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