In the first of a three-part feature, #itchysilk writer Malik Crumpler discusses gangster rap hegemony.
In many respects as a genre it should be vilified. After all, it glorifies violence, degrades women and revels in the taking and selling of drugs. Contrary to logic however it exists, it grows and breathes heavy with rebellion.
Our wordsmith of power, Malik Crumpler subsequently dissects gangster rap with the skill of a zealous mortician. Taking us from its origins he reveals that gangster rap is the premier form of rap for the masses and for those who profit from its hegemony.
The question is of course-why?
What if, instead of Gangster Rap gaining popularity in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it remained a subversive underground niche? What if, when the A&Rs of the most established record labels searched for a genre of underground rap music to sign and promote more than any other, it would have chosen metaphysical or spiritual rap? Would there have been an outcry from politicians and church leaders that Native Tongues, KAM, Sister Souljah and X-Clan’s music lead their listeners away from the Christian church and into a harmful examination of Black love, Black nationalism and ancient Egyptian paganism? What if, all the Gangster Rap legends were just underground rappers with small cult followings, Rappers still hitting the college circuit or local bars and small arenas selling their c.d.s hand to hand? There’d be no Ice T, 2 Live Crew, The Geto Boys, Too Short, Jay Z, 2 Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre or any of those contemporary rap legends.
What if, rap music would have maintained its party & bullshit vibe? What if guns, violence and womanizing never saw the popular lime light of radio or video stations via rap music? What if, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Monie Love, Miss Melody, Yo Yo, Isis, Lady Of Rage and Sister Souljah were at the top of every G.O.A.T. list? What if, Gangster Rap would have never re-popularized the N. or the B. words in pop-culture? Would we be operating in a more positive linguistic world order than we are now, happily referring to one another as brothers and sisters, gods and earths? What if first person tales of womanizing, serial killing, gang banging, drug dealing, pimping, hoeing and other thuggery would not have surfaced in pop culture? Would there be the assumed negative impact on society today? Would there have been less violence in the 1980s, 1990s ergo less black and brown Americans murdered or in jail?
Gangster Rap…..provided a necessary platform for the historically repressed, isolated and voiceless youth of the American ghettos.
It’s difficult to imagine a world without Gangster Rap if you grew up after the rise and subsequent takeover of Gangster Rap. For those of us who were alive before the takeover, we remember a world without it. Contrary to what anti-Gangster Rap zealots believe, the world was still full of; violence, drugs, pimps, whores, serial killers, kidnappers, gangs, misogyny and of course, the N and B words. The only difference- they weren’t as popular as they are now. For those of us from that era, we have a strong sense of nostalgia for a world without Gangster Rap.
We remember rap songs that explained how to do the Humpty Hump (1990) while advising us on how to get over the hump of our adolescent broken hearts and wounded egos. We remember songs that celebrated meditation and glamorized self-mastery as a means for not only surviving the ghetto, but life in general. We remember a music that proudly told the world how Generation X needed love and spread love while treasuring our Around The Way Girl (1990). There was a time when listening to rappers meant listening to the news, or philosophical orators. We remember rappers expressing multi-faceted realities of empathy, higher consciousness and humanity. We remember raps that celebrated the divine feminine and masculine. We remember a time when rappers inspired us to strive for knowledge of self by any means necessary. We remember M.C.s who inspired us to develop a stronger moral code of conduct because we represented gods and earths.
We were the Hip-Hop generation and we were creative, unique, book smart, street smart kids who were anything but thugs and criminals. For the youngest kids, like myself at that time, M.C.s were role models. They promoted clean living, anti-drugs, anti-violence, afro-centric, hyper intellectual extensions of the Black Power movement. It was the literal voice of the Hip-Hop revolution.
Exactly, 30 years ago during the height of the Golden Age Of Hip Hop, a 19 year old 5 percenter named Rakim, defined what an M.C. is, “Cuz to me, M.C. means move the crowd…” None of us Hip-Hop devotees in that relatively underground crowd, ever imagined that the future audiences of rap music would be more moved by thugs and gangsters than any other type of M.C. Today, most Old School Hip-Hop heads who are disgusted with the current state of rap music, will happily offer all kinds of conspiracy theories to support their argument that Gangster Rap ruined popular Hip-Hop music by glamorizing violence, devaluing women and celebrating mediocre lyrics.
Since its inception, Gangster Rap has been blamed not only for all the harmful and negative attributes of rap music but of Hip-Hop culture in general. Meanwhile, the pioneers of Gangster Rap (a handful of men who are now thousandaires, celebrities and Hollywood icons) are often blamed for the rise of violent rap and thus the current state of popular rap music. On the other hand, supporters of Gangster Rap argue that it provided a necessary platform for the historically repressed, isolated and voiceless youth of the American ghettos.