Rap: Hip-Hop's Ideologies of Rebellion
In studying the use of language and its impact on the world's perception of the Hip-Hop movement, one can come to many interesting conclusions. Studying Hip-Hop love narratives and the forms with which they are presented one can find that Hip-Hop artists use different methods of presentation in order to speak about love while maintaining socially acceptable urban identities.
Gangster rap reject the inferior social class status placed upon them by redefining the negative characteristics imposed by the majority class, showing that majority class to possess the same "gangster-like" qualities. Many rappers focus their use of language to denounce parts of the Hip-Hop movement that have assimilated with mainstream society.
When viewing these studies in comparison to each other, it becomes clear that Hip-Hop is a movement based on ideology, in which speakers construct their own identities based on certain ideologies or systems of beliefs. The construction of Hip-Hop identities based on ideology focuses not just on how rappers conform to an accepted or imposed ideology, but how they rebel against or subvert powerful social views and beliefs. The purpose of this paper is to define and understand the manner in which language is used in the construction of Hip-Hop identities. In analyzing Hip-Hop lyrics and poetry as text, it becomes clear that Hip-Hop identities are constructed with regards to multiple rebellious ideologies, which can be seen by taking into consideration the three biggest genres of present day Hip-Hop: gangster rap, political rap, and underground rap.
Constructing Gangster Rap Identities
Gangster rap, or hardcore rap, is generally considered a subgenre of the larger category of rap music, which itself is a subcategory of Hip-Hop. Gangster rap is differentiable from other rap music in that it makes use of images in urban life associated with violence and crime. Gangster rap lyrics are used to rebel against various aspects of society, and often refer to violence or crime as a necessary effect of these aspects. In doing so, gangster rappers construct identities based on an ideology that rebels against the majority.
A good example of this ideology is presented in Eminem's "Who Knew." In this song, the artist opposes American society's system of beliefs, rebelling against a society that produces violence:
So who's bringin' the guns in this country?
I couldn't sneak a plastic pellet gun through customs over in London
And last week, I seen a Schwarzaneggar movie
Where he's shootin' all sorts of these motherfuckers with an Uzi
Here, the artist imposes his own ideology of rebellion, questioning the existence of violence in a country that allows firearms and violent movies.
In "The Watcher," Dr. Dre takes a similar approach, demonstrating his gangster ideology that rebels against certain societal groups, specifically the police:
Things just ain't the same for gangstas
Cops is anxious to put niggaz in handcuffs
They wanna hang us, see us dead, enslave us
Keep us trapped in the same place we raised in
Then they wonder why we act so outrageous
Run around stressed out and pull out gauges
Cause every time you let the animal out cages
It's dangerous, to people who look like strangers
Here, the artist rebels against society, expressing his belief that it keeps them "trapped in the same place we raised in," and that the perceived violence is only due to the introduction of "people who look like strangers."
In "Violent," 2 Pac also rebels against the actions of society, showing his belief that society created the need to have "gangster-like" qualities:
I told em fight back, attack on society
If this is violence, then violent's what I gotta be
If you'll investigate you'll find out where it's comin' from
Look through our history, America's the violent one
In this example, the artist further demonstrates this ideology of rebellion, blaming society for its violent actions.
Constructing Political Rap Identities
Political rap is also considered a subgenre of the larger category of rap music, which itself is a subcategory of Hip-Hop. Political rap is differentiable from other rap music in that it deals with political issues and current events. Political rap lyrics are used to rebel against the United States Government, and often refer to its actions as having negative effects all over the world. In doing so, political rappers construct identities based on an ideology that rebels against the government.
A good example of this ideology can be seen in Jay-Z's "Justify My Thug." In this song, the artist directly opposes the government's drug policy:
Mr. President, there's drugs in our residence
Tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us
Mr. Governor, I swear there's a cover up
Every other corner there's a liquor store - fuck is up?
In this example, the poet inquires as to why there is a liquor store in "every other corner" of his community, rebelling against the actions of the government, and specifically, the President.
In "Manifesto," Talib Kweli actually enforces this ideology of rebellion by accusing the government of being the body which causes the degradation of the lower class:
Like the C.I.A. be bringin' in crack cocaine bailin' out of planes
With the George Bush connections, I push reflection
Like I'm sellin' izm, like a dealer buildin' the system
Supply and the demand it's all capitalism
Here, the artist accuses the C.I.A. of flying drugs into the country, and shows his belief that the "supply and demand" of capitalism pushes this degradation, showing his rebellion against our capitalist way of life.
In "Damn It Feels Good," the Geto Boys also push the ideology of rebellion with an outright verbal attack on the President:
And now, a word from the President!
Damn it feels good to be a gangsta
Gettin' voted into the White House
Everything lookin' good to the people of the world
But the Mafia family is my boss
So every now and then I owe a favor getting' down
Like lettin' a big drug shipment through
And send ‘em to the poor community
So we can bust you know who
In this example, the artist again attacks the government by speaking from the perspective of the President, showing that it is the creator of the drug problem in this country, and how that problem is stretched to have effects on lower-class communities.
Constructing Underground Rap Identities
Underground rap is also considered a subgenre of the larger category of rap music, which itself is a subcategory of Hip-Hop. Underground rap is differentiable from other rap music in that it denounces the values of popular culture. Underground rap lyrics are used to rebel against pop culture, and often blames the world's materialism on this pop culture craze. In doing so, underground rappers construct identities based on an ideology that rebels against pop culture.
A good example of this ideology is demonstrated in Eyedea & Abilities' "Exhausted Love." In this song, the artists rebel against pop culture by demonstrating its effects on the goals and expectations of Generation X:
Something provoked the whole globe to lower expectations
Damn, what's wrong with my generation?
We was the cream of the crop but it seems we've been robbed
That's what happens when you trade in all your dreams for a job
And every day it gets less and less exciting
I would make a difference but I'm busy faking this instead of trying
Here, the artist rebels against pop culture, blaming its values for the "lower expectations" of his generation, as well as influencing the youth to "trade in all your dreams for a job."
In "Heaven Only Knows," K-OS imposes a similar ideology of rebellion, telling people not to adopt the values of popular culture:
I know you wanna be on top of the world
Givin' up diamonds and pearls to your girl
Watchin' your Jacuzzi swirl
Seems like material lust
We need to look up to the heavens for imperial trust
Me, it's kinda hard when you rhyme sometimes
Everybody wants to scrutinize
Redefine who you are
Cause every person is a star
So let your light shine far
In this example, the artist rebels against popular culture, criticizing its "material lust," and challenging his listeners to "redefine who you are" and "let you light shine far."
In "Lausd," Jurassic 5 shows a similar point of view, rebelling against the materialism that exists in popular culture, and specifically Hollywood:
The city of angel's wings represents people's hopes and dreams
And the evil that men do to live life close to kings
And boast supreme
Fancy cars, coats and cream
Material things provoke more folks to scheme
Whether you paid your cost, Cali green made your call
The smog covers the city like a tablecloth
Is it fame at fault?
Entertainers labeled soft
The place where people come to lose their train of thought
Here, the artist rebels against popular culture and the "evil that men do to live life close to kings." He blames this materialism for provoking "more folks to scheme," rebelling against a popular city that "represents people's hopes and dreams."
This analysis of aspects of gangster rap, political rap and underground rap show the presence of a unique ideology in the three biggest genres of Hip-Hop. An ideology of rebellion, in which artists rebel against society, the government and pop culture. The use of language demonstrated in these examples shows that the Hip-Hop movement is deeply grounded in several rebellious ideologies, and these ideologies serve as platforms for the construction of gangster, political and underground identities.
Works Cited / Discography
2 Pac. 2Pacalypse Now. Jive Records, 1991.
Dr. Dre. The Chronic 2001. Interscope Records, 1999.
Eminem. The Marshall Mathers LP. Interscope Records, 2000.
Eyedea & Abilities. E & A. Epitaph Records, 2004.
Geto Boys. Uncut Dope LP. Interscope Records, 1999.
Jay Z. The Black Album. Def Jam, 2003.
K-OS. Exit. Astralwerks, 2002.
Jurassic 5. Quality Control. Interscope Records, 2000.
Rawkus Records. Lyricist Lounge Volume 1. Priority Records, 1999.