In modern society, culture is regarded as an aggregate of ideas that unite a group of people whose living conditions are similar. Speaking about those people whose quality of life is rather low, it is necessary to say that their unwillingness to live unhappy lives and readiness to discuss their problems publicly acts as a factor encouraging the development of numerous subcultures. Continuing on the topic of subcultures, it needs to be noted that they tend to change together with the changing living circumstances of social classes who create them.
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More than that, sometimes the initial messages encouraging the creation of subcultures are lost because the latter become popular among representatives of other social groups. Adopting the elements peculiar to different subcultures, people (especially teenagers who are attracted to anything that they believe to be connected with protests) tend to distort the initial messages that were important for the minorities, and this is how the new, more popular and more appropriate variant of a subculture appears. As is clear from the documentary called Hip Hop Evolution, the most important changes accompanying the development of rap are the commercialization of hip hop and the creation of new subgenres such as gangsta rap (Hip Hop Evolution).
Hip hop is known as one of the most famous subcultures that have been commercialized at the end of the twentieth century. As for the term, it is believed to have been introduced by Melvin Glover who is considered as one of the first MCs in the United States (Hip Hop Evolution). Initially, this art movement that included different branches appeared in South Bronx among representatives of the working class. When it comes to hip hop, it is necessary to say that many people tend to use this term only about the style of music although there are a few key elements that are believed to shape the discussed subculture.
The very idea that encouraged the creation of hip hop as a style is strictly interconnected with the protest against social inequality and the unwillingness to be vulnerable to the pressure from the acting government. The basic elements of hip hop as a culture include MCing or rapping, DJing which has become an essential element of club culture and graffiti writing which is known as the modern way to express the opinion of the masses on current social tendencies. Also, they include street fashion, breakdancing as a type of street dance, and the creation of the specific slang peculiar to the social group. Among the changes related to the elements of hip hop culture, ones connected with MCing or rapping remain the most obvious.
Initially, MCing appeared as a unique form of vocal sound delivery which involves the use of the particular rhythm and tempo. There is a wide range of factors that make rapping different from signing; for instance, the speech rate and the ability to pronounce difficult combinations of sounds that are very similar to tongue twisters are much more important for rappers than for singers working with other styles of music. To some extent, rap is similar to poetry as it should involve rhyme. Nevertheless, creating a recitative, any MC is required to define the most appropriate length of a “line” based on the music that will be used. Young African-American people living in South Bronx witnessed the beginning of the new era in music in the middle of the 1970s (Hip Hop Evolution). The life of the African-American population of New York City was related to certain difficulties including unemployment causing high crime rates, social inequality, and uncertainty.
Therefore, having parties was an essential element of their lives helping young people to relax and get distracted. During these underground parties, the so-called DJs were working for the audience, using a common technique in music called sampling. The first MCs (the abbreviation version of “Master of Ceremony”) were using sampling together with certain exclamations and the entire recitatives to attract the attention of listeners and introduce messages encouraging them. A combination of dance music and recitatives became very popular due to numerous factors. To begin with, it was very easy to comprehend and the rhythms used were life-asserting for many people. At the same time, it is important that MCs who were presenting sensitive issues in their recitatives acted as the voice of the people who were not widely presented in the culture of the United States.
The new genre presented a combination of elements of dub music and oral traditions of people in African countries and the popularity of this new approach to music was growing rapidly. In the middle of the 1970s, some MCs started recording their performances and the recordings were extremely popular among the African-American population of New York City. Among the pioneers of MCing, there is Joseph Saddler who was one of the first musicians using scratching, cutting, and other techniques in their performances. Also, Clive Campbell and Coke la Rock belong to the number of musicians standing at the origins of hip hop in the twentieth century. During that period, hip hop music was extremely different from the songs that young hip hop fans are listening to in the twenty-first century. At the beginning of the hip hop era, funk and disco were the most popular styles of music, and samples used by the first MCs reflected the tendencies peculiar to these styles.
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Speaking about the most important tendencies that are inherent in the development of hip hop, it is necessary to pay attention to the creation of subgenres meeting the needs of the particular groups of people. Thus, gangsta rap is known as a genre that appeared in the middle of the 1980s (Hip Hop Evolution). Among the outstanding figures related to gangsta rap, it is possible to single out Ice-T who was inspired by the ideas popular in the criminal world; some of his songs, however, caused controversial reactions due to an explicit incitement to riots against police. For instance, his song that is called Cop Killer became the last straw that urged one of the largest record labels to refuse to cooperate with him. The creation of this subgenre can be regarded as a factor that causes numerous stereotypes about MCs, their lifestyle, and their values that contradict the accepted social norms. Those musicians who are using this style are often criticized for the propaganda of crime such as murder and rape that is obvious in many songs.
Commercialization turned rap music into the mainstream. Rapping has significantly changed due to this tendency as certain themes regarded as “unattractive” were substituted by ones meeting the requirements of the audience including people with different incomes. Trying to capitalize on the growing popularity of numerous subgenres including gangsta rap, many record companies started collaborating with musicians whose seeming assuredness and independence attracted young people. Speaking about the topics covered in rap songs that have changed the entire culture, it is necessary to say that two primary types of hip hop music are different in terms of the subject matter.
The first one that can be singled out still possesses features that were peculiar to the classic hip-hop of the twentieth century – it is the so-called underground hip hop. Initially, this music style was meant to be the entertainment for the poor, and independent rappers belonging to socially disadvantaged groups still try to focus on the problems of people in need. At the same time, there is mainstream hip hop that is popular among people with different income levels. When this “commercialization” began, rappers in the United States started utilizing the opposite strategy that involves showing off and constant demonstration of spoils of affluence. As for the latter, they are ranging from luxury cars and expensive houses to people. For instance, the majority of modern recitatives used by popular male hip hop musicians present women as accessories contributing to the success of their “owners”.
In the end, rapping is known as one of the key elements of the classic hip hop culture that has changed with the lapse of time. The particular changes related to the development of rapping or MCing are strictly interconnected with the music itself as disco and funk are not popular anymore. Also, since the creation of the discussed genre, a lot of subgenres proclaiming contradictory values (such as gangsta rap) have appeared. Importantly, the development of rap music is inextricably connected with the massive commercialization that caused additional trends. In such a manner, rap stopped being the music for socially disadvantaged African-Americans.
Wheeler, Darby, director. Hip Hop Evolution (Episodes 1-4). HBO Canada, 2016.