How Hip-Hop Music Has Influenced American Culture and Society
Music's Influence on Society
Hip-Hop as a Culture
Hip Hop has had an overwhelming influence on the black community in America, as well as society as a whole. Hip Hop is more than music, Hip Hop is a culture. Over the past three decades, Hip Hop has influenced and uplifted America, speaking up for generations and providing a voice to a group of people trying to deliver a message. Opponents of the Hip Hop culture argue that the music is aggressive in nature and promotes social rebellion- however provocative lyrics do not negate the fact that Hip Hop is a vocal outlet for many people in America. Hip Hop has provided a platform for MCs and rappers to express their opinions about society, the government and the treatment of African Americans in America for decades. This outlet is crucial for the uplifting of the black community and would benefit society entirely if people opposed to Hip Hop tried to embrace the culture rather than attack the culture.
Hip-Hop Represents a Culture
Hip-Hop in the 20th Century
The late twentieth century decade often simply referred to as ‘the nineties’ marked extensive social changes in American history and social culture. One example of influential new trends that took place in the nineties centers on the evolution of Hip Hop culture. The history of Hip Hop stems from black community consciousness within the United States. Additionally, Hip Hop culture can be viewed as a direct response to the socio-economic issues that spawned from that history. The black community, as well as other traditionally marginalized groups, turned discontent from injustices into productive protest through the restructuring of social attitudes and opportunities by means of musical expression.
The late eighties saw the inception of this musical movement, but the force and substantiation associated with Hip Hop music largely developed throughout the span of the nineties. In this line of thought, the nineties saw heavily changing trends in music and culture, to the point where the U.S. experienced the establishment of a veritable ‘Hip Hop Nation’. As such, despite a level of controversy over the legitimacy of the music in terms of lyrics and occasionally vulgar connotations, Hip Hop nevertheless marks a national movement of heavy social and cultural significance in terms of its power to uplift an entire sector of the national community.
Critics of Hip-Hop
Despite the national prevalence of Hip Hop in the United States, there remain a strong and vocal fraction of the community who believe that Hip Hop represents social subversion, chauvinism, aggression, vulgarity, profanity, and little else. One such argument likens the Hip Hop community to a mere vehicle for antagonistic social insurrection rather than a credible method of productive social restratification. “Members of the hip hop nation form an ‘imagined community’ that is based less on its realization through state formation than on a collective challenge to the consensus logic of U.S. nationalism” (Decker 54). This argument attempts to undermine the intentionality of Hip Hop and its effects, and thus promotes the notion that any positive socio-cultural change was a mere offshoot of rebellion concerning a historically touchy topic.
Music as a Technique for Promoting Social Awareness
Nevertheless, while the bases of Hip Hop opponents’ arguments are founded and reasonable, they do not in any way mitigate the overall influence of Hip Hop Nation as a notable medium of social mobility and cultural affectation, particularly for black and other such marginalized communities. “More than simply entertainment, hip hop is a major part of contemporary identity circuits –networks of philosophies and aesthetics based on blackness, poverty, violence, power, resistance, and capitalist accumulation” (Pardue 674). Music has been a powerful technique for engendering social awareness throughout American history. Music simultaneously reflects trends, ideals, conditions in society, and inspires attitudinal progression and social change. To this end, Hip Hop in the United States can be perceived as “a blend of reality and fiction” insomuch that “rap music is a contemporary response to conditions of joblessness, poverty, and disempowerment… it is a rebellion against white America’s economic and psychological terrorism against Black people” (Smitherman 5). The increasing popularity of Hip Hop culture throughout the nineties can therefore be likened to an actual social revolution of significant proportions. Traditionally oppressed groups are able to use the music to convey their plight and circumstances, and in that way rebel against both overtly and covertly oppressive conventionalities within that society.
Famous Hip-Hop MCs
The MCs of a Generation
Since its inception, Hip Hop has progressed to the point where, to a certain extent, it governs culture. The power of media, music, and pop culture has never been so powerful, and its reach continues to inflate through market expansion and an ever-increasing consumer base. “Now media and entertainment such as pop music, film, and fashion are among the major forces transmitting culture to this generation of Black Americans” (Kitwana 7). Pop cultures such as Hip Hop are, arguably more than anything else, the voices of an entire generation of people from the nineties onward. Hip Hop Nation transforms from being a mere method of advertisement and awareness promotion into a formidable cultural force within itself that has a heavy hand in the construction of both individual and community identities. “Blacks across the country who identified with [rap] were informed by it a medium through which to share national culture. In the process, rap artists became the dominant public voice of this generation” (Kitwana 10). In this way, artists ranging from MC Hammer to Dr. Dre, Tupac to Snoop Dogg and G Funk, acted as the mouthpieces of a generation in need of guidance and direction in terms of identity and voice.
The need for strong black national icons in the pop culture scene stands as a testament to the confusion and lack of prescribed purpose that plagued the nineties’ generation of black youth. “Historically, African Americans have shown a strong degree of racial solidarity, largely because they had common problems and saw their fate as intricately linked” (Collins 14). The harsh discrimination that black people faced in America throughout the nation’s history logically fostered intense sentiments of solidarity among the black community. Racial solidarity came to a head in the fifties and sixties in the form of the African American Civil Rights Movement, in which blacks throughout the United States performed acts of civil resistance in an attempt to incite political and social change. The nineties represents an aftermath of sorts insomuch that the new generation of black youth live in an era where their most recent forebears fought for their rights, but did not delineate a line of action for these youths to follow their footsteps.
Hip-Hop Redefining Cultural Norms
Additionally, the rights given to black people during and after the Civil Rights Movement left the following generations at a loss of how to continue the fight for black rights, how to determine the more subtle forms of racism and discrimination, and how to properly answer the question of how far to push obvious political dissent. The changes in the national social climate made for notably confusing times “because Black nationalist thinkers have historically been highly vocal in identifying the importance of Black identity and Black culture for political struggle. [Hip Hop] can use Black nationalism to explore the challenges that confront African Americans in the post-Civil Rights era” (Collins 20). Hip Hop artists such as Tupac are able to create a balance between the promotion of black rights and self-purportment in the face of questionable racism. “Intense vulnerability many young people felt with respect to the vicissitudes of daily life, their need for a figure who could resist overt and more subtle injuries” (Dimitriadis 4). In this way, Hip Hop artists can be regarded as important mentor-esque public figures for young marginalized black youth who would otherwise lack an important pool of relatable leaders.
To this end, Hip Hop culture redefined cultural norms and practices nationwide by establishing new modes of learning, conduct, and social interaction. The nineties saw a marked increase in the establishment of street gangs as a direct response for coveted social reform. The emphasis of the street in the upbringing of communities of lower socioeconomic standing augments the power of street education. “Media and popular culture play important roles in young people’s lives and must be explored as a kind of alternative ‘lived’ curriculum… young people today are using these texts to construct locally validated selves and senses of community, linked to shared notions of what it means to be black and marginalized in the United States” (Dimitriadis 2-8). Street education and “street smarts” are directly related to the culture surrounding Hip Hop music. Consequently, street education both colors the thematic elements of Hip Hop and is structured in turn by that what those themes generally promote. Many youths throughout the nineties incorporated Hip Hop into their daily lives, to the point where Hip Hop completely redefined traditionally “proper” methods of social interaction. “Hip-hop culture is one key social medium in which many young men and women of color (particularly in the US, but also increasingly in other societies) construct their gender” (Munoz-Laboy, Weinstein and Parker 616).
Hip-Hop is a Vehicle for Social Commentary and Awareness
What is your favorite genre of music?
- 79% Hip-hop
- 2% Classical
- 2% Jazz
- 6% Rock
- 5% Pop
- 6% Other
Despite heavy debate over the specific extent of Hip Hop’s ability to influence a society, the fact remains that the Hip Hop Nation developed in the nineties retains heavy cultural significance and should therefore be regarded seriously and with due consideration in any conversation about recent progressions in U.S. culture. Hip Hop culture stands as a poignant and historically significant factor of society as it represents a reflection of socio-political woes and widespread sentiment of traditionally marginalized and oppressed communities. As such, Hip Hop is a vehicle for social commentary and awareness, as well as an avenue for public discourse. In these considerations, 1990’s Hip Hop development marked a culturally nuanced and significant movement in history in both its reflection of the discontented social climate at the time and its ability to construct and reconstruct socio-cultural norms.
© 2014 Kathleen Odenthal Romano