Politics of rap songs

This post was written by a student in Susan Schuyler’s Narrative, Rhetoric, and Identity class at Stanford University. Each student in this class will complete a research-based argument related to the course topic.

Rap songs are often judged on their surface. Many people simply condemn them for violent and explicit lyrics they contain. I should know, because I was also one of those shallow critics. Whenever my roommate turned on hip-hops on his computer, I would satirically ask him why he always listened to same songs: same thumping rhythms, same thick voices, and same lines that talked about drugs and girls. “They’re all friggin’ different!” he would shout in vain. To an ear accustomed to Korean pop songs with their sweet melodies and lyrics (“Our love’s an ice cream; you’re a strawberry topping”), rap songs were too much to process.

That experience, however, led me to investigate the genre further more, and discover the complicated history that lie behind it, history infused with anger and frustration of black people. I want to write about those stories that I newly found out. First, I am going to explain the black power movement of the 60’s and 70’s. After the civil war, African-americans tried to rise above their inferior status using new opportunities that voting rights acts and other legislations brought forth. Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam exemplify the struggle of black people during the era. This period gave rise to talented speakers who could inspire and sway the public, and they are often considered as earliest “rappers,” those who skillfully controlled their words and microphones.

But the more primary wave of rap songs rose in the aftermath of the black power movement. This frame of time will be the main focus of my paper. When the public fervor began to subdue, rappers tried in vain to reignite the black movement. As black communities started to crumble under the conservative regime of Ronald Reagan, more and more black youths listened to hip-hops that contained the same kind of anger and frustration they felt. I want to explain how effectively rappers consoled their feelings and emotions, and further more, how they tried to turnaround the hopeless situation  that many African-americans were mired in.

Sean Park, Stanford university

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This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Stanford-CCNY, Fall 2010: Humanities, Identity, and Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Politics of rap songs

  1. Jon says:

    I apologize for the late critque.
    You chose an interesting topic. Your earlier assessment to your roommate about listening to the same songs was not far off the mark to be honest. I am a 45 year old Black male who attends City College. Equally as important I listen to (or at least I USED to listen to) rap music and though technically the lyrics may be different it all seems he same now.
    For this project, if you have not done so already, you should check out a few of the “old school” rappers. More specifically you may want to listen to artists who put out records between 1985-1992. Public Enemy and KRS-1 come to mind.
    During that period rappers did not try in vain as you mentioned. There was a period of consciousness during that time. I call it the golden era of hip hop as you not only had the socially conscious rappers, but you had a wide range of creativity. Queen Latifah gave a feminist point of view. Female rappers in general were a lot stronger during this time.
    Today the music is more of what you described.

  2. Dennis says:

    Hey, i know 5 years later you probably won’t read this comment anyway, but since I’m about to write a paper about a very similar topic (just with more focus on the music’s impact on teenagers) I’d really like to know how your paper turned out and if there’s any possiblity to get my hands on it.

    greetings from Germany

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