There is nothing wrong with one community learning the cultural styles originated by another (Forman). However, it not okay for the dominant community to take over, strip these cultural forms and meanings from their origins, and popularize them (Forman). The commercialization and globalization of hip hop did just that, leaving the oppressed black community back to their misrepresented social, economic and political struggles in which hip hop was created to neglect (Flores).
Hip-hop originated from the South Bronx of New York City among urban African America working-class youth during the 1970s (Hoebee). As Author Tricia Rose proposes in Black Noise, “rap is deeply grounded in ‘premodern oral traditions’ while hip-hop itself is contributed by preceding black musical styles such as jazz, blues, and southern soul music” (Flores). As hip-hop’s culture consists of a mixture of genres, rap music can be considered a cultural subgenre and language within this larger musical and social movement that also includes deejaying, breakdancing and graffiti (Krohn). Hip-hop’s adoption and success can mainly be routed in the messages it conveyed and the voices it granted to the formerly voiceless (Seidenberg). Rap music was primarily the voice of the poor, oppressed, powerless, vulnerable and underrepresented African-American youth (Flores). Rap music was used to express commentary and frustration in relation to racial inequalities and social and economic hardships that black Americans continued to bear within inner-city ghettos (Hoebee). Specifically serving as a social, news and educational medium, the words often reflected common struggles in regards to poverty, drugs, violence, poor schools, family disintegration and racial tension (Krohn). Searching for outlets to channel their creativity and aggression, once the “Golden Era” of hip-hop had emerged, it had the power to provide urban youth with an identity and culture, and served as a distraction and relief from a variety social problems (Forman, Hoebee).
Although the hip-hop culture and origins were mainly established and embraced by the working-class African-Americans, the genre and path to popularity was specifically pioneered by DJ Cool Herc (Blanchard). “Herc introduced an innovative turntable technique to lengthen a song’s drum break by playing the break portion of two identical records consecutively” (Blanchard). The local popularity of this newly invented rhythmic music served by DJs, along with a rise in breakdancers, and graffiti artists, induced the growth of MCs, and eventually rap to create the distinctive culture known as hip-hop (Blanchard). Those who disliked the genre presumed rap and hip-hop would be a passing fad (Flores). “However, doubts of hip-hop’s ability to become a feasible commercial force was suppressed in 1979 when the Sugarhill Gang’s song ‘Rapper’s Delight’ sold millions of copies and boomed to the top of the charts, validating hip-hop as a true commercial force” (Flores). During the early 1980’s marked another turning point in the history of hip hop music (Robinson). Although the Sugarhill Gang produced hip hop music’s first hit song, Run DMC’s early commercial success, being the first hip hop group to have a #1 R&B chart-topping album, solidified hip hop’s secured position as a part of the mainstream industry (Robinson). By 1987, rap music continued to produce new artists in addition to women rappers that were able to advance into rap’s emerging commercial audience (Blanchard). In 1988, hip hop sales reached and exceeded $100 million (Robinson).
Once hip hop’s demand and selling potential was realized, it has been manipulated into a very lucrative commercial medium (Hoebee). In the 1980s after rap triggered the expansion of new independent labels, the major record labels entered and attempted to dominate urban radio stations, production, and distribution (Rose). By 1990, majority of the major record chain store distribution was controlled by six major record companies (Rose). Similar to the major record labels, many businesses and corporations have resorted to hip-hop to drive profitability (Flores). Mass media advertisers recognized the value of utilizing rap in order to sell their products, even though they do not have a thorough understanding of where the subculture came from (Forman). For example, hip hop advertised for brands such as McDonald’s, Coca Cola, NIKE, MTV, anti-drug campaigns, and more (Flores). Even hip-hop fashion became very popular with several athletic shoe brands such as Reebok, Puma, Nike, and Addidas making huge profits from their footwear in which had become the most widely accepted stylish and prestigious accessory (Forman). In contrast to the other businesses and corporations, these manufacturers did not intentionally market their fashion to appeal to the rap subculture (Forman). Instead, their products were later adopted by this group in which became apart of its identifiable look (Forman). Hip hop had shifted from embodying the voice of the black community to representing endless companies, and products, in addition to an array of communities and peoples (Flores). Hip-hop had now expanded from being consumed by solely urban blacks to serving those who partake in or promote hip-hop culture whether male or female, rich or poor, black and white, American or foreign, and so on (Flores). The more money mass producers made, the less diversified rap music became on the radio and television airwaves with less profound meaning in order to appeal to this wider audience (Comissiong). Large corporations were able to silence progressive voices, to publicize rappers who demonstrated an image of back people that corporations perceived to be more familiar (Comissiong). They argued that in order for the artist to succeed in the mainstream music industry they must adapt to the demands of the record labels, the representation of the culture industry and the historically negative racial expectations of whites (Hart).
The record labels determined that their audience, mainly white youth, was predominantly interested in the more negative associations and imagery of hip hop being Gangsta Rap that incorporated more hyper-violent and hyper-masculine lyrics (Hart, Flores) To a certain degree, once the genre rose in popularity and sales, rap and hip hop artists lost their creative ability to speak on matters of such importance (Powers). The intent of hip hop had been diverted from its original values of life-affirming qualities to promiscuity, anti-love, drug use, misogyny, materialism, violence, and criminality shown within the shift of lyrical content (Powers). The continuation of these themes was also presented through the introduction of music videos on “Yo! MTV Raps” in which facilitated hip hop artists to achieve perceptibility and the extension of the genre’s consumer base to the progressive white market (Flores). With the increasing prominence of music videos, considerable focus was placed on a singer’s appearance rather than how he or she sounded (Flores). Previous to hip hop’s success on MTV, the genre’s music videos commonly served to portray the life lived by the artist that typically showcased the rapper hanging out in their neighborhood (Flores). However, after the commercialization of hip hop, the generic industry standard of hip-hop videos displayed rappers flaunting their wealth and power or being surrounded by women partially clothed within their mansion (Flores).
Consequently, there is a debate on where responsibility should be placed for the negative lyrics, images, and messages that are representing a false culture of blackness (Hart). As some critics would say that the rappers are responsible for choosing what they rap about and are accountable for continuously glorifying these negative behaviours, it may seem odd that they are continuing to write songs that portray such a stereotypical and possibly self-degrading image of themselves (Powers, Hart, Flores). In actuality, rappers have less of a choice (Flores). Many rappers will admit that they will write lyrics that sell and that industry executives demand, with the aspirations of one day being signed with a major label and becoming famous (Blanchard, Flores). Although they may prefer to stay true to their roots and rap about more commendable topics as the first early rappers had done, there is pressure to become a product of mainstream culture and to adapt to the corporate supported stereotypical costumes that have proven to be profitable for young, African-American male artists (Flores, Robinson, Comissiong).
Regardless, the media presents the public with a distorted, and incorrect view of hip hop and the black community (Hoebee). With industries marketing to wider audiences, hip hop’s cultural significance and meaning has faded and has allowed negative stereotypes of African Americans to pervade, countering all that hip hop was created to challenge (Hoebee, Powers) The saturation of narrow representations of blacks as “gangstas”, “pimps”, and “playas” has created the illusion that what is produced and displayed is an extension of the black reality and culture (Hart). It is unfortunate that the mass culture industries have the power to dominate the development and diffusion of rap music because most of the producers have little understanding of the subculture from which it originates (Forman). In addition, as rap and hip-hop music has become so popular among white audiences who have never suffered from similar circumstances, they are unable to relate (Krohn). This becomes increasingly problematic as these white fans of rap music also do not put in the effort to truly understand the social underlying themes presented in the genre (Powers, Flores).
To conclude, commercialization has proved to divert hip hop from its meaningful origins towards a negative phenomenon in which the genre was created to alleviate. Reflecting the social, political and economic hardships of the inner-city communities, hip hop’s definition came in a variety of forms including rapping, djing, graffiti and break dancing. However, the media neglects these elements in addition to the freedom hip hop provided to many young urban African Americans. Instead, the highly controversial “Gangsta Rap” and its elements of drugs, sex and violence have taken the forefront to appeal to a wider audience and untimely drive profits. In response, negative stereotypes of the black community have emerged due to the exploitation of the music industry, as the white hip hop fans/audience have perceived these images within the media to be a reality. Any race has the ability to partake, listen and enjoy hip hop, however, the commercial success of the genre’s visitors has come at the expense of its Afrocentric community and themes. Therefore, it is important that these individuals, along with modern-day artists, make an effort to understand the genre’s history and what it is supposed to represent instead of widening the gap between the past and present (Powers, Seidenberg).