The History of Black Culture and the Emergence of Hip-Hop

With particular reference to hip hop, is fighting oppression still the main purpose of black popular culture, or has it become solely a means to enterprise for wealth?

Introduction to Black Culture and Hip-Hop

This dissertation looks into the history of black culture, ultimately attempting to discover if it has a sole purpose or, indeed, any purpose, though I feel that culture is largely an accident of circumstances.

It is of my belief that, whereas black popular culture was originally about fighting oppression and racial inequality, its main focus is now on financial gain, even if it means exploiting the culture and its people. There are numerous examples of black culture being a means to an end for liberation, as we shall discover, but increasing examples of those within black culture using it for personal gain even at the expense of the culture and its people.

The aforementioned is the main thing that will be investigated. It is also crucial to investigate any outside influence on the culture, hoping to discover how much it has been exploited; in fact, there have always been people looking to exploit cultures (from within and without) almost from the start. As soon as someone realises how to make money from something, it happens. The only question is: for how long and to what extent do the good guys keep the bad guys out?

Music is undoubtedly the main voice of black popular culture. It is, according to Ben Sidran, “not only a reflection of the values of black culture but, to some extent, the basis upon which it is built.” (Sidran: 1983: pxxi). Within black music, hip-hop is the most influential, as explained by Allison Ashley when he says that hip-hop "is undoubtedly the black popular culture of the twenty-first century, having defined its own music, clothing, attitude, and way of life." (Ashley: 2009). That is why I deemed it important to use hip-hop as my main focus.
First, though, it is essential to look into the early stages of black popular culture to see how it began; what it stood for; and, for later chapters in this essay, to see the contrast, if any, between the early stages of black popular culture and the present.

Early Black Culture and its Emergence

This chapter takes a look at how black popular culture began, what it stood for, and how it developed over its early stages. First, it is important to define exactly what black popular culture is. According to Webster's dictionary, popular culture is the currency or iconography of a contemporary culture. (Webster's Online Dictionary of English: 2009). In this case, the "contemporary culture" is "black", but how exactly is "black" defined? Does it relate directly to any person considered black, or is it limited to a person from a specific part of the world? According to JRank, an online encyclopaedia, "although black popular culture involves all people of African descent internationally, US black popular culture is often highlighted because it is within US culture and US culture is increasingly exported to the entire world." (J Rank: 2009). Because of this, the focus of this dissertation will concentrate mostly on black popular culture in the United States. This chapter is an overview of the early history of black culture. Its intention is primarily to show an understanding of what it was, and is about. This chapter focuses more on the facts, with limited theory. It is more of a reference point, which will be used to form comparisons between the early stages of black culture - which was about fighting oppression - and more contemporary stages, which are discussed in the chapters following this one.

Black culture as we know it began in the seventeenth century with the slave trade, when millions of Africans were captured and imported into different parts of the world, a common destination being North America. With the slaves being shipped from different African countries, which spoke different languages (Koskinen: 2009), many of them could not talk to each other, and therefore had to find other ways of communicating. Because the slaves were taken from various parts of Africa, the slaves spoke many different languages. The slaves were separated from their own: those deriving from similar backgrounds and cultures, and placed into small groups consisting of slaves of various backgrounds and cultures in an attempt to prevent them from communicating (Goldstein: 2009). The slaves did, however, find one crucial mode of communication: music. Music is without doubt the biggest area of black culture (Sidran: 1983: pxxi). It needs its own chapter, and will be discussed in greater detail in the chapters ahead. The African-Americans are responsible for the creation of many new genres of music, as will be discussed later. It must be mentioned, however, that African-American music - which "preserved many of the musical and oral traditions of Africa", and were merged "with elements of their new culture to create something distinctly African-American" (Fernando: 1994: pg205) - was the slaves' way of fighting their oppressors. As JRank puts it:
    "In general, black cultural expression has always been a way of resisting racial oppression, articulating experiences of resistance and struggle, and articulating oppositional identities." (JRank: 2009)

Even at this early stage in black culture, the African-American people were fighting oppression. At times, they fought it peacefully - with music, for example - but sometimes they resorted to violence. Nat Turner (figure 2) is a prime example of this. He, in 1831, with the aid of seven fellow slaves, murdered their master and his family while they slept ( 2009), before going out on a campaign of murder, terrorising the countryside, and killing 55 white people (ibid).

As the years passed, African-Americans slowly became recognised as, to put it simply, human beings. This is exemplified by The Underground Railroad, which, it is believed, started in 1787 (Spartacus Educational: 2009), though it was most effective in the nineteenth century. This was a secret network in which abolitionists (people who fought to eradicate slavery) and freed African-Americans rescued slaves and assisted them to safety. Often they would be sent from the South, which still heavily opposed the abolition of slavery, to the North, where abolition was being fought for. The result of the North and South's conflicting desires regarding slavery laws brought forward another important part of African-American history: The Civil War, which started in 1861 and ended in 1865, ultimately bringing the legality of slavery to its demise.

Even though slavery had been abolished, African-Americans were still regarded as lesser people, and still being oppressed. Before the turn of the twentieth century, there were four legislation papers: The Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1870, 1871, and 1875 (The Free Dictionary: 2010). These offered further rights to minorities such as African-Americans. This firmly backs up the fact that fighting oppression was a major concern for African-Americans. They, albeit aided by white Americans, fought and won for a right to a fair living. Surely, without their fight, none of these legislation papers would have existed.

These movements continued throughout the twentieth century, with five more legislation papers passed: The Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1991 (ibid). There were many important political figures, too, such as Rosa Parks (figure 2), who refused to give up her seat on a bus, ultimately raising awareness of the injustices towards African-Americans; Martin Luther King, arguably the most influential man in the Civil Rights struggle; and Wallace D Fard Muhammad, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X, all members of the Nation of Islam, whose purpose, according to Elijah Muhammad (figure 3), the leader of the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975, was to reform its people and help them further themselves (Muhammad: 1993: pg1).

So, the purpose of this chapter was to examine early black culture and prove two things. The first - stating the obvious, maybe - that African-Americans were constantly being exploited. The second being that fighting oppression was a major focus for African-Americans. I believe these two points have been justified. It is worth noting, however, that the events discussed thus far in no way offered African-Americans the chance to exploit their own for personal gain. As stated in the introduction, it is an interesting theory that, as soon as it is realised that money can be made from something, it happens, and is just a case of when that something is exploited for its financial incentives. The next chapter will focus on  examples in which African-Americans have exploited their own culture, all the while examining the influences white Americans have had on this.

Representation of African-Americans in Cinema and Television

As the Civil Rights movement continued and African-American's continued to push closer to equality, the roles and representations of African-American's in cinema and television were positively improving, too. To gain an understanding of just how much development has taken place, it is important to look into the early stages of African-Americans in television and cinema. Before this, however, we must go back a little further, before television and cinema, right back to the entertainment business and minstrelsy, which, it is believed, began in the early-to-mid nineteenth century.

American popular culture's exploitation and manipulation of African-American people and their culture for the benefit of white Americans began with Minstrelsy (Toll: 1974: pg51). In its early stages, minstrelsy consisted of white performers in blackface (figure 4), which is where one applied makeup to take the form of an African-American who, to the public, performed acts - usually acting, dancing and singing - all the while presenting themselves as African-American. These performances were extremely harmful towards the representation of African-Americans. Working-class whites, "who dominated the audiences", were given an image of "stupid, clumsy, and obsessively musical" African-Americans (Boyer et al: 2008: pg247).

Following the Civil War, African-Americans began to perform in minstrel shows. It must be argued, however, that, although this should be seen as a huge leap forward for the African-American culture and its people, they were exploiting themselves. This is backed up by the facts that minstrelsy was a commercial enterprise, controlled and run mostly by whites, and the audiences, too, were predominantly white (Cashmore: 1997: pg35).

Maybe, though, the positives: the opportunity to perform, earn money, and gain fame, et cetera, outweighed the negatives: namely, the exploitation of blacks from whites. As Cashmore quotes Sidran's book, Black Talk, "the black musician, and the Negro in general, did not see himself as other than gaining on the white culture... he didn't mind acting a little foolish as long as it was in the name of progress." (Cashmore: 1997: pg34).

It seems that, although the performances from African-Americans indicated progress, they were not gaining on, as Sidran put it, the white culture. The "white-owned and structured shows had the greatest exposure, made the most money, and focused audience expectations on stereotyped images of Negroes. Most of all, they illustrated that when blacks became marketable as entertainers, it was white men who reaped the profits." (Toll: 1974: pg211).
This is a perfect example of the white man exploiting the black man, and, when you consider that African-Americans were involving themselves and performing in these shows, it also means that they were exploiting themselves. The most important thing, it must be said, was that they had, to a certain degree, absorbed black culture into white culture (Cashmore: 1997: pg34). So, to some extent, they were fighting oppression. Therefore, progress had been made, but were they actually gaining on white people? It does not seem so. Although they were making progress, white people, it seems, were gaining far more than the African-Americans were.

For African Americans, the emergence of cinema brought forward similar problems to that of the minstrelsy era. As minstrelsy was dying out, cinema was evolving, but racism, oppression and exploitation were still constant. This is evident with The Birth Of A Nation. Released in 1915, "this film is an epic of White supremacy whose theme of national unity rests on the basis of White values." (Hayward: 2005: pg37). Within the film, most of the roles for black characters were bestowed to white actors, who performed in blackface (Schwartz: 2009). This leads us to an important fact:     
    "Up to the 1930s, there were more white performers in blackface than there were actual black performers. As movies developed into a dominant entertainment, there were also more blacked-up white actors than blacks in film." (Cashmore: 1997: pg92).

This is significant. In its early days, from minstrelsy to early cinema, African-American culture was represented mostly by white people. This is surely exploitation in its most direct, conspicuous form. African-American people were not the ones controlling the film's messages or even the ones starring in the film, yet black characters in The Birth Of A Nation were "depicted and shown as thieves, coons, untrustworthy, and decadent, as servants, mulattoes, dominant mammies." (Schwartz: 2009). It is no wonder that, outraged, like most African-Americans were, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attempted to have the film banned (Schwartz: 2009). By more modern standards in film technology, The Birth Of A Nation "might appear laughable, even silly, but the storyline and production visually shown in 1915 was believable history for many who wanted this propagandized view of African-Americans' status and position displayed." (ibid). If this is true, then oppression towards African-Americans would have been increased. Cashmore, author of The Black Culture Industry, states that:
    "Discrimination is deplored, its effects regretted. Aspects of the black experience can be integrated into the mainstream and, with the advent of the mass media, consumed without even going near black people." (Cashmore: 1997: pg3).
It is therefore no wonder that the African-American community fought to repress the negative representations of blacks. With white people portraying blacks in such a negative way, the emergence of The Independent African-American Filmmakers (IAAF) in 1915 was crucial. The IAAF formed in order to fight their oppressors by producing films depicting black people in a more positive light, where black people were presented as talented and intellectual beings (Schwartz: 2009).

These independent films led to the birth of race movies, which, in the beginning, consisted of films by, about, and for African Americans (Duncan: 2003: pg232).
They were low-budget and not up to the standard that Hollywood films of the time had set.
African-Americans also had the disadvantage that they "were not allowed to enter trade unions to learn skills such as editing or cinematography." (Benshoff: Griffin: 2004: pg78). Nevertheless, this era (1927-1948) was at a time when African-American filmmakers could finally fight Hollywood's misrepresentations and stereotypes depicting African-Americans as "lazy, superstitious, criminal, uncivilized and simple-minded", with their aim being to "instil racial identity, pride and dignity." (Marching On: Independent African American Films From 1935-1950; 2009). The problems with this, however, was that once Hollywood noticed the impact that race movies were having, Hollywood also realised that they could make money from the genre, and "started releasing bigger budget "all black" films of its own", which meant there was a "shift away from African-American produced films." (Duncan: 2003: pg232). In simple terms, Hollywood took the genre, tweaked it, and made its own version. Hollywood, though, "was not interested in making Positive Image Movies about African-Americans - they saw them as "risky" undertakings; therefore the major roles available to black actors were maids, walkons, butlers, servants, or comics." (Schwartz: 2009).

This seems ironic. The fact that this genre - created by African-American filmmakers, who started off with the intention of overriding Hollywood's misrepresentations and instilling racial identity, pride and dignity - was overtaken by mainstream Hollywood, who used the films, which were made mostly by white directors, to specifically target black audiences (Hayward: 2005: pg37), and used to project negative stereotypes towards African-Americans, is a clear indication of the black culture being exploited. Ultimately, what happened here was that the African-Americans created something. Then a big corporation realised there was money to be made from it, and Americanised it.
The late nineteen-fourties saw a massive breakthrough in cinema for African-Americans. Films were being released that featured African-American actors playing characters "in positions of authority or relating to white Americans in a positive way." (Schwartz: 2009). Over the next two decades, many films and television programmes featuring whites integrating with blacks were viewed across the United States. Things were improving rapidly. The old stereotypes were becoming less frequently referenced, as African-American roles became more respectable. Sidney Poitier, for example, took the role of a doctor in the 1950 film, No Way Out. Four years later, in 1954, for her role in Carmen Jones, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American to win an Oscar for the Best Actress. In 1963,  the Academy Award for Best Actor was awarded to Sidney Poitier for his performance in Lilies of the Field (Duncan: 2003: pg232). This was "a breakthrough moment in American media: Hollywood bestowing its highest honour on an actor of African descent who embodied intelligence, decency, honour, and personal initiative." (ibid).

So this period saw a massive breakthrough for African-Americans in cinema, but the reasons for this breakthrough remain unclear. It could be argued that, because the Civil Rights movement was constant, and equality for African-Americans was always improving - ultimately improving the standard of living for African-Americans - the improvement in the roles African-Americans were playing were inevitable. Raza argues that the reason for this is down to a shift in power. Because of a Supreme Court anti-trust ruling in 1948 which saw major film studios with "less power over all aspects of the film industry", it provided "many more opportunities for black artists to enter the industry." (Raza: 2009).
This though, does not mean that African-American culture was no longer being exploited.

The blaxploitation genre, which, it is believed, began in 1971 with the film Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song, depicts "revolt, reversal, and revenge in the relations between slave and master." (Guerrero: 1993: pg45). Because the Civil Rights movement was "at its peak", the media were presenting blacks as "militant and revolutionary", and because "blacks were more socially conscious", the film industry felt the need to "depict the black man in a more positive manner" and "began to produce movies depicting the issues of racism and believed these issues to be important not only to the black audience but also the white." (Raza: 2009). That is one view. Steve Jones of USA Today believes it was merely Hollywood exploiting African-Americans because they "desperately needed rescuing after a succession of failed films left studios in tough financial straits." (Jones: 2009).

Some of the African-American actors and directors genuinely believed in the films' messages, which reflected the experiences in African-American culture.
For others, this was the first step towards gaining access to mainstream Hollywood. Speaking on the matter, Valery says:
    "A great mass of Black acting legends started at the bottom working on Blaxploitation films. Richard Pryor, one of the most Black famous comedians ever, started in this film making underworld. Pryor, after being accepted into mainstream Hollywood, went on to be a comical icon." (Valery: 2009).

It must be noted, though, that, although the black characters in these films were glorified as gaining on the white man, they were often depicted as thugs, pimps, murderers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and given other character traits society deemed crude. It seems that, although oppression had decreased drastically, African-Americans were still being exploited as much as ever. Guerrero notes that "throughout the Blaxploitation period, Hollywood developed more subtle and masked forms of devaluing African Americans on the screen." (Guerrero: 1993: pg70). It seems that, although the theme and glorification was on African-Americans, Hollywood was just using them for profit until they were out of their financial difficulty. As Guerrero puts it:
    "When Hollywood no longer needed its cheap, black product line for its economic survival, it reverted to traditional and openly stereotypical modes of representation, as the industry eagerly set about unplugging this brief but creatively insurgent black movie boom." (Guerrero: 1993: pg70).

To put it at its most basic, Hollywood, in financial ruins, looked to the African-American culture for cheap labour and, as soon as they were financially stable, they returned to old ways of African-American representation.

When revisiting the earlier parts in this chapter, it is clear that, in cinema, African-Americans have been constantly oppressed, exploited and misrepresented; their identities influenced and largely determined by mainstream cinema. They fought - not only through cinema but also with the Civil Rights movement - and, with social and political conditions improving constantly for African-Americans between the eras of minstrelsy and blaxploitation (the earliest and latest chapters discussed thus far), won a more privileged and luxurious position in cinema.

It is now important to analyse more modern cases of film and, with the importance, popularity and demand for television programmes nowadays, they, too, must also be examined.

During the blaxploitation era, there were other controversies going on at around the same time. It is very necessary to mention Disney and the theory that they were sending out subliminally racist messages in the mid-to-late twentieth century. When examining The Jungle Book, released in 1967, one thing stood out. After getting used to the characters' consistent, clear British accents, I noticed a stark contrast with the accent of the monkeys, who speak and sing in a seemingly relaxed, uncaring slang, in what I would describe as a deep and rugged, unclear tone. Are black people being presented as monkeys here? It seems so, especially when the monkeys start singing "I want to be like you. I want to walk like you, talk like you." It is by no means certain though, because the film is set in the jungle - this may just be innocent; that the monkeys, in the film, may just have wanted to be human.
The second and final Disney example is The Lion King, which was released in 1991. This, too, appears to pose subliminal messaging. When comparing the resemblance of Musafa, the lion who takes the throne as the alpha lion; and his brother, Scar, the villain, it is interesting to note that Musafa has light coloured fur and an orange, lion-like maine, while Scar has noticeably darker skin and a black-coloured maine (figure 5).
It appears that there is a relation between race and standards of beauty in the Western world. Any film clip showing heaven, for example, always or at least usually consists of bright lights and colours. The film Little Nicky is a good example of this, with all the angels in heaven dressed in white. Bernardi, author of The Persistence Of Whiteness, offers a clear explanation by saying that "the most prized of human qualities are symbolised through a visual aesthetic and a signification chain that encodes idealised white people with the highest attributes available to humankind." (Bernardi: 2008: pg93). Interestingly, he then humorously questions what people mean when they make reference to an actor or actress "lighting up" the screen. So, it appears that bright and shiny equals positivity. It is difficult to say whether there is any racism in this, though, or whether it is merely simple, innocent semiotics.

One film which must be analysed is the 1998 film, American History X, which sees Derek, a white supremacist, who starts a revolution against black people, causing havoc through hatred. After making an African-American man bite the curb - literally, with his teeth - Derek stamps on the back of his head, killing him instantly. He ends up in prison, where he meets an African-American man. Derek finds one of his jokes funny and, amazingly, no longer hates black people and is no longer racist. The rest of the film sees Derek as a good guy, trying to convince his younger brother to leave the Neo-Nazi group he once formed. So, this is what happened: Derek is a white supremacist. Derek kills a black man. Derek finds a black man funny. Derek is no longer racist. Derek is a good guy. He is atoned.
Is this all it takes to transform? He finds a black person funny? The directors, script writers, and everyone else with influence on the plot, they all thought that was enough to give a guy morals and become a good guy? They thought that was enough to forget about the racially-related terror he caused and then glorify him for the rest of the film? It appears as though they are sending out a message that racism is not that big of a deal.

Racist stereotypes must also be analysed. There are many black-orientated films. Many of these contain themes of gang-related violence - Menace II Society and Boyz N the Hood, for example. Menace II Society features a scene at a party, where the main foods being served are fried chicken and watermelon. These foods are stereotypically associated with African-Americans (Authentic History Center: 2009). But are these another form of oppression or exploitation or neither? Because of the stereotypes, they must be considered misrepresentations of African-American identity, but the fact remains that these films are often created by African-Americans. Menace II Society was directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, who were born to an African-American father (Absoluteastronomy: 2009). Why then, would they encourage such stereotypes? It is interesting to note that the film was distributed by New Line Cinema, a major American film studio. The question is, would the studio have any influence on the film and its messages?
E Cashmore believes that "black artists' access to mainstream culture has been, or perhaps is conditional. In recounting the history of the black culture industry, we have continually reinforced Jan Pieterse's argument about the unwritten permission granted black entertainers... who do not threaten the status quo and so conform to popular images of the "other."" (Cashmore: 1997: pg91).
If he is correct in saying that black entertainers must abide by Hollywood's rules - in this case, by encouraging stereotypical representations - to gain roles in the mainstream, then this proves that even in modern times, African-Americans are still being oppressed and exploited.

On the contrary, there are many films which are honest in depicting black people and how society valued and values them. Men Of Honor (set in 1948) tells the struggle of an African-American man whose goal is to become a diver for the Navy. He is undeterred by the intense racism he encounters as he successfully realises his dream. This film was distributed by major American film company, 20th Century Fox. Another example is A Bronx Tale, which offers a moving story about racism and segregation in the Bronx, New York. It is also important to reference the American sitcoms, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, which depict middle-class African-American culture. These examples contrast with the earlier examples of racism and misrepresentation. Duncan disagrees with Cashmore, and does not believe that black actors' access to mainstream Hollywood was and is conditional, and instead thinks that, "today, pioneer African American figures in the media are the subject of increasing interest, celebration, respect, and attention. They are seen, increasingly, as influential vitally important figures in the modern, multiracial, media-driven society in which we live." (Duncan: 2003: pg231).

When you look at some of the icons in African-American cinema - Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, and Denzel Washington, for example - it is difficult to disagree with Duncan's comments. There are many African-American actors who are synonymous with mainstream Hollywood, so, because these actors have integrated themselves into this Americanised identity, it is not a valid argument that oppression and exploitation are still a massive concern in cinema. One question this does raise, however, is whether these actors have become "Uncle Toms" and sold the "black" culture out. Jackson says that "the era of the Black sell-out is over. The phrase is hopelessly antiquated now... In 2003, no one takes the notion of sell-outs seriously anymore, at least not in Black America." (Jackson: 2003).
If Jackson's statement is true, then the foregone conclusion must be that, because African-American's have firmly integrated themselves into Hollywood, then black oppression and exploitation has been eradicated, in cinema, at least. It also means that they have Americanised themselves. To further that theory, just how many of these icons have played roles that were specifically written for black people? Hollywood needs black actors but are they, like many black writers, a niche within the mainstream, or are they generally playing roles that could be played by (or were written for) white people?

The Development of Black Music and What it Stood For

Music, to the African-American culture, was and still is the biggest, most important and influential art form. According to Sidran, African-American music is "not only a reflection of the values of black culture but, to some extent, the basis upon which it is built.” (Sidran: 1983: pxxi). Through music, African-Americans have had, and still have the opportunity to destroy any negative representations and stereotypes society may have forced onto them. Music gives them a voice. In modern times, it is a fact that hip-hop music is, in the words of Allison Ashley, "undoubtedly the black popular culture of the twenty-first century, having defined its own music, clothing, attitude, and way of life." (Ashley: 2009). This is why the hip-hop culture needs to be the main focus when analysing African-American music; however, for a reference point when forming comparisons between early and contemporary eras, it is important to develop an understanding of the origins of African-American music.
African-Americans have contributed to music far too much for it to be possible to go into great detail with every musical genre. It is common sense to concentrate on more modern movements in African-American music; however, it is important to at least mention briefly the important and early genres.
All African-American music originated with the purpose of fighting oppression. It gave its people a voice; a voice which reached out to both whites and blacks. The music "served as a mechanism by which American Blacks could be relatively open in a society that rarely accorded them that privilege"; it "could communicate this candour to others whom they would in no other way be able to reach, and could assert their own individuality, aspirations, and sense of being in a repressive society structured to prevent such affirmations." (Burnim: Maultsbey: 2006: pg587/588). It is therefore important to reference the early, influential genres.

African-American music has been in existence for as long as there have been African-American people. When these people were imported into America to become slaves, they sung songs while working - hence the term, 'work songs'. What is interesting is that "the slaves preserved many of the musical and oral traditions of Africa, merging them with elements of their new culture to create something distinctly African-American." (Fernando: 1994: p205). This means that, because they incorporated elements of their African roots with American culture, they had, in fact, formed an entirely new culture for themselves. This could interestingly be seen as the beginning of Americanisation for this group of people.
Slaves sung as an expression of their injustices: they talked about their condition; their masters and overseers (Colonial Williamsburg: 2009). The intended purpose of the song a slave sung was to represent the sorrows of his heart (Burnim: Maultsbey: 2006: p35). This indicates that fighting oppression, albeit quite peacefully, was the original purpose of African-American music.

With oppression and exploitation being the two key concepts in this document, and with the start of this chapter discussing work songs, the earliest form of African-American music, where the people who sung did so as a form of fighting oppression, it is now important to take a look at 'coon songs', an early example of African-Americans being exploited through music.

Coon Songs were believed to have begun around 1880, lasting until around 1920. These songs consisted of white people singing songs. With the artists singing in the dialect of African-Americans, these songs were supposedly humorous ( 2009). Because they were portraying African-Americans, coon songs bore a resemblance to minstrelsy. With more than 600 coon songs published in the 1890s - some of which sold spectacularly - they were extremely popular before the turn of the nineteenth century. Fred Fisher's 'If The Man On The Moon Were A Coon', for example, sold 3 million copies of sheet music (J Shrock: 2004: pg192). This is an early example of white America exploiting African-American culture for money. More importantly, coon songs imposed a negative representation, image, and identity on African-Americans. The way in which the singers were portraying African-Americans - as, in the words of P Oliver, "sub-human, vicious, stupid, comic, dissolute, extravagant, amoral" - was certainly damaging, as these "came to represent the image they are identified with." (P Oliver: 1984: pg276). What is striking, however, is that, despite the aforementioned stereotypes, African-Americans were still taking part and making songs which degraded the value of African-Americans ( 2009). It is quite a worrying fact, really: that these people were taking part in exploiting themselves and their culture.

Gospel music (often referred to as 'spirituals') "was the most ubiquitous African-American music in the early 19th century." (The History Channel: 2009). It has always been a way, for African Americans, to create songs that praised God and aimed to inspire personal improvement. Social problems, such as segregation, were the inspiration for many of these songs (Negro Spirituals: 2009). It is interesting to note that this music was (and arguably still is) very popular for both blacks and whites. Originally though, during and for sometime after slavery, although African-Americans were allowed to worship the same God as white Americans, they were not allowed within the same churches as white Americans, and had to provide their own church and clergy (JFK Library: 2009).
Despite the fact that segregation was still intact, meaning blacks were not allowed within the same churches as whites, the African-American people still used gospel to sing about positivity and improvement. Author of The Black Culture Industry, Cashmore, references gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who says that Gospel songs are the songs of hope (Cashmore: 1997: pg35). The same cannot be said for blues music which, the same source writes, are the songs of despair (ibid). Blues music, in fact, could be argued to be the exact opposite of gospel. Whereas gospel portrayed hope, blues offered only realism (ibid). Graham concludes it firmly by saying that, "as an emotion "blues" is most frequently associated with sadness, a sadness crucially related to African-American experiences in slavery." (Graham: 2004: pg123).
One of the "first widely popular styles of music that actually developed in the US" (Jones: 2009) was ragtime, and this genre played a pivotal role in the development of one of the most important and influential genres to come out of the African-American culture: Jazz (Conyers: 2001: pg233), which will now be discussed.

It is believed that, upon its start, Jazz music was played by African Americans and Creole musicians in New Orleans (The History Of Jazz Music: 2009). This means that both white and black people participated in the genre; however, from 1918 until late 1921 or early 1922, it was controlled mostly by African-Americans (Vincent: 1995: pg70). In the 1920s, though, the golden age of jazz began, where "many white musicians started playing jazz", who transformed the genre into "a watered-down kind of jazz style." (Vulliamy: 1982: pg39). This is when jazz became mainstream. This is when jazz music was performed by "as many whites as blacks and consumed by many more whites than blacks."
Before this, "the musicians, both black and white, were true artists. The corrupting influences of commercialism were to blame for the transformation of expressiveness into a fashion that went the way of all other fashions."

If true, this means that white artists commercialised the genre: that, whereas jazz music originally consisted purely of black musicians expressing themselves, it became a commodity. According to Cashmore, mainstream African-American jazz musicians "were doing their utmost to convince white audiences of their acceptability." Because these artists adopted "white styles and characteristics" (Cashmore: 1997: pg40), they must be considered Uncle Toms.
Some jazz musicians, however, "refused to play the stereotyped role of entertainer", went underground and developed "structures and techniques that were both unconventional and unfamiliar." (Cashmore: 1997: pg39/40). The overview to this must be that jazz music was exploited for profit and, while some African-American artists were exploiting themselves by displaying white characteristics, others were trying to preserve this part of their culture and keep it intact. We must now take a look at 'Rock and Roll' which, it is argued, is one of the biggest examples of whites exploiting blacks.

Originally, rock and roll was an African-American genre. Inspired by African-American blues music, rock and roll was raised by black artists in the 1950s. Despite this, there are many white artists who have been wrongly credited with helping to create rock and roll (K Chappell: 2009). These facts emphasise that, although African-Americans created the genre, it is actually whites who are recognised as being the creators. There does not appear to be any discrimination in this. Maybe it means that African-Americans created the genre, whites developed it. Chappell disagrees with this, though. He points out that whites did not revolutionize the music. He then goes on to say that, "lacking creativity, many White artists "covered" songs Blacks had written years earlier and made it big by copying the performing styles, dances and dress of Black artists." (ibid). Examples he offers are Elvis Presley's remake of Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog' and The Beatles' remake of Chuck Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven'. This suggests that whites did not, in fact, develop the genre. Additionally, it suggests that whites stole the genre. Hip-hop artist, Mos Def, raps on his song, 'Rock N' Roll':

"Elvis Presley ain't got no soul;
Bo Diddley is rock n' roll;
You may dig The Rolling Stones,
but everything they did they stole...
I say, James Brown got plenty of soul;
James Brown likes to rock and roll;
he can do all the s*** fo' sho';
that Elvis Presley could never know, black people."
(Mos Def: Rock N' Roll)

After reading these lyrics, it is clear that he is claiming white artists such as Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones were, in the words on Jackson, taking credit for and exploiting musical genres they did not create. (Jackson: 2005: pg190).
It must be said, though, that there are many artists who have sourced black artists as having influenced their music. Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead said: "When I took up guitar, I wanted to play like Chuck Berry more than anything in the world." John Lennon of The Beatles said:
    "Berry is the greatest influence on earth. So is Bo Diddley, and so is Little Richard. There is not one Mute group on earth that hasn't got their music in them. And that's all I ever listened to. The only White person I ever listened to was Presley on his early music, and he was doing Black music." (Chappell: 2009).

Mos Def agrees with this. He believes that "rock and roll is merely a subgenre of hip-hop and a further instantiation of black musical sophistication."
If this is the case, white rock musicians are, according to Jackson, "deemed illegitimate practitioners (especially if they don't explicitly acknowledge their debt to black forebears) of a specifically black genre that is only subsequently rewritten as white, unfairly foreclosing black participation as full-fledged insiders." (Jackson: 2005: pg191).
How though, can rock and roll be a "black genre"? The term was coined by white disc jockey, Alan Freed." (Chappell: 2009). Rock and roll artist, Bo Diddley, says that "rhythm 'n' blues was for black people, and when white people did the same songs, they called it rock 'n' roll." (Bertrand: 2000: pg83). This indicates that rhythm and blues is identical to rock and roll, with the only difference being that one is for white people, the other is for black people. If this is the case, rock and roll is not a black genre. Bertrand disagrees with this. He says that, "from a corporate standpoint, rhythm and blues had matured" into its new form: rock and roll (ibid).
Bo Diddley furthered his previous comment with a more significant claim. He said that "we later found out what the difference was - rock 'n' roll carried a bigger paycheck than rhythm 'n' blues." (ibid). It appears as though black artists were being exploited. Altschuler explains that, "in the 1940s and 50s, lawyer Howard Begle discovered that most contracts to blacks paid royalties at the rock bottom rate of between one and four percent of the retail price of the record or, even worse, provided a one-time payment of $200 for records that generated hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in sales." Ultimately, he says, many were tricked or pressured into signing exploitative contracts (Altschuler: 2003: pg54).

It seems that, "although some resourceful and talented African Americans enriched themselves through rock 'n' roll, the music industry in the 1950s remained, as LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) put it, "the harnessing of Black energy for dollars by white folks." (Altschuler: 2003: pg54).

So far the genres in this chapter seem to make a consistent claim: that African-Americans created a new type of music to fight racial oppression; that whites saw a way to exploit and make money from it; and, while some African-Americans opposed and fought it, others took part in the exploitation, ultimately exploiting themselves and the African-American people. The emergence of Motown Records, which was the first black label to win over a mass audience (Abramovich: 2009), is therefore significant in the development of African-American music.

Motown Records was created by Berry Gordy, Jr in Detroit, 1959. (Smith: 2000: pg6). At this time, of the big corporations, "few... had any interest in black music... [they] were not interested in anything that had African American origins." (Cashmore: 1997: pg39). This is why the emergence of Motown Records was significant for African-American artists. Gordy offered them the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience. Artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas all started their careers performing for Motown Records (Jackson et al: 2006: pg347). Many of these artists were able to project strong political messages across to their audiences. To understand what the label and its artists stood for, it is important to look at Detroit in the era of Motown's emergence. Detroit was a city known for its long-standing racial discrimination. Because of this, the city's black community created a place for itself using every means possible (Smith: 2000: pg10). This "place" they created was Motown. Motown "represented the possibilities of black economic independence, one of the most important tenets of black nationalism" (Smith: 2000: pg18), and its music "completely transformed popular ideas about what "black" music was or could do." (Smith: 2000: pg14). The most highly significant change that occurred was that, because "Motown's music defied the internal segregation of the music industry when its records began to sell widely outside conventional black markets", they were able to "create and produce the musical artistry of its own community, and then sell it successfully to audiences across racial boundaries." (Smith: 2000: pg5).

Because many African-Americans profited massively through Motown Records - Diana Ross, for example, whose music under the Motown label reached a huge audience worldwide (ArticlesBase: 2010) - it appears as though this period was the breakthrough and showed there was potential for African-American musicians to earn money and express political and social messages. There were problems, however. As mentioned, Motown's founder, Gordy, helped his artists' music reach a white audience. This caused problems as he was "criticised by many in the black community, who saw any catering to a white audience as a sellout." (Jackson et al: 2006: pg347).  It seems as though Gordy, whose main goal was financial gain, was simply exploiting his artists. One of those artists was Mary Wells, who, along with other artists, felt she had been exploited and mistreated by Motown (ibid). This is something that Slate journalist, Alex Abramovich agrees with. He says that "Berry Gordy ran his company like a benevolent tyrant, stuffed his pockets with other people's money, commissioned portraits of himself dressed as Napoleon, and betrayed his hometown by decamping for Los Angeles - there has been a general reluctance to credit the bastard for anything at all." (Abramovich: 2009).

So Gordy, it seems, is a prime example of an African-American exploiting fellow African-Americans for personal gain. This is evident from Smith's comment, where he says that the record company "did not always agree with or support all of the political campaigns, radical organisations, and cultural movements that emerged from Detroit's black neighbourhoods. On the contrary, Gordy was extremely wary about affiliating his business with any organisation or movement that might negatively influence his company's commercial success." (Smith: 2000: pg11).

If this claim is true, then Gordy's intention was not to help the African-American cause. He toned down the political and social messages in his artists' songs in order to appeal to a white audience. Gordy opted for profit. Motown did, however, pave the way for black artists to gain recognition in the music industry.
This leads us to the most prominent and contemporary African-American music genre, hip-hop.

The Hip-Hop Culture

The hip-hop culture was born in 1974 when deejay Kool Herc, in the streets of the South Bronx, started to mix records on a turntable, creating instrumental loops (Evolving Music: 2009). Herc hosted block parties, which attracted a sizeable crowd and, as his crowds grew larger, Herc moved the party to a larger event, "tapping into the city's power supply, and thus began the storied parties in the park that have been commemorated in hip-hop lyrics ever since." (M Hess: 2007: pg7). Back then, "in the pioneering days, it wasn't about money; nobody came out to get paid. We used to spend more money than we made to come out and play. It was a lot of hard work... to bring all them speakers and rent all that equipment out, but we just did it for the love of hip-hop - just to play music." (Grandmaster Kaz: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). That is how the culture of hip-hop began. For African-Americans in New York, this "was the solution, the product of self-determination, self-realisation, creativity, and pride." (Price: 2006: pgxi).

Originally, hip-hop consisted of merely musical expressions, with deejays spinning records. As it developed though, other art forms were introduced to the parties: breakdancing, the physical expression; graffiti, the visual expression; and of course, rap, the oral expression. These were known as the four elements of hip-hop. Graffiti and breakdancing may, at first, appear to have little or no relation to rap or deejaying but, at these block parties, events, and in the street in general, the artists of their respective elements merged their skills to create a culture. A rapper would perform to the music that a deejay would mix, while the breakdancers would dance over the breaks of the record, hence the term 'breakdancer' (Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). This suggests that breakdancing originated from hip-hop; however, it did not. It is not known for sure where it originated from. Some experts "trace the lineage of the break dance back to the Brazilian Frevo, a Russian folk-dance-influenced form of martial-arts dance/march."  ( 2009). The general opinion is that, although the roots of breakdancing can be traced back to Brazil approximately 500 years ago, "it seems more likely that [it] was invented by African slaves." (ibid). Breakdancers were therefore preserving, or even regenerating, some of the early African-American culture.1 This regeneration changed the lives of its artists, most of whom were reforming criminals. Breakdancing brought focus to their life; a purpose. Breakdancer, RE, explains that: "Back then, everybody that I knew that really had mad flavour in breakdancing used to be a hardcore criminal. Breakdancing came along and made a difference in my life. You're too busy learning how to dance than to rob and steal, and you're too tired to fight after breakdancing. You've just battled somebody and taken out all your aggression out dancing." (RE aka Clear Black: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
What must also be noted about this comment is that it suggests that breakdancing was a way of releasing anger; a way of fighting oppression. Breakdancer Lil' Caesar backs this up by saying breakdancing, to him, "is a way of expressing myself, getting my anger out there, instead of going out there and smoking or fighting. I go to my own little world and I just express myself through breaking. I dance and get creative, and I'm just spinning and I feel like I'm flying; I'm flying in the air, and I'm free." (Lil ' Caesar: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).

Graffiti art, unlike breakdancing, had its origins before the hip-hop culture. It "completely predates the development of the other three elements." (Parmar et al: 2006: pg359). The Ancient Egyptians, for example, used hieroglyphics, which, in the words of KRS-One in his song, 'Out For Fame', were the "mixing [of] characters with letters, to tell the graphic story about their lives." (KRS-One: Out For Fame). The same could be said to apply to graffiti art within the hip-hop culture. The artists wanted to tell their stories via visual means, aiming to gain a reputation and become known. Grandmaster Kaz, who helped with the early development of hip-hop, says "it was just about getting up. You wanted to write your name in as many places for as many people to see, so you'd be known." (Grandmaster Kaz: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Graffiti art served other purposes, too. Most notably, it was a medium for artists to express social and political messages that corresponded with news, matters and events within their given community. New York graffiti artist, Andre Charles, believes graffiti art means "getting out what a lot of people can't get out. It's like expressing beauty, colour, excitement, drama - it's everything like music." (Andre Charles: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).

Why then, if it is just like music, did graffiti, along with breakdancing in 1985, cease to be considered viable forms of hip-hop? It could be argued that graffiti art, when sprayed on public property, is illegal but, in 1985, rap music, too, was illegal. KRS-One explains this in 'Out For Fame', even forming a comparison between Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and hip-hop graffiti art:

"Historically speakin’, cause people be dissin',
The first graffiti artists in the world were the Egyptians -
Writing on the walls, mixing characters with letters,
to tell the graphic story about their life, however,
today we do the same thing, with how we rap and draw.
We call it hardcore, they call it breakin’ the law.
There used to be a time when rap music was illegal,
the cops would come and break up every party when they see you.
But now the rap music's making money for the corporate,
it's acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody's on it.
Graffiti isn't corporate so it gets no respect,
hasn't made a billion dollars for some corporation yet."
(KRS-One: Out For Fame)

KRS-One reiterates and furthers this point in the Rhyme & Reason documentary. He says that, "after 1985, hip-hop and rap made a split. Graffiti art and breakdancing no longer became viable means of expressing this piece of culture. Rap became the viable means of expressing this culture, and it was only because corporate America deemed it important. 'Well we can make some money pressing up these records, so, let's go.'" (KRS-One: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
What he is theorising is the exact argument expressed throughout this dissertation: that first, African-Americans create something of their own as a form of fighting oppression; and then, corporate America sees potential profit and exploits it. Throughout this essay, it has been discovered that once this happens, there has usually been a case for African-Americans then exploiting themselves. This leads to the next chapter in the history of hip-hop: record labels and the commercialisation of rap music.

In the beginning, the only record companies interested in rap music were the independent labels. Whodini rapper, X, says that, in the early 1980s, when few rappers had record contracts, only the small independent labels would sign a rap artist, and the major labels were uninterested (X: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
Of these independent labels, many were black-owned (Bennett: 2005: pg260). Then, seeing the success of the independent labels, major labels began to take an interest (Watkins: 2005: pg41). This obviously means that the major labels were exploiting rap music and its artists, who were predominantly black, but the question remains: who owned these record companies? The first artist to sign to a major label was Curtis Blow, a rapper, deejay and breakdancer, who signed to Mercury Records (Bennett: 2005: pg260), which was a white owned record company (African American Registry: 2009). Was Curtis Blow, along with other artists who signed to major labels, exploited or were they gaining something or both?

It seems that the commercialisation of rap music sparked mixed reactions. On one side, people saw it as massive progression for African-American people. Artists were suddenly able to express their struggles to an exterior audience, as opposed to people merely within their given communities. According to Speech, rap music, at its best, "can grab the nation by the neck, and make people realise what's going on. It's a voice for the oppressed people that, in many other ways, just don't have a voice." (Speech: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Legendary rapper Q-Tip believes there is "not one issue that takes place [in the United States] that hip-hop hasn't addressed yet." (Q-Tip: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Hip-hop is, in the words of the man responsible for the birth of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc (referenced by Jeff Chang), "the voice of this generation... It has become a powerful force. Hip-hop binds all of these people, all of these nationalities, all over the world together." (Chang: 2009).
Therefore, there is one side who believe the commercialisation of rap music has helped the oppressed express their struggles to a worldwide audience, while also offering them financial incentives. On the other side, though, there are those who believe that the commercialisation has been merely the exploitation of a culture and its people. In 1997, The Pharcyde said that "record labels are untrustworthy. They don't care about the artist. They let the artist do what he wants to do... they get a certain percentage, and we get leftovers." (The Pharcyde: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).

It seems as though both perspectives have validity. The artists were often exploited financially, but they were also offered the opportunity to express their perspectives to a larger audience; to fight oppression, which was hip-hop's original purpose. What is interesting to note in the development of rap music is the increase in black-owned major record labels. In 1993, Death Row Records, owned by African-American record producer Suge Knight, grossed more than $60 million (Cashmore: 1997: pg156). In 2009, Forbes magazine listed rap artist and co-founder of Roc A Fella records, Jay Z, as the seventeenth richest black American with a net worth of $150 million (Gossiboo: 2009). It is therefore evident that, at least in modern times, some African-Americans can rise out of poverty and live the American dream.2 But if there is a genuine argument that major record labels are financially exploiting rap artists, then Knight and Jay Z, with their aforementioned profits earned through their major record labels, must be considered, too, to be exploiting rap artists, most of which, like themselves, are African-American. This must be nonsensical, though. Record labels are in the business, first and foremost, to earn money for the label. If a label taking a percentage from an artist is considered exploitation, then the whole music industry - for both blacks and whites - is based around exploitation. One major point here though is that, whereas hip-hop was originally based around fighting oppression, it is now, in the mainstream at least, based around profit. It "is no longer about the message in the song at all, but about the amount of money that song will produce." (Ashley: 2009). This shows how the corporations have infiltrated hip-hop and transformed it into an enterprise. Surely, though, if the artists' music still focuses on fighting oppression and standing up for the black community, then the fact that these songs now have worldwide recognition should be considered a good thing, regardless of whether other people are making money from it as well as the artist. It is the music industry - it is the labels' reward for showcasing artists' music to the world. But is the music portraying African-American life in a positive sense?
Because of the diversity of hip-hop, there is no straightforward answer to this question. Different artists have different perspectives. There are conscious rappers, who rap positively about the black communities, search for solutions and alternatives to problems, and attempt to educate listeners and make them aware of social and political situations. Immortal Technique's 'The Cause Of Death' is a fitting example of this type of rapper:

"How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave?
Indigenous holocaust, and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin' offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country never sponsored terrorism?...
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children...
A continent of oil kingdoms, bought for a bargain
Democracy is just a word, when the people are starvin'
The average citizen, made to be, blind to the reason
A desert full of genocide, where the bodies are freezin'
And the world doesn't believe that you fighting for freedom
Cause you fu**** the Middle East, and gave birth to a demon...
I'm tryin' to give the truth, and I know the price is my life...
Turn off the news and read, nigga!"
(Immortal Technique: The 4th Branch)

There are hardcore rappers, who often but not always produce songs where the sole intention, it seems, is to offend. The example here is 'The Devil's Son' by Big L:

"It's Big L and I'm all about taking funds;
I'm a stone villain known for killing and raping nuns.
Yo I even kill handicapped and crippled bitches;
Look at my scalp real close and you'll see triple sixes.
There's no doubt, I'm all about a dollar;
I just signed a lifetime contract with the funeral parlor.
This kid that owed me dough, I didn't take his life;
Instead, I tied him up and made him watch me rape his wife...
Once a hottie, shot me with a shotty.
I died but then I came back to life in another body.
The way I'm living is dead wrong;
I'm a devil from Hell, without the tail or the red horns.
Killing is fun, I'm number one with a gun;
Front and get done, 'cause you can't run from the Devil's Son."
(Big L: The Devil's Son)

Similar to hardcore, there is gangsta rap, which is music from the perspective of a gangster. These songs usually depict street life from the artist's perspective and the situation he lives in - be it realistic or fictional. Keith Nut raps on Fat Joe's 'Watch Out':

"You best run son, I'm sendin' emcees up s**** creek,
So don't sleep, 'cause I creep, on New York streets,
like I'm a big fat dick, wack emcees is ass-cheeks.
Yo, I'm that nigga that'll kidnap yo' kids
Take ‘em home, f*** ‘em good, then send ‘em back to you in bandages.
You lose, 'cause I got, the ill street, and still keep the toast close...
So watch your back black, Bronx niggas don't play,
If you ever fake jax, I'll slit your throat like OJ."
(Fat Joe (featuring Keith Nut): Watch Out)

The final example is the rapper who boasts of his materialistic wealth. He talks about women, jewellery, cars, money, et cetera. Here is the chorus from Papoose's 'Get Money':

"You wanna bang, I'll give you something to bang for;
You wanna ride, I'll give you something to ride for...
Come on let's get drunk, let's get high dog;
You wanna grill, I'll give you something to grill for;
'cause I give you something to get gully for,
but let's f*** these bit**** and get money, dog."
(Papoose: Get Money)

It goes without saying that the aforementioned examples are not the only perspectives in rap music. They are, however, some of the most common examples, and worth referencing. The main question, though, is which of these are being promoted by the mainstream? Before looking at the present, it is important to study the history of mainstream rap music, and the effects imposed by its lyrics.

The first commercially successful rap record was Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight', and, because of the success of rap groups such as Run DMC and The Beastie Boys in the 1980s, record labels, realising the potential of rap, became more ruthless in their pursuit of rap artists and marketing ploys ( 2009). Negative attention from the media followed, and this has much to do with West Coast gangsta rap. Before discussing this, though, it is important to note that, because of the group, Public Enemy in the 1980s, conscious rap was gaining media attention. Though this attention was negative, Public Enemy were commercially successful (Napster: 2009). They rhymed about political and social problems that were affecting the black community, and often encouraged revolutionary tactics and social activism (ibid). Therefore, conscious rap was not being ignored but, because of the popularity of West Coast gangsta rap, it was somewhat overlooked (Koskoff: 2005: pg365).
One of the pioneers of West Coast gangsta rap, Ice T, says that, "while they were having a hip-hop scene in New York, we were having a gang scene... Violence is part of that lifestyle, so you've got to rap about it." (Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).
The lyrical content often involved "guns, violence, peer allegiance, sex, drugs, and the exploitation of women." (Koskoff: 2005: pg365). Why then, were these records, which gave African-Americans such a negative image, so successful? Before addressing this, it is important to note that rap's primary audience is white and lives in the suburbs (Samuels: 1995: p242). So why were these records so successful among whites living in the suburbs? Samuels believes that "the more rappers were packaged as violent black criminals, the bigger their white audiences became." (ibid). But why is this? Samuels goes on to quote Henry Louis Gates, Jr, who says that white audiences are appealed because they feel they are getting some kind of authentic black experience (ibid).
It seems that hip-hop was exploited by the mainstream, and revamped for a white audience, who were willing to fork money into it. But why, if it was having such a negative effect on African-Americans, were artists allowing it to happen? Maybe they exploited their culture out of financial gain, or maybe it was simply not having a negative effect. Maybe, through their music, they were exposing to their white, suburban audience the struggles and injustices they had and still faced, hoping for change. Rapper Chuck D believes rap music is the black CNN, meaning it can expose what is happening in a way that mainstream media could or would not do (Napster: 2009). Rapper, Ras Kass says that when NWA (Niggaz Wit' Attitude) released their highly controversial record, 'F*** Tha Police', he could relate to it. "But the average white American - if we're going to have to generalise - would say, "why would they think such a thing?3"" (Ras Kass: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). This shows the contrast between inner-city blacks and suburban whites, and that the music is exposing the lives of urban blacks to middle America. Surely this is a positive thing? Well, there are those who disagree. Rev Dr Calvin O Butts III believes the negativity in rap music opposes everything key figures in African-American history have fought for, who, he says, "did not struggle and jeopardise their lives to give young black music artists the temerity to refer to black women as bitches and whores and, with abandon, characterise African-American people as niggers." (Butts III: 1995: p76). The negativity arguably comes from the "dangerous myth facing African-Americans... that middle-class life is counterfeit and that only poverty and suffering, and the rage that attends them, are real." (Staples: 1995: pg78). Rapper Wise Intelligent sums this up suitably:
    "As far as messages go, I'm trying to get across several different things. For instance, there's one side of me that's totally for the preservation of black youth, because we're dying at a rapid rate... I can't stand the ghetto. A lot of rappers run around, "yeah, I'm from the ghetto." I live in the ghetto - the ghetto doesn't live in me. This is an ill situation. We have been put here for a cause. We have been put here to die. That's genocide, and that's the bottom line. If I had the chance to live with a stream flowing through my back yard, meadows in my back yard, you think I wouldn't? We're not here just because we want to be hip and fly. It wasn't our choice to come to the ghetto. So as far as staying true to the hood, I'm not really staying true to the hood, I'm staying true to the people that are in the hood."
(Wise Intelligent: Rhyme & Reason: 1997)

Wise Intelligent's comment, though valid and well-informed, could be considered ironic considering the insurgence of materialism-ridden rap music that has gradually circulated and become common in the twenty-first century. As stated previously, this type of rapper boasts of his materialistic wealth: women, jewellery, cars, money, et cetera. This perspective owes much to the fact that African-American rap artists often rose from poverty, earned money through their music, and lived the American dream. Some believe that boasting about their materialistic wealth is inspirational to those hoping to rise out of poverty. The more "jewellery and cash one has, the more real one can purport to be - even and especially if the rapper can also claim a Horatio Alger4 trajectory that mixes the right measure of bling-bling success with clear remembrances of where s/he came from." (Jackson: 2005: pg192). Ice T, speaking from his Los Angeles mansion, said:
    "Interviewers would come over and say, "you don't live in a black community." Well, where is a black community? Where do white people live?... There is no black community - there's a poor community, and I'm not trying to live in any f****** poor community. I've been making records 14-years... I should not have s*** - would that make you happier?... When I was out in South Central... we used to look up at those hills and this was my goal: to one day get out of the ghetto, and I think the best thing I'm doing for my community is showing them that a brother like myself, without giving in to the man, can make it and that means they can make it...
Interviewers would come over and say, "Wow, you have a big house." I'm like, "why don't you say I have a big house for somebody black - you racist motherf*****."
(Ice T: Rhyme & Reason: 1997)

Ice T's comment suggests that white America seems to expect black people to live impoverished lives. If these rap artists boast of their materialistic wealth to inspire those living in poverty, then hip-hop, is, in fact, still about fighting oppression.
There are many, though, who strongly oppose materialism in hip-hop. Chuck D says that, while rappers are showing off their materialistic wealth and living the American dream, "ninety-nine-out-of-one-hundred don't achieve that particular dream, so our particular dreams have to be rooted more to reality." (Chuck D: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). It must be argued that these type of rappers are not representing the black community realistically. When hip-hop started, it was about fighting oppression, but now there are rappers boasting of their wealth. There are two possibilities: one, that the commercialisation of hip-hop has transformed the meaning and purpose of the music and its artists; or two, that the African-American people, in general, have improved their standard of living since hip-hop's creation. Both have genuine capacity to be argued for. As for the first theory, British rapper, Ms Dynamite argues that rappers boasting of materialistic wealth are hypocritical. In her song, 'It Takes More', she says:

"Now who gives a damn,
About the ice on your hand,
If it's not too complex,
Tell me how many Africans died,
For the bagettes on your Rolex."
(Ms Dynamite: It Takes More)

Her words make a clear reference to the diamond trade in Africa. She is saying that these rappers are exploiting the African diamond trade and, with many of hip-hop's elements having African heritage, there is a sure case for these artists being labelled Uncle Tom's or sellouts5. As Dr Dre said, "it isn't about who has the flyest car [or] who has the most jewelry." (Dr Dre: Rhyme & Reason: 1997).

So what is in the mainstream in 2009? According to Billboard magazine's website, the top ten rap songs from the charts for the week of November 28th are:

1. 'Empire State Of Mind' by Jay Z
2. 'Forever', by Drake
3. 'Wasted', by Gucci Mane
4. 'Run This Town', by Jay Z
5. 'Baby By Me', by 50 Cent
6. 'Money To Blow', by Birdman
7. 'Throw It In The Bag', by Fabolous
8. 'Gangsta Luv', by Snoop Dogg
9. 'Spotlight', by Gucci Mane
10. 'Tie Me Down', by New Boyz

It is necessary to study extracts from some of these songs. Three examples follow:

The first supports both arguments for materialism records. The line "and since I made it here, I can make it anywhere" is arguably inspirational for those living in poverty, but is it just too unrealistic a dream that they could not actually relate to it? The final line, "corners where we selling rocks" negatively suggests that drug dealing is a solution to escaping poverty.

Chart Number 1:
"I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere...
Cruising down 8th street
Off-white Lexus
Driving so slow...
you should know I bleed Blue, but I ain't a crip tho,
but I got a gang of niggas walking with my clique though,
welcome to the melting pot,
corners where we selling rocks."
(Jay Z: Empire State Of Mind)

Many would consider this second example sexist. The song's mere meaning is to get inebriated while females perform felatio. This does not, in any way, intend to fight oppression or represent African-Americans in a positive light:

Chart Number 3:
"Party, party, party, let's all get wasted;
Shake it for me baby girl, do it butt naked;
I'm so wasted, she so wasted shout the bartender;
Send 20 more cases...
Now I'm looking for a bitch to suck this almond joy.
Said she gotta stop sucking 'cause her jaw's sore.
Gotta bitch on the couch, bitch on the floor;
Party just popping up but now he rolling more
Rolled on, three pills now, he on four, I don't know why;
But that Remy turned into a whore."
(Gucci Mane: Wasted)

The final example consists of the rapper boasting about his materialistic wealth:

Chart Number 6:
"Richer than the richest...
Ballin’ out we keep the cash on deck;
Lamborghini and the Bentleys on the V-set;
Louie lens iced out with the black diamonds;
Car of the year Ferrari the new Spider;
No lie I’m higher than I ever been;
Born rich, born uptown, born to win;
Fully loaded automatic 6 Benz;
Candy paint foreign lights with my b**** in;
Born hustlin’ too big nigga to size me up;
Can't stop me, more money burn 'em up."
(Birdman: Money To Blow)

It is clear that mainstream rap is not portraying African-Americans in a positive light. Mainstream songs often contain themes of misogyny, homophobia, racism, sexism, drugs, sex, violence, et cetera. There are few examples of politically charged rap in the mainstream. One example is 'Hip Hop' by Dead Prez:

"MC's get a little bit of love and think they hot;
Talkin' 'bout how much money they got;
Nigga all y'all records sound the same.
I sick of that fake thug, R&B rap scenario,
all day on the radio;
Same scenes in the video, monotonous material...
You can be next in line, and signed
And still be writing rhymes and broke
Would you rather have a Lexus or justice?
A dream or some substance?
A Beamer, a necklace, or freedom?...
This is real hip-hop, and it don't stop;
'Til we get the po-po off the block;
They call it: hip-hop."
(Dead Prez: Hip-Hop)

But why are there so few conscious rap records that hit the mainstream? Lauryn Hill believes "people who represent the establishment are threatened by hip-hop, and they're threatened by articulate, intelligent black people who happen to represent the poor people." (Lauryn Hill: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). Is she saying that corporate America is repressing conscious rap? That it is not what middle America wants? Or is it that the conscious rappers are unwilling to conform to what corporate America wants? Parrish Smith says that the mainstream is "a give and take and you just gotta know what's actually going on and the sacrifices that you're actually making spiritually, mentally and emotionally when you're messing with the music." (Parrish Smith: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). By this, he is reflecting that an artist can make money by going mainstream but, in doing so, must compromise his music. This is the reason why underground rapper, Immortal Technique, refuses to sign to a major record label. In an interview taken from 'Exclusive UK Freestyle Pt. 1', which features on the album 'The Silenced Revolution', he says: "I got some major label offers...most rappers in the game don't understand what points are, what term agreements are. I wanted to own my masters, I wanted my publishing, and they definitely wanted to switch up my politics." (Immortal Technique: Exclusive UK Freestyle Pt. 1).
This shows that there are artists out there who are more concerned with the message in the music than the financial gain. Maybe this is because "some of the more conscious rappers... recognise that black people are... at war with the dominant culture in America." (Samuels: 1995: pg38). There are those who believe in the message, those who believe in the music - both concern black culture. A prime example of the latter is underground artist, Pack FM, whose song 'Napster Anthem', which encourages listeners to download his music free of charge, shows how important the music is to some:

"Who's online? The greatest of all time;
We Reach millions of heads although we're unsigned.
You can download our tracks, we don't mind, just take two.
On behalf of Napster, we'd like to thank you."
(Pack FM: Napster Anthem)

From what has been analysed, it is clear that there are artists out there who stay true to the roots of hip-hop - who make music for the love of the culture; to stand up for black culture - but also artists whose purpose is financial gain. Artists in the latter category need to realise that they are in a privileged position and have a responsibility to represent the black community, as explained by Cashmore:
    "To have cultural power is to have power, period. This includes the ability to define not only images that circulate in culture, but also the content of religious ideas, of art, of electronic media of communication, of popular ideas; all of which influence perceptions and behaviour. It follows that having access to the means of changing all of these places one in an advantageous position at a number of levels. One of the consequences of being able to reshape images and ideas, specifically of black people, is the potential to change the racial hierarchy and, so, the pathos of inequality that underpins it. This is why so much store is placed on those African Americans who have assumed some measure of cultural power: people who have control over how representations of blacks are formed and disseminated carry a heavy burden, whether they like it or not." (Cashmore: 1997: pg6)

Hip-hop has developed so much since 1974. In the early years, when it consisted of four elements, all of which bore some relation to African roots, fighting oppression was the purpose. When the mainstream took over, hip-hop spread throughout the United States, with the purpose usually being profit, before going global. Rappers now have sponsorship deals and endorsements, films and computer games. Rapper 50 Cent has 'Bulletproof', his own computer game, in which he advertises his own music and brands. The game "provides 50 with a cross-promotion bonanza. All the products he designs or endorses - G-Unit clothing, Reebok sneakers, Glaceau Vitamin water - appear in Bulletproof." (E Richardson: 2006: p97/98).
Hip-hop is popular all over the world. Not only with fans. Now, there are many white rappers from different parts of the world - past and present: Beastie Boys, Aesop Rock, Slug, Eminem, Cage, Ill Bill, Mr Hyde, Necro, Qwel. Therefore, is hip-hop still black culture? That cannot be answered with specificity. One thing is for certain, though: "Hip-hop has come so far it's mind-boggling. To me, it's the international movement of this generation." (Paul Stewart: East Coast Mix 1: 2000).

Black Culture in the 21st Century

From what has been analysed thus far, it is evident that the African-American race has progressed massively: not just since slavery, but since the Civil Rights movement. The question remains: is racism still prevalent? According to some, there is still "an endlessly spouting sewer of racism in the media, culture and politics of this society - racism that takes deadly aim at the dreams and spirit of every African-American child." (Revcom: 2009). Following this comment, it must be asked: how so? As KRS-One points out in his song, 'The Racist': there is not merely one form of racism. He says there are about five different types of racist people (KRS-One: The Racist). The five he lists are: those brought up racist;  xenophobic people, who are racist out of fear; the unconscious racist, who denies being racist yet ignores and allows racism to carry on; the black man speaking out of ignorance and bitterness; and, finally, the money racist (ibid). The final example needs studying. KRS-One raps:

"Number four is the money racist
The one that used the topics of sheer economics
They say, "owning a business isn't for the black man, he don't want that",
yet they went and took his land."
(KRS-One: The Racist)

It seems that economic racism is the most prevalent form of racism in the twenty-first century. Immortal Technique thinks that, "as much as racism bleeds America, we need to understand that classism is the real issue. Many of us are in the same boat and it's sinking... and as long as we keep fighting over kicking people out of the little boat we're all in, we're gonna miss an opportunity to gain a better standard of living as a whole." (Immortal Technique: The Power Of Philosophy).

His view is that African-Americans need to work together to further progress economically. But are they not already doing this? Rapper Paris explains:
    "African Americans are well aware of the work we must do ourselves to improve our lot. We know from hard experience that we cannot rely on the government to improve our mind-set or morale or to nurture the black family. We need to do these things ourselves. And we are." (Paris: 1995: pg211).

But what effect has this had on the economical value of African-Americans? Studies show "employers to be more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a Black person without one, and 50% more likely to follow up on a resume with a “white-sounding” name than an identical resume with a “Black-sounding” name." (Revcom: 2009). After researching the unemployment percentage of whites-versus-blacks in the United States, it is important to note that:
    "African American males unemployment reached 13.4 percent in December of 2008, its highest level since March of 1993... Since the recession began in December 2007, unemployment for African American males has risen at a much faster rate than... white males.  It has risen 5.3 percentage points since December 2007. During the same time period unemployment has risen 2.6 percentage points for white males." (Economic Perspectives: 2009).

In New York City alone, "the rate of unemployment for Black men is fully 48%." (Revcom: 2009). Despite these figures of unemployment, it must be suggested that education could have played a major role in the aforementioned statistics. It is believed by some that the "system has consistently denied a good education to Black children and continues to do so today.... These schools send African-American children the message... that there is no real future for them in this society. And it is a further crime of this system that many Black youths then end up “buying into” the system’s lies that they are inferior, “turn off” to their own potential to learn and, in so doing, turn away from the wider world of knowledge and science." (ibid).

But why is this the case? Why is the system so? The same source argues that, because of capitalism, "one big reason that they are NOT providing a good education for the youth in the inner cities in particular [is because] they do not want to raise the expectations of Black people “too high.”" (ibid).

But what about those who have been to college? According to Roy Brooks, they are "paid less than their white counterparts - $20,000 per year versus $16,000 per year in 1975." (Brooks: 2009: pgxiii). From these statistics, it appears as though reaching middle-America is an almost impossible task. Some disagree, though. Some believe that "the Negro is at last being assimilated into the great melting pot that is America... as his acceptance as an American becomes a reality, his role as a full-time Negro should diminish." (Altschuler: 2003: pg42). It is also believed that "more Black people than ever before have been allowed to “make it” into the middle class." (Revcom: 2009). So where is the problem? The problem, it seems, lies with the fact that, among African-Americans, there are different classes, social positions, and outlooks (ibid). This means that, when one reaches middle-America, they are forced to separate from the poor, urban blacks. Therefore, "there is, and there can be, no one unified outlook representing all Black people, no “Black” or “African” ideology that represents all Black people in some special and unique way, apart from other oppressed people." (ibid). If this is true, then oppressed blacks must, on an individual level, play a role in fighting this oppression. As Immortal Technique said, "no one person can do everything, but everyone can do something." (Immortal Technique: One (Remix)).

One person many consider to be able to do something for African-Americans is Barrack Obama, current and first black President of the United States. With Obama as President, it could be argued that there has not been such a significant period for African-Americans since the Civil Rights movement. It could also be argued that Obama is an inspirational figure to African-Americans, because now the most powerful man in the world is African-American. That is surely massive progress in itself. There is, however, much scepticism - even from African-Americans and non-whites. Just before Obama was elected President, Immortal Technique raps on his track, 'The Third World':

"And they might even have a black president but he’s useless,
Cause he does not control the economy stupid!"
(Immortal Technique: The Third World)

In this he is referring to the financial exploitation of the third world, and how Obama could not impose too much influence upon it, therefore rendering him less important than many African-Americans may have thought; in fact, it even appears that many blacks were originally opposed to his Presidency. At the time of the election, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was more popular than he among black voters." (Room Eight: New York Politics: 2009). Amongst white voters, Obama was more popular, which brings an interesting theory: that Barrack Obama's popularity with African-Americans was jeopardised because of his popularity amongst white voters (ibid). If this is true, it could mean several things. One, that there is still at least some segregation between whites and blacks; two, that they were sceptical that Obama was acting more white than black; or three, that African-Americans are respected members of society, and he was not dismissed because of the colour of his skin or his ethnic origin. In a recent study, it was discovered that, despite a 1992 New York Times poll where "67 percent of white Americans and 75 percent of African-Americans said race relations were "generally bad"", today, "a stunning 59 percent of African-Americans are in close agreement with the 65 percent of white Americans who think relations are "generally good."" ( 2009). It was also discovered that "sixty-two percent of white Americans approve of how Obama is handling his job, compared with 27 percent who disapprove. Sixty-six percent of white Americans are optimistic about the next four years of Obama." (ibid).


When looking at the history of black culture, it is evident that most movements, whether they be musical, cinematic, or political, originated as a way of fighting oppression, representing blacks in a more positive manner, and reclaiming parts of their African identity. After researching black culture, what has become clear is that, when one of these movements became successful or showed the potential to become successful, it was exploited by external sources and Americanised for financial gain. Usually when this happened, there were African-Americans who then exploited it for financial gain, who received criticism for conforming to Americas values, and were labelled Uncle Toms or sellouts for not acting black. But where is the "black" in "black culture"? Rock and roll music was originally an African-American movement before white artists took over, and nowadays there are many white rap artists. In this sense, how can rock and roll or rap music be labelled "black culture"? Even though these movements were started off by African-Americans, it does not mean they are exclusive to and owned by African-Americans. It is a ridiculous theory that white people stole these movements and genres from African-Americans. You cannot create something - a genre of music, for example - and claim it to belong to one culture and one culture only. That is racist. Basketball was invented by Dr James Naismith, a white man from Canada ( 2009). Now, upon its invention, would it have been fair to say that only white Canadians could play basketball and that anyone outside of this was stealing culture? No. When a culture forms something new, the rest of the world take part and help in its development. Take football, for example. This game can be traced back to third century China, "when an exercise of kicking a leather ball through an opening of one and a half feet in diameter or 35 to 40cm became a pleasant pastime for some." (WhoInventedFootball: 2009). Then, over time, Aztecs, Greeks, and various other cultures partook in games that bore resemblance to modern football, which the English claim to have invented. Football is now recognised and popular worldwide (ibid). That is what culture does: it spreads worldwide. Culture is "contrasted to nature: we are not born with it, but into it. We acquire it through language and transmit it to future generations, through instruction. In its widest sense, culture is everything we learn from others and pass on to still others." (Cashmore: 1997: pg8).
That is what has happened with most elements of black culture: they have gained worldwide recognition. Despite exploitation, African-Americans have a case to feel that they have gained respect because "whites not only recognise that there is a legitimate black culture: they applaud it." (Cashmore: 1997: pg3).

So if black culture is part of popular culture, are African-Americans finally Americanised? There are many black people who live and have lived the American dream. The most powerful man in the world, Barrack Obama, the President of the United States, is black. This shows that African-Americans, those from inner cities, in particular, do have the potential to reach their dreams. African-Americans can go for the American dream; they can get it. They are not sellouts if they go for it. Racism, it seems, is no longer the problem. The problem now is classism, which is "definitely a very large issue" and, according to Immortal Technique, "the underlying issue." (Immortal Technique: WBAI Interview: 2009).

After analysing the hip-hop culture and rap music, in particular, it is clear that there are those whose sole intention is to exploit the culture, or art form, for financial gain, but there are also those who make music to represent the African-American people. As KRS-One said, "I know that hip-hop is the representation of this oppressed culture, and I will represent that until the day I die." (KRS-One: Rhyme & Reason: 1997). So, to answer the main question of this dissertation: though money has become such a big factor and one of the main drivers in the culture, it is not solely what it is about.