Hip-hop is Truly the Music of African Slavery and Disenfranchisement but I May Never be Able to Enjoy It, and That’s the Point.
Growing up in southern indiana, during the 80’s we began hearing about these weird things black people did that they somehow classified as music and dancing We knew of them as rap and breakdancing. We openly laughed and mocked the idea of this. This wasn’t music, that wasn’t dancing. This was replacing music with loud noise and talking. As we progressed into the 90’s our understanding of it became a little more clear, but we still don’t like it nor view it as music, though we did hear i invade some of our music and movies.
Even to this day, I do not enjoy most hip-hop, and there is a reason for that. It is actually a very good and lucky reason that I don’t enjoy it. I have privilege.
What I didn’t realize was happening at the time I first heard snippets of hip-hop was that for the decades before my birth, neighborhoods in the Bronx became filled with African americans from the great migration from the south for good paying jobs at the time such as slaughter houses and meat packing plants, along with Afro-caribbean, and Latino populations, majority of the slave descendants. As refrigeration and logistics picked up, many of the good city jobs were decimated as jobs moved to other areas where land was much cheaper, and many didn’t have the money to move away. This was completely the opposite of what is happening now where all the good jobs are moving to the city due to better educated people and infrastructure for tech and manufacturing causing massive gentrification, while rural regions are becoming a new easily ignored ghetto.
The sonic environment of the times in the bronx prepped the hop-hop scene. Afro-caribbean peoples brought their drums with them which they were able to keep from Africa, while they were banned for American slaves. Bongo and other drum playing happened on the roofs of of the Bronx, the heavy beat was normalized in their minds and many african americans embraced it as a lost heritage. Stereo equipment was very important to families there, and people with the loudest and best sound equipment brought them out for street and block parties, playing the music all across the spectrum, from jazz, Big band, blues, to latin music. Every one of them merged in the minds of the kids. Then in the late 60’s, money for the bronx essentially died as factory after factory shut down and moved away. They were black neighborhoods so the average person in the US didn’t care.
Insanely rapidly, The bronx experienced what rural regions have experience over the past few decades, all the good jobs were gone. The bronx cut funding to police, street lights and art and music in schools.
Before black kids would learn to make music, now they had no means. They worked on art, now it wasn’t available. Feeling hopeless and broke they did what many rural white people have now done namely, drugs and crime. Gang warfare became rampant The Bronx essentially became a war zone with no cops available. The soundscape was loud, grating, violent and chaotic. All the elements so many dislike about hip-hop.
Graffiti became the new creative outlet. and cops did nothing to stop it. DJ Kool Herc discovered at a party that if he reworked and sampled music clips over a break beat in a creative way he could make some music the kids loved at the parties he would DJ. Hip-hop was born and DJing became a self-taught stand in that used to be fill by music class and music theory. It was necessity being the mother of invention.
Afrika Bambaataa began using the same technique and would employ street poets to come in and talk over the hip-hop music he would play which became rap. Beat boxing became an artform all its own as well. He created a street organization called Universal Zulu Nation, centered around hip hop, as a means to draw teenagers out of gang life, drugs and violence.
From there it spread all over the bronx, it was raw and it was angry and at times nihilist in how bad they had been abandoned, ignored and forgotten. They would hold street parties and have the power of street lights, that had this been a functioning area would have been shut down immediately. As underfunded as the cops were, even though they got complaint after complaint by older residents who hated the sound, the cops did not interfere so long as it wasn’t violent because at least if these parties were going on they could keep track of these kids and they were a lot safer than gang brawls. Hip-hop spread out of the bronx due to the proximity to the train lines that had easy access to wealthier cities.
In fact it was because of hip-hop that the Hoes Avenue Peace Treaty was even possible and brought all the gangs together, ending much of the gang violence almost overnight.
Since that point, many places worldwide in similar poverty have embraced the hip-hop culture, as they have a similar socin experience and upbringing, and they know that it comes from the Bronx.
I always felt like maybe I was a bit racist for not enjoying hip-hop. I was relieved with the lecture below to know that I am not, I am just privileged and lucky to not have experienced a sonic landscape and en experience that hip-hop evolved from. Hip-hop is meant to be loud, grating, in your face, abandoned, hopeless and sometimes nihilistic, It is a cry for help and an attempt to establish some form of self esteem. It a replacement to other creative outlets stolen, and a return of an instrument to to a group it was stolen from. Just as there are many other cultures music I can’t really enjoy such as throat singing, Koranic chants, polka and many other cultures because I wasn’t raised in their aesthetics, I can still appreciate them, just like I appreciate Bjork even though I couldn’t enjoy a lot of her music without a lot acid.
Hip-hop is truly the collective music of former slaves, and will continue to be enjoyed by by their descendants and others as their heritage and legacy for many generations after this version of racism ends assuming, it truly ever does.