism anymore.
       What were the values stressed when these forms of music were created? What are their values today?
The seventies in New York and America at large were a time of turmoil, marked by a widespread
counterculture. Young hip hop was idealistic and strove to raise consciousness about unfair social
conditions. Old school hip hop reflected these messages. The work of Grandmaster Flash stands out as
one illustrious example. The urbanization and ghettoization of most forms of music changed the tone
and direction of many musical expressions. Perhaps out of a sense of futility and social deafness, hip
hop quickly became focused on a type of reverse-elitism, attacking power systems with threats of
violence, ‘raging against the machine’, letting “the rivers of blood” flow in our streets, as Harry
Belafonte lamented, and putting down women, who traditionally have held the power
in male/female interrelationships.  Today, hip hop and rap stand as forms of counterculture that are
getting assimilated into the cultural mainstream.
  1. When did hip hop and rap change? What were the forces that drove or prompted the change?
Hip hop and rap were forms of protest that became acceptable, and then popular forms of
entertainment. When this happened in the 1990’s, they became tamer and gentler; in effect,
more Hollywoodized. This trend has continued to the present day. As in Grunge and other styles, greed
and profit have altered the actual sound and presentation of hip hop and rap. Old school rappers spoke
of materialism too, but with more restraint. Market forces drove hip hop and rap to change, and a lower
common denominator of discerning intelligence has prevailed. Old raps are less in demand than new
raps for the same reasons that poetry is less demanded than pop music. The next step in the evolution
of hip hop and rap will be disgust, then eventually rejection and replacement.
  1. Does art (music) reflect society or does it impact (society) at a particular point in time?
Most art forms that became popular had their innings, then phased out. An artist, musician or writer will
try to capture the temper of his times. This will make for a more relevant artwork or song but it may not
be consistent with the artist’s vision. He makes a choice – to reflect or try to define. The latter is
extremely difficult and could create the conditions for posthumous fame at best. In some ways, the
artist or musician will subconsciously reflect his society’s values because he himself has been influenced
by them. He may impact his society for a short intense period of time (pleases the masses) or he may go
for a larger, more universal meaning and be relevant to future societies as well. Not everyone can be
Shakespeare or Mozart, nor wants to be.