Rap music is on its way to becoming one of the most popular forms of music on the market today. Although rap has only been popular for the last 15 years, it can be traced back to the days of slavery and even further to the tribes of Africa. Rap is used now as it was used for the past few centuries, as a form of communication. This music has been a way for the young African-American’s to speak out about their lives and the struggles they go through. Like rock-n-roll and other forms of music that achieve national attention, rap is being blamed for corrupting our youth. There is a new type of rap music out called “Gangster Rap”. This form of rap music is not the same and should not be compared with rap durived from the hip hop era. There has been many attempts by people in the rap business to bring positive attention to their music. They are spending a lot of time promoting the “Stop the violance” campain and others that promote education and drug awareness. The history of rap varies, but the most common beleif is that it comes from Africa. This can be proven by looking at the different techniqus used in making rap music and the techniques used in African music. Rap music consists of many sounds and techniques that come from different sources. As noted in Grolier Electronic Publishing, under the subject African musical styles, “One of the most common types of music-making is call-and-response singing, in which a chorus repeats a fixed refrain in alternation with a lead singer who has more freedom to improvise”. This is an important part of rap music. Cheryl Keyes explains, “Audience response helps to prolong performance and helps the rapper to spontaneously execute rap formulas. The more verbal and kinesic the response from the audience, the longer the rapper raps”(146). Another technique used in rap music is the talking over pre recorded tracks. This is defined by Grolier also in the definition of rap music, “a combination of rhymed lyrics spoken over rhythm tracks and pieces of recorded music and sounds called samples, taken from other records”. This has also been traced back to Africa as noted by Relin in his article, “Musical historians say the roots of rap (chanting over a rhythmic beat) reach back into African tradition of oral history”(8). One of the final influences to raps style was toasting. This consisted of quick vocal deliveries more like speech than singing (Berman 140). Another link from African music to Rap is in the sounds that are used. It is said that “Grand Wizard” invented “scratching” while practicing at home (Greenberg 15), however Andrei Strobert, a Brooklyn-based scholar, musician and artist was quoted in an article by Harry Allen about the roots of rap music, “The scratch that you hear in hip-hop is similar to the African sekere”. She goes on to explain, “A sekere is a big gourd with beads around it”. She also noted that many of the sounds rappers use in her studio are from the Imo tribe of Nigeria (80). There are many comparisons between rap and African music but one comparison you don’t hear about too often is the influence by Puerto Ricans living in New York at the time rap started popping up. Juan Flores brings up this comparison in his article, “Recital of decimals and aguinaldos in the Puerto Rican folk tradition involved methods of improvisation and alternation much like those typical of rap performances, while the tongue-twisting (trabalengua) style of some plena singing is an even more direct antecedent. More important, perhaps, just as with doo-wop and rhumba, there is a fascinating “fit” between Puerto Rican “clave” and characteristic rap rhythms”(583). Puerto Rican’s also played a big part in the influence of break dancing, a big part of rap culture, as noted by Flores,”The speedy footwork, elaborate upper-body movement and the daring dips in up-rock rested in a formative background in rumba and guaguanco, and was to some extent anticipated by the Latin hustle. It is indicative that the Rock Steady Crew, the most accomplished of the many breakdancing groups, is composed almost entirely of Puerto Ricans” (583).
Rap music as a form of communication can’t help but to be influanced by the surounding cultures, just as language is continually changing so will the forms of music. Although rap has outside influences it is mainly from African tradition, where tribesman hold “men of words” in high regard (Greenberg 11). Music is an important part of African social life. As cited in Grolier Electronic Publishing, music is,”a medium for the transmission of knowledge and values and for celebrating important communal and personal occasions. Music is often combined with speech, dance and the visual arts to create multimedia events”. This stayed with those who were sold into slavery and kept alive here in America. Greenberg states, “On the plantation, blacks also mixed American music forms with beats they remembered from Africa” (13). Even though rap seems to be a fairly new form of music it has been here for a long time. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five as quoted by Allen said, “It’s the same shit that Black people was chantin’ on the chain gang, and that they was sayin’ when they was slaves. ‘Hi-de-ho!’-all that shit is rap! Rap always been out there. It was just waitin’ for someone to claim it” (79). Rap as a form of music started getting public attention in 1969 during block parties with Kool DJ Herc, the first hip-hop DJ in New York’s South Bronx (Berman 137). Because there were no instruments practically anyone with talent could start and many people did. Rap became a way of communicating to anyone who would listen, about what it was like growing up in South Bronx. Relin stated, “Hip-hop soon developed a devoted word-of-mouth following, and homemade rap tapes were snapped up by eager listeners” (8). Since then it has continued to escalate. Hip-hop was the music and culture revolution from the middle of the 60s to the middle of the 70s and is now the background music for rap (Berman 137). Many think the first rap record was made in 1979 but in an article by Harry Allen he states, “When people think of the beginning of hip-hop, they head back to the Sugar hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight,’…in September 1979. That wasn’t the first ‘rap’ record, however. The Honor goes to Fatback Band’s ‘King Tim III,’ which was in ’78′” (79). The rise in popularity of rap brought many “first’s” to the history of rap. Kurtis Blow stated in an article by Cheryl Keyes, “The thing that broke rapping out of Harlem and the Bronx and made people take notice was Deejay Hollywood’s appearance at the Apollo Theater” (143). After that rap got even more popular. Run D.M.C. had the first rap album to be certified platinum for sales of 1 million copies with “Raising Hell” in 1986 (Barol 85). A Grammy category was added for rap music in 1989 and the winner was D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince with “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (Greenberg 38). L.A. rapper Tone-Loc, had the best selling pop single of all time with, “Wild Thing” in 1989 (Relin 8). Tone-Loc was also the first to reach number 1 on the pop charts with this same song (Greenberg 38). The popularity of rap music has affected our everyday life even if we don’t notice it. Everyone from McDonalds and General Motors uses it to promote their products (Relin 8). Its hard to believe that record companies refused to promote rap. Nelson wrote in an introduction to his book that, “Record companies masked their racism by stating that no one was interested in buying this Black thing. By claiming that hip-hop was an underground movement whose low-income followers couldn’t afford to buy the music” (xix). Relin pointed out the racism in the record industry, in his article he stated,”Many charge that the racism built into the recording industry was responsible for rap’s slow start. A recent Investigative report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found: ‘The record industry is overwhelmingly segregated, and discrimination is rampant. No other industry in America so openly classifies operations on a racial basis’” (8). On thing that helped to get rap music into the middle class America was groups like Blondie. They were the first white group to get into the act and it changed the outlook of rap. Kurtis Blow stated in an article by John Mortbland, “I’m glad they made one because it enhances our credibility” (50). The Beasty Boys were another group that brought rap to America’s attention. Relin noted this in his article,”the Beasty Boys’ debut album, ‘Licensed to Ill’ sold over 4 million copies. played Heavily on MTV, which refused to feature black rap acts, The Beasty Boys’ introduced Middle America to the hip-hop aesthetic. ‘Its not surprising that it took a white group to popularize a black form of music,’ MCA of the Beasty Boys’ told Update. ‘Chuck Berry invented rock and roll, but it’s Elvis who’s called ‘The King.’ That’s typical of America’” (9).
Run D.M.C. had their own way of attracting white fans as Greenberg noted, “Run D.M.C., a Queens, New York, trio, attracted white fans by using heavy metal and rock beats and writing lyrics that reflected their middle-class upbringing. Run D.M.C. also did a video with the popular rock group Aero Smith. The video is a symbol of the joining of music and races. The effort to bring rap to middle America worked great. The Music is crossing over from black to white teenagers just like in the 50s with rhythm and blues crossing over to rock and roll (Greenberg 39). Just as rock and roll raised concerns about the messages it was sending, rap is now being looked at as a bad influence on teenagers. Black and White parents alike are concerned about what rap is telling their children (Newsweek 90). If you look at record sales, gangster rap is out selling other types of music (Leland 60). Part of the appeal for teenagers is the outlaw image like Public Enemy dressed in fatigues and holding their mikes like weapons (Relin 8). Chuck D’s reason for the aggressiveness of rap is because in order to get the message of your music across you must first get through to them. One way rappers do this is by showing how tough they are (Newsweek 90). The real enemy in the rap business is the media. When there is trouble they are there to report it. However, there is a positive side to rap somehow it misses the papers. For example, two dozen people were arrested for vandalism after a rap show in Pittsburgh and a series of muggings and chain-snatching(robery) followed a rap concert at Madison Square Garden in New York (Barol 85). The media neglects to show the events that went off with out a single problem. Nelson give a prime example of this,”A “peace rally” held in Harlem after the slaying of a young black teenager, Yusef Hawkins, by a crowd of white thoughs in Brooklyn in 1989, featured a crew of rappers that included the KRS-One and Chuck D. This event attracted thousands of hip-hop fans from every borough. But, because there were no shoot-outs or gang wars, the mainstream press failed to report this joyful event” (xix). People are slowly realizing that rap music is not to blame for all the problems of youth today. A common thought among those who are concerned the music is, if it wasn’t around we wouldn’t have problems today. The idea that rap is like a “safety valve” rather than an “opened floodgate” is an interesting concept (Newsweek 90) Rap music could be a way for teenagers to disagree with the role society gives them without acting out. However, there will always be people who cause problems whether the music is there or not. Bill Graham, promoter and long time fixture on the rock-and-roll scene was quoted by Barol as stating, “We’re all in a hurry to point at somebody…to say that if this band didn’t exist, that wouldn’t have happened. Well, then, you should never leave your house because it might rain someday. Look, it was in the minds of those people to fight. It was premeditated. That’s the danger” (85). Many rappers are sending positive messages to kids to stay in school and stay away from drugs. Run-D.M.C. sends their message that they are drug free in their song, “It’s Tricky”: “We are not thugs/We don’t use drugs/But you assume on your own/They offer coke/But we just leave it alone…” (Barol 85). On Grandmaster Flashes’s hit song “White Lines,” he raps about how drugs can ruin a life, and shouts, “Don’t do it!” (Greenberg 9). The message that rap music sends can be confusing because you have groups who rap about doing drugs and groups who rap about staying away from drugs. To make it all just a little more confusing N.W.A. (Niggaz With an Attitude), one of raps scariest groups gives an “extra special thankz” to god and “our mothers and fathers” on the album liner (Newsweek 90″).
Rap music is on its way to becoming a important part of American history and we need to focus on the benefits that it can offer. Because of the strong appeal it has on our youth, it influences them and we need to work with this influence not against it. If society would focus on the positive aspects of the music, negative influences will slowly go away. Greenberg summed it up nicely when he states, “As with all kinds of music, the more popular it becomes, the more likely you are to find both good and bad sides. But the positive side of rap greatly outweighs the negative. And its positive message seems to be spreading” (39).
Works Cited”African Music.” Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. 1995.
Allen, Harry. “Hip-Hop Madness.” Essence April 1989: 78.
Barol, Bill. “Some Bad Raps for Good Raps.” Newsweek 1 September 1986: 85.
Berman, Eric. “The Godfathers of Rap.” Rolling Stone 12 December 1993: 137.
“Decoding Rap Music” Newsweek. 19 march 1990: 60.
Flores, Jaun. “Rappin’, Writin,’ ; Breakin.” Dissent 1987: 580-581.
Greenberg, Keith Elliot. Rap. USA: Lerner,1991.
Keyes, Cheryl L. “Verbal Art Performance in Rap Music: The Conversation of the 80s.” Folklore Forum. 1981: 143-152.
Leland, John. “Gangsta Rap and the Culture of Violence.” Newsweek. 29 November 1993: 60McCoy, Judy. Rap Music in the 1980s: A Reference Guide. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992.
Mortbland, John. “Kurtis Blow raps his way to the top.” Rolling Stone 5 March 1981: 50.
Nelson, Havelock and Michael Gonzales. A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture. New York, New York: Harmony, 1991.
“Rap Music.” Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. 1995.
Relin, David Oliver. “Coming Up the Hard Way.” Scholastic Update 18 May 1990: 8-9.