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Hip Hop and Lyrical Intent - Essay Example

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The lyrics of mainstream hip hop songs are widely controversial because of constant references to violence, sex and materialism, but the fundamental intent of this musical genre is to unite an otherwise marginalized population within America. From the time that slaves were freed in the United States until now, black Americans have utilized their own unique music to unite themselves as a cultural minority and to deal with the continued oppression of society…
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Hip Hop and Lyrical Intent
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Download file to see previous pages The lyrical content of many rappers is highly controversial: songs can often seem very materialistic, racially degrading and misogynistic. Hip hop artists like Kanye West, who are very blatant about their social views and their desire for change, are admittedly difficult to find in mainstream rap. Other artists like DMX often produce songs that are superficially violent and demeaning, but the lyrical content can actually be quite revealing of the modern state of black America. Regardless of controversy, hip hop lyrics have been able to unite American blacks and help them establish a group identity that is essentially the foundation of the continuing civil rights movement. Through this unique use of language, hip hop artists are responsible for not only the unity of American blacks over the past several decades but for the association of many other American minority groups with this common cause.
Although it is the lyrical content of hip hop songs that makes them controversial, the interpretation of such songs is completely reliant on the viewpoint of the audience. African-American writer and essayist Gloria Naylor agrees that "words themselves are innocuous; it is the consensus that gives them their power" (238); one of her main ideas concerning black American language is that to a small black audience, certain themes and words are expected and understandable. When the audience is made larger and incorporates people that are not black Americans, these themes and slang words seem insulting because they are not a part of normal language for such people. Certainly this theory can be applied to hip hop, since the genre often uses words that are completely reliant on context to be interpreted many different ways. The use of racial slurs by white people is universally insulting however when used by minority groups is often considered a symptom of social unity. Kanye West uses the term "niggas" as a way not only to embrace the word as a part of black American culture but also to highlight the ambiguity of the term: originally used by white people in reference to their black slaves, "nigga" worked its way into the black lexicon and became a way for blacks to label themselves and their counterparts. Given the origins of the word, "nigga" is ambiguous in that it represents slave ownership and degradation of black Americans while simultaneously being used as a unifying force within the black culture. Kanye's song "Jesus Walks" talks about the negative aspects of black urban society and uses the word "nigga" not only because it is a term used by blacks to label themselves but because it emphasizes how many white people view blacks:
Where restless (Niggas) might snatch your necklace
And next these (Niggas) might jack your Lexus
These lyrics portray two simultaneous themes: first, a not uncommon reality to blacks living in segregated neighborhoods, and secondly the stubborn views that many white Americans have of black society. The song puts a spotlight on the cycle that is black urban crime and white authoritarian prejudice: by doing this he wants black people to fully understand their own identity and behavior and to try to rise above what history and modern ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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