THE HIP-HOP CULTURE
The hip-hop culture was born in 1974 when deejay Kool Herc, in the streets of the South Bronx, started to mix records on a turntable, creating instrumental loops (Evolving Music: 2009). Herc hosted block parties, which attracted a sizeable crowd and, as his crowds grew larger, Herc moved the party to a larger event, "tapping into the city's power supply, and thus began the storied parties in the park that have been commemorated in hip-hop lyrics ever since." (M Hess: 2007: pg7). Back then, "in the pioneering days, it wasn't about money; nobody came out to get paid. We used to spend more money than we made to come out and play. It was a lot of hard work... to bring all them speakers and rent all that equipment out, but we just did it for the love of hip-hop - just to play music." (Grandmaster Kaz: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). That is how the culture of hip-hop began. For African-Americans in New York, this "was the solution, the product of self-determination, self-realisation, creativity, and pride." (Price: 2006: pgxi).
Originally, hip-hop consisted of merely musical expressions, with deejays spinning records. As it developed though, other art forms were introduced to the parties: breakdancing, the physical expression; graffiti, the visual expression; and of course, rap, the oral expression. These were known as the four elements of hip-hop. Graffiti and breakdancing may, at first, appear to have little or no relation to rap or deejaying but, at these block parties, events, and in the street in general, the artists of their respective elements merged their skills to create a culture. A rapper would perform to the music that a deejay would mix, while the breakdancers would dance over the breaks of the record, hence the term 'breakdancer' (Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). This suggests that breakdancing originated from hip-hop; however, it did not. It is not known for sure where it originated from. Some experts "trace the lineage of the break dance back to the Brazilian Frevo, a Russian folk-dance-influenced form of martial-arts dance/march." (CentralHome.com: 2009). The general opinion is that, although the roots of breakdancing can be traced back to Brazil approximately 500 years ago, "it seems more likely that [it] was invented by African slaves." (ibid). Breakdancers were therefore preserving, or even regenerating, some of the early African-American culture.1 This regeneration changed the lives of its artists, most of whom were reforming criminals. Breakdancing brought focus to their life; a purpose. Breakdancer, RE, explains that: "Back then, everybody that I knew that really had mad flavour in breakdancing used to be a hardcore criminal. Breakdancing came along and made a difference in my life. You're too busy learning how to dance than to rob and steal, and you're too tired to fight after breakdancing. You've just battled somebody and taken out all your aggression out dancing." (RE aka Clear Black: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
What must also be noted about this comment is that it suggests that breakdancing was a way of releasing anger; a way of fighting oppression. Breakdancer Lil' Caesar backs this up by saying breakdancing, to him, "is a way of expressing myself, getting my anger out there, instead of going out there and smoking or fighting. I go to my own little world and I just express myself through breaking. I dance and get creative, and I'm just spinning and I feel like I'm flying; I'm flying in the air, and I'm free." (Lil ' Caesar: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Graffiti art, unlike breakdancing, had its origins before the hip-hop culture. It "completely predates the development of the other three elements." (Parmar et al: 2006: pg359). The Ancient Egyptians, for example, used hieroglyphics, which, in the words of KRS-One in his song, 'Out For Fame', were the "mixing [of] characters with letters, to tell the graphic story about their lives." (KRS-One: Out For Fame). The same could be said to apply to graffiti art within the hip-hop culture. The artists wanted to tell their stories via visual means, aiming to gain a reputation and become known. Grandmaster Kaz, who helped with the early development of hip-hop, says "it was just about getting up. You wanted to write your name in as many places for as many people to see, so you'd be known." (Grandmaster Kaz: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Graffiti art served other purposes, too. Most notably, it was a medium for artists to express social and political messages that corresponded with news, matters and events within their given community. New York graffiti artist, Andre Charles, believes graffiti art means "getting out what a lot of people can't get out. It's like expressing beauty, colour, excitement, drama - it's everything like music." (Andre Charles: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Why then, if it is just like music, did graffiti, along with breakdancing in 1985, cease to be considered viable forms of hip-hop? It could be argued that graffiti art, when sprayed on public property, is illegal but, in 1985, rap music, too, was illegal. KRS-One explains this in 'Out For Fame', even forming a comparison between Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and hip-hop graffiti art:
"Historically speakin’, cause people be dissin',
The first graffiti artists in the world were the Egyptians -
Writing on the walls, mixing characters with letters,
to tell the graphic story about their life, however,
today we do the same thing, with how we rap and draw.
We call it hardcore, they call it breakin’ the law.
There used to be a time when rap music was illegal,
the cops would come and break up every party when they see you.
But now the rap music's making money for the corporate,
it's acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody's on it.
Graffiti isn't corporate so it gets no respect,
hasn't made a billion dollars for some corporation yet."
(KRS-One: Out For Fame)
KRS-One reiterates and furthers this point in the Rhyme & Reason documentary. He says that, "after 1985, hip-hop and rap made a split. Graffiti art and breakdancing no longer became viable means of expressing this piece of culture. Rap became the viable means of expressing this culture, and it was only because corporate America deemed it important. 'Well we can make some money pressing up these records, so, let's go.'" (KRS-One: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
What he is theorising is the exact argument expressed throughout this dissertation: that first, African-Americans create something of their own as a form of fighting oppression; and then, corporate America sees potential profit and exploits it. Throughout this essay, it has been discovered that once this happens, there has usually been a case for African-Americans then exploiting themselves. This leads to the next chapter in the history of hip-hop: record labels and the commercialisation of rap music.
In the beginning, the only record companies interested in rap music were the independent labels. Whodini rapper, X, says that, in the early 1980s, when few rappers had record contracts, only the small independent labels would sign a rap artist, and the major labels were uninterested (X: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Of these independent labels, many were black-owned (Bennett: 2005: pg260). Then, seeing the success of the independent labels, major labels began to take an interest (Watkins: 2005: pg41). This obviously means that the major labels were exploiting rap music and its artists, who were predominantly black, but the question remains: who owned these record companies? The first artist to sign to a major label was Curtis Blow, a rapper, deejay and breakdancer, who signed to Mercury Records (Bennett: 2005: pg260), which was a white owned record company (African American Registry: 2009). Was Curtis Blow, along with other artists who signed to major labels, exploited or were they gaining something or both?
It seems that the commercialisation of rap music sparked mixed reactions. On one side, people saw it as massive progression for African-American people. Artists were suddenly able to express their struggles to an exterior audience, as opposed to people merely within their given communities. According to Speech, rap music, at its best, "can grab the nation by the neck, and make people realise what's going on. It's a voice for the oppressed people that, in many other ways, just don't have a voice." (Speech: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Legendary rapper Q-Tip believes there is "not one issue that takes place [in the United States] that hip-hop hasn't addressed yet." (Q-Tip: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Hip-hop is, in the words of the man responsible for the birth of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc (referenced by Jeff Chang), "the voice of this generation... It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together." (Chang: 2009).
Therefore, there is one side who believe the commercialisation of rap music has helped the oppressed express their struggles to a worldwide audience, while also offering them financial incentives. On the other side, though, there are those who believe that the commercialisation has been merely the exploitation of a culture and its people. In 1997, The Pharcyde said that "record labels are untrustworthy. They don't care about the artist. They let the artist do what he wants to do... they get a certain percentage, and we get leftovers." (The Pharcyde: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
It seems as though both perspectives have validity. The artists were often exploited financially, but they were also offered the opportunity to express their perspectives to a larger audience; to fight oppression, which was hip-hop's original purpose. What is interesting to note in the development of rap music is the increase in black-owned major record labels. In 1993, Death Row Records, owned by African-American record producer Suge Knight, grossed more than $60 million (Cashmore: 1997: pg156). In 2009, Forbes magazine listed rap artist and co-founder of Roc A Fella records, Jay Z, as the seventeenth richest black American with a net worth of $150 million (Gossiboo: 2009). It is therefore evident that, at least in modern times, some African-Americans can rise out of poverty and live the American dream.2 But if there is a genuine argument that major record labels are financially exploiting rap artists, then Knight and Jay Z, with their aforementioned profits earned through their major record labels, must be considered, too, to be exploiting rap artists, most of which, like themselves, are African-American. This must be nonsensical, though. Record labels are in the business, first and foremost, to earn money for the label. If a label taking a percentage from an artist is considered exploitation, then the whole music industry - for both blacks and whites - is based around exploitation. One major point here though is that, whereas hip-hop was originally based around fighting oppression, it is now, in the mainstream at least, based around profit. It "is no longer about the message in the song at all, but about the amount of money that song will produce." (Ashley: 2009). This shows how the corporations have infiltrated hip-hop and transformed it into an enterprise. Surely, though, if the artists' music still focuses on fighting oppression and standing up for the black community, then the fact that these songs now have worldwide recognition should be considered a good thing, regardless of whether other people are making money from it as well as the artist. It is the music industry - it is the labels' reward for showcasing artists' music to the world. But is the music portraying African-American life in a positive sense?
Because of the diversity of hip-hop, there is no straightforward answer to this question. Different artists have different perspectives. There are conscious rappers, who rap positively about the black communities, search for solutions and alternatives to problems, and attempt to educate listeners and make them aware of social and political situations. Immortal Technique's 'The Cause Of Death' is a fitting example of this type of rapper:
"How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave?
Indigenous holocaust, and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin' offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country never sponsored terrorism?...
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children...
A continent of oil kingdoms, bought for a bargain
Democracy is just a word, when the people are starvin'
The average citizen, made to be, blind to the reason
A desert full of genocide, where the bodies are freezin'
And the world doesn't believe that you fighting for freedom
Cause you fu**** the Middle East, and gave birth to a demon...
I'm tryin' to give the truth, and I know the price is my life...
Turn off the news and read, nigga!"
(Immortal Technique: The 4th Branch)
There are hardcore rappers, who often but not always produce songs where the sole intention, it seems, is to offend. The example here is 'The Devil's Son' by Big L:
"It's Big L and I'm all about taking funds;
I'm a stone villain known for killing and raping nuns.
Yo I even kill handicapped and crippled bitches;
Look at my scalp real close and you'll see triple sixes.
There's no doubt, I'm all about a dollar;
I just signed a lifetime contract with the funeral parlor.
This kid that owed me dough, I didn't take his life;
Instead, I tied him up and made him watch me rape his wife...
Once a hottie, shot me with a shotty.
I died but then I came back to life in another body.
The way I'm living is dead wrong;
I'm a devil from Hell, without the tail or the red horns.
Killing is fun, I'm number one with a gun;
Front and get done, 'cause you can't run from the Devil's Son."
(Big L: The Devil's Son)
Similar to hardcore, there is gangsta rap, which is music from the perspective of a gangster. These songs usually depict street life from the artist's perspective and the situation he lives in - be it realistic or fictional. Keith Nut raps on Fat Joe's 'Watch Out':
"You best run son, I'm sendin' emcees up s**** creek,
So don't sleep, 'cause I creep, on New York streets,
like I'm a big fat dick, wack emcees is ass-cheeks.
Yo, I'm that nigga that'll kidnap yo' kids
Take ‘em home, f*** ‘em good, then send ‘em back to you in bandages.
You lose, 'cause I got, the ill street, and still keep the toast close...
So watch your back black, Bronx niggas don't play,
If you ever fake jax, I'll slit your throat like OJ."
(Fat Joe (featuring Keith Nut): Watch Out)
The final example is the rapper who boasts of his materialistic wealth. He talks about women, jewellery, cars, money, et cetera. Here is the chorus from Papoose's 'Get Money':
"You wanna bang, I'll give you something to bang for;
You wanna ride, I'll give you something to ride for...
Come on let's get drunk, let's get high dog;
You wanna grill, I'll give you something to grill for;
'cause I give you something to get gully for,
but let's f*** these bit**** and get money, dog."
(Papoose: Get Money)
It goes without saying that the aforementioned examples are not the only perspectives in rap music. They are, however, some of the most common examples, and worth referencing. The main question, though, is which of these are being promoted by the mainstream? Before looking at the present, it is important to study the history of mainstream rap music, and the effects imposed by its lyrics.
The first commercially successful rap record was Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight', and, because of the success of rap groups such as Run DMC and The Beastie Boys in the 1980s, record labels, realising the potential of rap, became more ruthless in their pursuit of rap artists and marketing ploys (AskDeb.com: 2009). Negative attention from the media followed, and this has much to do with West Coast gangsta rap. Before discussing this, though, it is important to note that, because of the group, Public Enemy in the 1980s, conscious rap was gaining media attention. Though this attention was negative, Public Enemy were commercially successful (Napster: 2009). They rhymed about political and social problems that were affecting the black community, and often encouraged revolutionary tactics and social activism (ibid). Therefore, conscious rap was not being ignored but, because of the popularity of West Coast gangsta rap, it was somewhat overlooked (Koskoff: 2005: pg365).
One of the pioneers of West Coast gangsta rap, Ice T, says that, "while they were having a hip-hop scene in New York, we were having a gang scene... Violence is part of that lifestyle, so you've got to rap about it." (Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
The lyrical content often involved "guns, violence, peer allegiance, sex, drugs, and the exploitation of women." (Koskoff: 2005: pg365). Why then, were these records, which gave African-Americans such a negative image, so successful? Before addressing this, it is important to note that rap's primary audience is white and lives in the suburbs (Samuels: 1995: p242). So why were these records so successful among whites living in the suburbs? Samuels believes that "the more rappers were packaged as violent black criminals, the bigger their white audiences became." (ibid). But why is this? Samuels goes on to quote Henry Louis Gates, Jr, who says that white audiences are appealed because they feel they are getting some kind of authentic black experience (ibid).
It seems that hip-hop was exploited by the mainstream, and revamped for a white audience, who were willing to fork money into it. But why, if it was having such a negative effect on African-Americans, were artists allowing it to happen? Maybe they exploited their culture out of financial gain, or maybe it was simply not having a negative effect. Maybe, through their music, they were exposing to their white, suburban audience the struggles and injustices they had and still faced, hoping for change. Rapper Chuck D believes rap music is the black CNN, meaning it can expose what is happening in a way that mainstream media could or would not do (Napster: 2009). Rapper, Ras Kass says that when NWA (Niggaz Wit' Attitude) released their highly controversial record, 'F*** Tha Police', he could relate to it. "But the average white American - if we're going to have to generalise - would say, "why would they think such a thing?3"" (Ras Kass: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). This shows the contrast between inner-city blacks and suburban whites, and that the music is exposing the lives of urban blacks to middle America. Surely this is a positive thing? Well, there are those who disagree. Rev Dr Calvin O Butts III believes the negativity in rap music opposes everything key figures in African-American history have fought for, who, he says, "did not struggle and jeopardise their lives to give young black music artists the temerity to refer to black women as bitches and whores and, with abandon, characterise African-American people as niggers." (Butts III: 1995: p76). The negativity arguably comes from the "dangerous myth facing African-Americans... that middle-class life is counterfeit and that only poverty and suffering, and the rage that attends them, are real." (Staples: 1995: pg78). Rapper Wise Intelligent sums this up suitably:
"As far as messages go, I'm trying to get across several different things. For instance, there's one side of me that's totally for the preservation of black youth, because we're dying at a rapid rate... I can't stand the ghetto. A lot of rappers run around, "yeah, I'm from the ghetto." I live in the ghetto - the ghetto doesn't live in me. This is an ill situation. We have been put here for a cause. We have been put here to die. That's genocide, and that's the bottom line. If I had the chance to live with a stream flowing through my back yard, meadows in my back yard, you think I wouldn't? We're not here just because we want to be hip and fly. It wasn't our choice to come to the ghetto. So as far as staying true to the hood, I'm not really staying true to the hood, I'm staying true to the people that are in the hood."
(Wise Intelligent: Rhyme & Reason: 1997)
Wise Intelligent's comment, though valid and well-informed, could be considered ironic considering the insurgence of materialism-ridden rap music that has gradually circulated and become common in the twenty-first century. As stated previously, this type of rapper boasts of his materialistic wealth: women, jewellery, cars, money, et cetera. This perspective owes much to the fact that African-American rap artists often rose from poverty, earned money through their music, and lived the American dream. Some believe that boasting about their materialistic wealth is inspirational to those hoping to rise out of poverty. The more "jewellery and cash one has, the more real one can purport to be - even and especially if the rapper can also claim a Horatio Alger4 trajectory that mixes the right measure of bling-bling success with clear remembrances of where s/he came from." (Jackson: 2005: pg192). Ice T, speaking from his Los Angeles mansion, said:
"Interviewers would come over and say, "you don't live in a black community." Well, where is a black community? Where do white people live?... There is no black community - there's a poor community, and I'm not trying to live in any f****** poor community. I've been making records 14-years... I should not have s*** - would that make you happier?... When I was out in South Central... we used to look up at those hills and this was my goal: to one day get out of the ghetto, and I think the best thing I'm doing for my community is showing them that a brother like myself, without giving in to the man, can make it and that means they can make it...
Interviewers would come over and say, "Wow, you have a big house." I'm like, "why don't you say I have a big house for somebody black - you racist motherf*****."
(Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997)
Ice T's comment suggests that white America seems to expect black people to live impoverished lives. If these rap artists boast of their materialistic wealth to inspire those living in poverty, then hip-hop, is, in fact, still about fighting oppression.
There are many, though, who strongly oppose materialism in hip-hop. Chuck D says that, while rappers are showing off their materialistic wealth and living the American dream, "ninety-nine-out-of-one-hundred don't achieve that particular dream, so our particular dreams have to be rooted more to reality." (Chuck D: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). It must be argued that these type of rappers are not representing the black community realistically. When hip-hop started, it was about fighting oppression, but now there are rappers boasting of their wealth. There are two possibilities: one, that the commercialisation of hip-hop has transformed the meaning and purpose of the music and its artists; or two, that the African-American people, in general, have improved their standard of living since hip-hop's creation. Both have genuine capacity to be argued for. As for the first theory, British rapper, Ms Dynamite argues that rappers boasting of materialistic wealth are hypocritical. In her song, 'It Takes More', she says:
"Now who gives a damn,
About the ice on your hand,
If it's not too complex,
Tell me how many Africans died,
For the bagettes on your Rolex."
(Ms Dynamite: It Takes More)
Her words make a clear reference to the diamond trade in Africa. She is saying that these rappers are exploiting the African diamond trade and, with many of hip-hop's elements having African heritage, there is a sure case for these artists being labelled Uncle Tom's or sellouts5. As Dr Dre said, "it isn't about who has the flyest car [or] who has the most jewelry." (Dr Dre: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
So what is in the mainstream in 2009? According to Billboard magazine's website, the top ten rap songs from the charts for the week of November 28th are:
1. 'Empire State Of Mind' by Jay Z
2. 'Forever', by Drake
3. 'Wasted', by Gucci Mane
4. 'Run This Town', by Jay Z
5. 'Baby By Me', by 50 Cent
6. 'Money To Blow', by Birdman
7. 'Throw It In The Bag', by Fabolous
8. 'Gangsta Luv', by Snoop Dogg
9. 'Spotlight', by Gucci Mane
10. 'Tie Me Down', by New Boyz
It is necessary to study extracts from some of these songs. Three examples follow:
The first supports both arguments for materialism records. The line "and since I made it here, I can make it anywhere" is arguably inspirational for those living in poverty, but is it just too unrealistic a dream that they could not actually relate to it? The final line, "corners where we selling rocks" negatively suggests that drug dealing is a solution to escaping poverty.
Chart Number 1:
"I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere...
Cruising down 8th street
Driving so slow...
you should know I bleed Blue, but I ain't a crip tho,
but I got a gang of niggas walking with my clique though,
welcome to the melting pot,
corners where we selling rocks."
(Jay Z: Empire State Of Mind)
Many would consider this second example sexist. The song's mere meaning is to get inebriated while females perform felatio. This does not, in any way, intend to fight oppression or represent African-Americans in a positive light:
Chart Number 3:
"Party, party, party, let's all get wasted;
Shake it for me baby girl, do it butt naked;
I'm so wasted, she so wasted shout the bartender;
Send 20 more cases...
Now I'm looking for a bitch to suck this almond joy.
Said she gotta stop sucking 'cause her jaw's sore.
Gotta bitch on the couch, bitch on the floor;
Party just popping up but now he rolling more
Rolled on, three pills now, he on four, I don't know why;
But that Remy turned into a whore."
(Gucci Mane: Wasted)
The final example consists of the rapper boasting about his materialistic wealth:
Chart Number 6:
"Richer than the richest...
Ballin’ out we keep the cash on deck;
Lamborghini and the Bentleys on the V-set;
Louie lens iced out with the black diamonds;
Car of the year Ferrari the new Spider;
No lie I’m higher than I ever been;
Born rich, born uptown, born to win;
Fully loaded automatic 6 Benz;
Candy paint foreign lights with my b**** in;
Born hustlin’ too big nigga to size me up;
Can't stop me, more money burn 'em up."
(Birdman: Money To Blow)
It is clear that mainstream rap is not portraying African-Americans in a positive light. Mainstream songs often contain themes of misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism, drugs, sex, violence, et cetera. There are few examples of politically charged rap in the mainstream. One example is 'Hip Hop' by Dead Prez:
"MC's get a little bit of love and think they hot;
Talkin' 'bout how much money they got;
Nigga all y'all records sound the same.
I sick of that fake thug, R&B rap scenario,
all day on the radio;
Same scenes in the video, monotonous material...
You can be next in line, and signed
And still be writing rhymes and broke
Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?
A dream or some substance?
A Beamer, a necklace, or freedom?...
This is real hip-hop, and it don't stop;
'Til we get the po-po off the block;
They call it: hip-hop."
(Dead Prez: Hip-Hop)
But why are there so few conscious rap records that hit the mainstream? Lauryn Hill believes "people who represent the establishment are threatened by hip-hop, and they're threatened by articulate, intelligent black people who happen to represent the poor people." (Lauryn Hill: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Is she saying that corporate America is repressing conscious rap? That it is not what middle America wants? Or is it that the conscious rappers are unwilling to conform to what corporate America wants? Parrish Smith says that the mainstream is "a give and take and you just gotta know what's actually going on and the sacrifices that you're actually making spiritually, mentally and emotionally when you're messing with the music." (Parrish Smith: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). By this, he is reflecting that an artist can make money by going mainstream but, in doing so, must compromise his music. This is the reason why underground rapper, Immortal Technique, refuses to sign to a major record label. In an interview taken from 'Exclusive UK Freestyle Pt. 1', which features on the album 'The Silenced Revolution', he says: "I got some major label offers...most rappers in the game don't understand what points are, what term agreements are. I wanted to own my masters, I wanted my publishing, and they definitely wanted to switch up my politics." (Immortal Technique: Exclusive UK Freestyle Pt. 1).
This shows that there are artists out there who are more concerned with the message in the music than the financial gain. Maybe this is because "some of the more conscious rappers... recognise that black people are... at war with the dominant culture in America." (Samuels: 1995: pg38). There are those who believe in the message, those who believe in the music - both concern black culture. A prime example of the latter is underground artist, Pack FM, whose song 'Napster Anthem', which encourages listeners to download his music free of charge, shows how important the music is to some:
"Who's online? The greatest of all time;
We Reach millions of heads although we're unsigned.
You can download our tracks, we don't mind, just take two.
On behalf of Napster, we'd like to thank you."
(Pack FM: Napster Anthem)
From what has been analysed, it is clear that there are artists out there who stay true to the roots of hip-hop - who make music for the love of the culture; to stand up for black culture - but also artists whose purpose is financial gain. Artists in the latter category need to realise that they are in a privileged position and have a responsibility to represent the black community, as explained by Cashmore:
"To have cultural power is to have power, period. This includes the ability to define not only images that circulate in culture, but also the content of religious ideas, of art, of electronic media of communication, of popular ideas; all of which influence perceptions and behaviour. It follows that having access to the means of changing all of these places one in an advantageous position at a number of levels. One of the consequences of being able to reshape images and ideas, specifically of black people, is the potential to change the racial hierarchy and, so, the pathos of inequality that underpins it. This is why so much store is placed on those African Americans who have assumed some measure of cultural power: people who have control over how representations of blacks are formed and disseminated carry a heavy burden, whether they like it or not." (Cashmore: 1997: pg6)
Hip-hop has developed so much since 1974. In the early years, when it consisted of four elements, all of which bore some relation to African roots, fighting oppression was the purpose. When the mainstream took over, hip-hop spread throughout the United States, with the purpose usually being profit, before going global. Rappers now have sponsorship deals and endorsements, films and computer games. Rapper 50 Cent has 'Bulletproof', his own computer game, in which he advertises his own music and brands. The game "provides 50 with a cross-promotion bonanza. All the products he designs or endorses - G-Unit clothing, Reebok sneakers, Glaceau Vitamin water - appear in Bulletproof." (E Richardson: 2006: p97/98).
Hip-hop is popular all over the world. Not only with fans. Now, there are many white rappers from different parts of the world - past and present: Beastie Boys, Aesop Rock, Slug, Eminem, Cage, Ill Bill, Mr Hyde, Necro, Qwel. Therefore, is hip-hop still black culture? That cannot be answered with specificity. One thing is for certain, though: "Hip-hop has come so far it's mind-boggling. To me, it's the international movement of this generation." (Paul Stewart: East Coast Mix 1: 2000).
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