Friday, March 6, 2015

The Resurgence of Politically Driven Hip Hop | Raz Simone - Macklemore Privilege & Chief On Keef Violence Mixtape

We had no clue what to expect when Big Joe The Typist (the WhatUpWally? west coast music scout) sent a link to Raz Simone's new mixtape Macklemore Privilege & Chief On Keef Violence. This new project by Raz Simone represents the resurgence of politically driven hip hop.




The underground is bubbling with artists producing innovative music that is aggressively attacking systemic racism, white privilege, the prison industrial complex, police brutality, and the devaluation of black lives. Artists such as Jasiri X, Suave and Under New Order, Mickey Factz, IsWhat?, Donte from Doom, Cyhi the Prince, Fashawn, Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe Called Quest, Killer Mike and El-P, Common, Talib Kweli, Chuck D, Lupe Fiasco, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Dead Prez, Pharoahe Monch, Rhapsody, Jean Grae, Mos Def, The Roots, Nino Augustine, Truck North, Dice Raw, Nas, Add-2, and many many more.

Even mainstream artists, like Trinidad James, that are not normally associated with politically conscious hip hop (what would have been considered "message music" in the 60s) are using the musical platform to speak out.

This is what happens when the mainstream music industry mass produces black music for white corporate profit by standardizing the simplest formula for commodity replication. Once the culture industry executives appropriate and exploit black innovation, the industry reproduces the formula in a way that reproduces the same exaggerated stereotypes of black Americans as violent, lazy, criminal, threatening, hypersexual, and generally deviant. 

They do so in order to sell more commodified black music to white consumers who already operate out of a white racially framed view of society. The white industry and consumers strip groups like N.W.A. of their political and social commentary and reduce the multidimensionality of hip hop music and culture to an exaggerated and simplified construction of gangsta rap. Gangsta rap has its place as does street and hard core rap and party rap. Within the white racial frame, only the most simplified stereotypes can represent black individuals and black culture, thus, hip hop can only be interpreted one-dimensionally.


The history of music and "pop culture" in America is the history of black artistic innovation and white corporate commodification and exploitation. The modern recording industry took shape in the 1920s, while Jim Crow was in full force and the music industry has remained one of the most segregated institutions in America. Dan Charnas explains:

The entire music industry, founded in the Jim Crow era of segregation, was built on two fallacies: that there was, indeed, some existential difference between so-called “Black” music and white “pop” music other than the race of the musicians; and that white America needed white translators to interpret and “tone down” Black art for them."


While some white rhetoric and institutions have been forced to adapt to the changing political and cultural changes, the music industry has remained explicitly segregated, discriminatory, and exploitative. Further, white Americans have maintained control over the political, economic, and cultural institutions, including the music and entertainment industries. Since antebellum, whites have used white owned, controlled, and consumed cultural mediums such as theatre, music, literature, radio, film, television, and the internet to standardize and reproduce long-standing stereotypes of black Americans. These negative characterization of black Americans not only present a “false impression of black life, culture, and art” as Jannette L. Dates and William Barlow (2003) argue, but they also help “mold white public opinion patterns, and set the public agenda for public discourse on race issues.”[1] 

However, as the white mainstream entertainment industry exploits and co-opts each new black musical innovation, black musicians, singers, songwriters, entrepreneurs, and promoters continue to push forward with unique music that specifically expresses and speaks to the black American struggle to “recreate an authentic self-image” and “reclaim its historical identity.”[2] In regards to the music industry, throughout the twentieth century, this struggle has produced a cycle of black musical innovation and white commodification, control, exploitation, and one-dimensionalization. 


This cycle of innovation and commodification continues to produce the marginalization of black artists and immense profit for the white commodifiers. It is within this cycle of white cultural domination, black musical resistance and innovation, and white commodification that the growth and thugification of hip hop music must be situated. 


What is the Thugification of Hip Hop?


First, the thugification of hip hop is the reduction of the definition of hip hop to “gangsta rap.” Gangsta rap is a sub-genre of hip hop music. The definition of gangsta rap is amorphous. Any style of hip hop music or hip hop artist can be framed as gangsta rap or as a gangsta rapper according to the intent of the framer.

The systemic nature of American racism, grants white Americans the privilege of framing non-whites. The white racial frame (the frame through which white Americans define and describe American reality), from 1778 to present day, frames white Americans as superior and black Americans as inferior. Thus, the definition of gangsta rap has as much to do with the ways in which white elites and audiences frame and interpret the music and the artist as it does with the actual artist or musical style.

Gangsta rap emerged in white mainstream culture through west coast artists such as Ice-T, N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Ice Cube), and Too Short as well as the Houston rap group Ghetto Boys. Most hip hop historians credit Philadelphia rapper Schooly D’s “P.S.K. What Does it Mean” as the first gangsta rap song. In its initial manifestation, artists and music styles labeled as gangsta rap were multidimensional. First, artists crafted narratives, consciously and unconsciously, that addressed political, economic, and social problems that black Americans living in poor urban areas encountered[3]. Second, Like much of hip hop music, gangsta rap is “ghettocentric” By ghettocentric, I mean that the artists place emphasis on their location in the “hood,” “ghetto,” or the “street.” Third, unlike other styles of hip hop, gangsta rap is “thugcentric.” By thugcentric, I mean that the artists place emphasis on their identity as gangsters and thugs. Fourth, many gangsta rappers crafted intricate narratives of the gang lifestyle and performed the stories as autobiographical accounts of real situations. These narratives, however, were mixed with non-fiction and fiction, realism and exaggeration, nihilism and social commentary that sometimes glorified the gangster lifestyle, sometimes warned others of the danger and despair of the gangster lifestyle, and sometimes did both or neither. 

Second, The thugification of hip hop is the reduction of the multi-dimensional narratives, styles, artists, themes, and messages of the gangsta rap sub-genre to a one-dimensional white racially framed interpretation. 

In white mainstream culture, gangsta rap is associated with themes of violence, drug dealing, gang-banging, drug use, misogyny, hypersexuality, explicit lyrics, general immorality, and, specifically, the use of words like “nigga”, “hoe”, “bitches” and “thug”. Thus, the term “gangsta rap” (as well as “gangsta” and “thug”) encompasses the historically reproduced and “organized set of racialized ideas, stereotypes, emotions, and inclinations to discriminate” of the white racial frame.[4] 

Ultimately, framing hip hop as gangsta rap is a symbolic way for white Americans to denigrate hip hop music, black individuals, and black culture as inferior and to reinforce the ideology of white supremacy. The result of the thugification of hip hop is the reproduction and justification of systemic racism. The white racial framing of hip hop as gangsta rap diminishes the political, spiritual, uplifting, and artistic contribution of hip hop music to American culture.

Third, the thugification of hip hop is the same historical reduction and vilification of black music and black Americans that has occurred during each era of black musical innovation.

White elites and consumers have framed each new development in black music as nonmusical, a passing fad, unintelligent and simple, immoral, and dangerous to the values of American culture. In the 1920s, newspapers labeled ragtime music “vulgar, filthy, and suggestive.”[1] In the 1950s, politicians[2], community groups, journalists, and religious leaders warned against the moral danger that R&B, which had become referred to as rock & roll as it began to crossover to white mainstream radio, posed to the youth of America, as Linden (2012) explains:

“The first generation of Rock & Roll (ca. 1952-1959) is a disruption to that system of control on many fronts including the economical, social, and educational. The responses to this disruption are made from these very arenas in an effort to regain control of the hearts and minds of the (white) youth.”[3]

Religious leaders referred to “Rock & Roll as a cancer to spiritual sanctity,” schools enforced “dress codes defined explicitly against Rock & Roll dress (leather jackets, tight skirts),[4] and corporate media outlets disassociated with those “white renegades” that embraced and prospered by embracing the infectious black rock & roll. Further, grassroots citizen associations like the Citizens Council of New Orleans the morally corrupt black music, in the early 1960s, with posters that read: “NOTICE! Stop: Help Save the Youth of America, Don’t Buy Negro Records.”[5] The white anxiety stirred by black R&B and rock & roll in the 1950s was, in reality, the same historical fear and debasement of white framed black culture.
“The threat of black music in 1950s America is largely that of black culture itself. Examples abound of local and regional officials from the clergy, municipal government, educators, citizens associations, law enforcement, and even broadcasters who decried the savage obscenity and vulgarity of Rock & Roll music that they saw as a threat to debase white society.”[6]
The fear and vilification of black culture became even more pronounced throughout the 1950s and 1960s as legal segregation came to an end and the civil rights movement picked up steam. In 1965, the press blamed popular Los Angeles DJ Magnificent Montague for the Watts Riots when rioters chanted the phrase Montague used when introducing “hot” new records on his radio show - “burn baby burn.” On August 13, LAPD officers visited Magnificent Montague following citizen complaints about his “incendiary on-air use of ‘Burn, baby, burn’ and he unwillingly changed the phrase to “have mercy baby.”[7] Addressing the treatment of Magnificent Montague at the 1967 NARA Annual Convention, Martin Luther King Jr. said:
But while the establishment was quick to blame the tragedy of Watts most unjustly on the slogan of Magnigicent Montague, it has not been ready to acknowledge all of the positive features which grow out of your contributions to the community[8].
The debasement and vilification of black popular music continued through the late 70s “death to disco” rock radio campaign and on into the Parental Music Resource Center’s, established by Tipper Gore, successful campaign to have “parental advisory explicit lyrics” warnings posted on the packaging of rap albums in the late 1980s. 

This is the same form of systemic racism that allows Bill O'Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, Ann Coulter, and other right wing pundits to stake claim to their white privilege when expressing their explicit racist opinions while simultaneously claiming to not be racist and attacking anyone that calls their racism - racism. 
"That image of Trayvon as a non-threatening, harmless youngster was later muddled by photographs released by the other side showing Trayvon posing as a ‘gansta’ rapper, holding weapons and sporting an elaborate grill on his teeth. Additionally, store surveillance video from earlier on the evening Trayvon was killed showed the young man wearing a hoodie and looking like every 7/11 robbery suspect ever caught on tape." (Geraldo Rivera, Latino.foxnews.com 8-15-2014)
In the end, these right wing racists use gangsta rap to justify the harassment, incarceration, and murder of black Americans and to deny the continued existence of racism.
"And so it was for a few weeks until the race-baiting industry saw an opportunity to further the racist careers of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, the Black Panthers. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, et al, who then swept down on the Florida community refusing to admit that the 17-year-old dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe Trayvon Martin was at all responsible for his bad decisions and standard modus operendi of always taking the violent route." (Ted Nugent, Rare.us, 7-18-2013)
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[1] Dates and Barlow 2003, 524

[2] Dates and Barlow 2003, 524
[3] Including but not limited to: the loss of manufacturing jobs in urban areas and economic despair; the conservative revolution of President Reagan that negated civil rights legislation and defunded or underfunded public utilities, programs, and schools in poor black areas; the aids and crack epidemics that disproportionately effected poor black communities; the increase in gang activity and violence fueled by the drug trade and the availability of semi-automatic weapons; and the war on drugs and crime that criminalized black youth, justified permanent policing and police brutality of poor black neighborhoods, and mass incarceration of blacks; and the despair of the failure of the civil rights movement to secure political, economic, legal, and social equality. In other words, gangsta rap was a response to the retrenchment of systemic racism.
[4] Feagin 2006, 25 
[5] “When newspapers labeled ragtime ‘vulgar, filthy, and suggestive’ because of its vibrant, sexual danceability, the black elite, who were highly sensitive to what whites thought of them, agreed, implying that such overt displays of the ‘African spirit’ hindered the advancement of the race.” George 1989, 8
[6] Discussing, Congressman Emanuel Cellar’s, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, antipathy , in 1955, toward the mainstream record labels and radio stations that had begun to produce and play more black R&B music, Sanjek and Sanjek comment:
“Cellars antipathy toward BMI and the music business continued. Moreover, his misperception of contemporary popular music, in particular Rock & Roll, seemed to come from a deeply rooted Puritanism and fear of the black man in the American psyche, a perspective sadly shared by others. Clergyman of several denominations attempted to censor the lyrics of R & B material. The most politically liberal among the SPA membership had little compunction in turning the wave of racial hatred, masked by concern for the nation’s youth, against BMI.” Sanjek and Sanjek 1991, 158, 159
[7] “The first generation of Rock & Roll (ca. 1952-1959) is a disruption to that system of control on many fronts including the economical, social, and educational. The responses to this disruption are made from these very arenas in an effort to regain control of the hearts and minds of the (white) youth. Schools begin to enforce dress codes defined explicitly against Rock & Roll dress (leather jackets, tight skirts); religious leaders reinforced this message by addressing Rock & Roll as a cancer to spiritual sanctity. Grassroots citizen associations spontaneously spring up in reaction to this threat, echoing the language of the educational and religious leaders. Corporate media outlets cut ties with any employees who had prospered by masquerading as “white renegades” embracing this new black music. It is interesting to note that this operation includes its own process of nomination. Once cleansed of its residual contagion from the maternal R&B music, the music would then be repackaged for a more mainstream consumption, under the name of Rock & Roll.” Linden 2012, 59
[8] Linden 2012, 15
[9] Linden 2012, 51
[10] Linden 2012, 50
[11] http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2002/jul/20/artsfeatures.features1
[12] Marin Luther King Jr. 1967 quoted in Barlow 2003, 240






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