John H. McWhorter’s essay How Hip-Hop Hold Blacks Back discusses the popular subculture phenomenon of hip-hop and its effect on society. Recounting from experiences, McWhorther describes hip-hop as a counter-phenomenon which hinders the cultural and intellectual progress of the black community. Basing the development of hip-hop from the early 1960’s to the 1970’s, it emerged from the realism brought about by the oppression of the African-American community and how several ideologies, especially on activism, influenced the development of this genre.
McWhorter argues on the effect of rap music as a means of creating a backward ideology; it does not provide any room for any intellectual development as far as culture is concerned. As such, he mentions in the end that rap music creates nothing. Rap revolution McWhorter states examples of historical implications of rap music. During the 1970’s the idealism brought about by racial oppression, the black community raised different ideals towards apartheid and oppression, most notable of which were the ideals of African-American icons such as Malcolm X and Leroi Jones.
The most famous of movements was the Black Panthers, a social group that inspired ideological activism as well as employing harsh measures in solidifying their claims. This gave rise to the ‘sticking it to the man’ attitude, a kind of social behavior where authority does not apply and individuals tend to view themselves above such authority and law. From these ideologies, it also implies an individualistic notion towards the essence of rap music, which concentrates more on the life of a ‘gangsta’ in the street, experiences on drugs, sex, and violence.
According to McWhorter, rap music may be viewed as a cultural revolution of the society. That is, the message conveyed by these lyrics express a certain degree of the experiences of the past and conveying it as a detached attitude toward the status quo and authority. McWhorter used several words to describe rap music, and from such usage, his writing style clearly presents his bias against it, labeling the music as nonsense and profane. He also states rap music and ideology revolves mainly on the person’s apathetic stance toward authority.
As described by McWhorter, rap music retards black success since the music itself, according to him, only contains nonsense lyrics which celebrate street warfare, drugs, and promiscuity. McWhorter further mentions that ‘violence, misogyny, and lawlessness are nothing to sing about. He also explains the idea of ‘blaxploitation’ which celebrates the idea of a black criminal as a revolutionary figure. This blaxploitation led to the development of the ‘gangsta’ style, deviating from the early forms of rap as a ‘pop’ or bubble gum music.
Rap music is then associated with a constant mindset in disobedience and being above the system. From this point on, rap music has become another form of self-expression, concentrating more on the aforementioned themes. The lyrics found in these rap songs have become edgy and tantamount to literal translation. As McWhorter mentions specific rap songs depicting these themes, he focuses more on the rapper’s individual experiences, as described by the life in the ghetto marred with hardships and suffering.
The songs then further downplays into more explicit themes such as detailed depictions of violence and problems against authority such as the inclusion of policemen and its association with violence. As such, these songs then represent explicit choice of word use in the lyrics which directly imply the use of guns and violence and their encounters with authority. McWhorter also adds that the ‘gangsta’ type of rap are interspersed with mysoginistic views, viewing women as mere objects and prone to obsscene defamation as expressed in the lyrics.
In this case, McWhorter states the use of these words adhere to sexual promiscuity and an apparent attack on the image of women. This presents another world-view, according to McWhorter, as he sums up the ‘gangsta’ hip-hop genre with ‘Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money’ (McWhorter, 4). He then points out that his kind of rap music can go old quickly and the rap music that can truly sell are those that are edgy, political, and representing another view with authority and society. Cultural influences From the aforementioned themes, rap music has then developed into an alternative culture, as it reinforces another kind of social behavior.
The meaning implied by the lyrics used in rap songs produces another method of thinking, and from these implications, the behavior that the hip-hop world presents can be accepted as societal norms. The article presents a semi-critique of the notion on rap music and society. McWhorter associates the evolution of the music during the oppressive state of the black community during the sixties and seventies. He implies that rap music is a regressed state of music. He argues that although the can remain revolutionary in essence, the themes rap music tries to espouse is somehow degrading to the advancement of the black culture.
He mentions the gesticulations, speech mannerisms as influenced by rap music can hinder young black men in searching for careers because of this unruly behavior they find in rap music. He also states that even as the media depict the successful African-American people in the industry, rap music, he argues, still depicts black people are uncivilized. The article is a semi-critique, that in a sense, it only presents the cultural implications of rap music and its adverse effect on society. However, it merely acts as a pure critique rather than a practical critique of rap ideologies.
In a way, the article only acts as a reminder of this existing subculture and it does not give any practical situations in which the culture of rap can be addressed. However, the problem also lies on rap’s history. Because of its uniqueness and the ‘stick it to the man’ attitude, it has permeated through the societal mindset and has transformed into another phenomenological event of human concept. The ‘gangsta’ mindset is now deeply ingrained through the consciousness of its audience and therefore can be hard for any critique to change. McWhorter’s tone and word used clearly portrays his bias against the ‘nonsense’ of hip-hop.
This ‘nonsense’ is viewed both in the linguistic and ideal sense. Rap music’s choice of words is often explicit and profane, and it uses such words with constant repetition as though it is a part of the ‘gangsta’ vocabulary. There is even an implication from the examples given by McWhorter that profane words in rap is in itself a standard and to be without such words, it cannot be considered hip-hop or rap. The lingual problem is also associated with gesticulations and speech mannerisms, according to McWhorter, that is considered ‘arrogant’ and ‘irritating’.
According to the author, the theme that rap music revolves around is nonsense, since it only concentrates on the experience of the individual in his/her conditions supported by a formative mindset from the past. Sex, alcohol, violence and drugs are common themes in rap music, and these degrade the possibility of cultural advancement of a real society not hindered by any racial bias or oppression. Works Cited McWhorter, John H. “How Hip-Hop Holds Black Back. ” The City Journal (Summer 2003).
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