Nowadays, rap music is popular all over the world, even though it comes from the United States of America and not everybody can understand the genuine meaning of some songs. People like how it sounds, therefore, almost every young person knows who Eminem or Snoop Dog is. However, the story of the appearance of the rap genre in the American music of XX century is not just a story of music commercialism, money making and singing for fun, but a story of social struggle for equality and understanding.
Rap culture faced a lot of challenges on its way to popularity. Many people still continue claiming that rap should not be recognized as a separate music style. It reminds of the rise of various trends of modern art which was totally opposite to the classic art by its structure and way of interpretation. Nevertheless, those trends are generally recognized as such because they reflected the social tendencies of their historical times. Obviously, the same situation can be observed with the rap culture. It was something new and innovative but stood up all the challenges and proved that rappers own a significant place in the history of American music. It was born by the demands of society and represented its unalienable part.
The first thing that preceded rap music was hip hop subculture, which gained popularity in 1973, when Jamaican DJ Kool Herc started to play records at parties in a different way (Keyes, 2002). That was also a time when graffiti and break-dancing started to gain its popularity. Rap was a logical continuation of hip hop music because there was a lack of lyrics. Therefore, rap itself represents the rhymes chanted over hip hop music, mostly set to the beat. There are many discussions touching upon the question if rap can also be understood as poetry, and the answer to this question is still unclear. Besides, rap lyrics often highlight the provocative topics, including various social and political issues (racism, inequality etc), violence and aggression, love and sex and so on. It gives rap a special shade because rap is always honest and forthright.
After 1973, there were many nuances in the rap development, but the exact starting point was in the late 80s (1979) when the Sugarhill Gang presented their new hit “Rapper’s Delight” (Keyes, 2002). Soon, the large number of other rap artists, such as N.W.A. and Run-D.M.C. came to the surface. At the same time, the audience of rap listeners and fans started to enlarge that proved that rap has won hearts of many Americans.
Originally, rap burst in African-American communities. Till now, the African-American advantage in numbers takes place in rap culture. Run-D.M.C. was the first black rap band and these young men influenced the minds of many people and motivated them to join rap. It was the voice of African-American minority that needed to show own existence in the society of white rulers. It was an outcry of youth who have been experiencing serious economic inequalities and were brave enough to share their worldviews through rap lyrics. “Black popular art or culture is a product of the black masses and it is significant that this culture is largely a product of the black underclass” (Conyers, 2001). This underclass and middle class did not just show how they lived and what they felt, it was a serious revelation and disclosure of the difficult everyday realities of African-American minority. Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys, Whodini, Mr. Magic, LL Cool J, Snoop Dog and other rappers were at the head of this truth-movement (Keyes, 2002).
Nevertheless, the dissemination of hip hop and rap culture after some time started to attract more than only black masses. The trend extended beyond the limits of race, color of skin and gender. In 1980s – 1990s, white rap groups, including the famous Beastie Boys, and female rap groups, for example, Salt-n-Pepa, took the highest positions at the top of music charts.
The topics that were addressed in rap rhymes were not accepted by the whole society. People, who did not understand the life of underclass and middle class because they had a chance to face it, claimed that rap is dedicated to violence. For example, the image of gun always took a central place in many songs of early rap singers. To speak up for the rap community, it is necessary to mention that rap was violent because it manifested the feeling of hopelessness and despair of socially unprotected minorities. Rap was the child of society of that time, but society did not want to recognize this fact. Undoubtedly, this music was a product of some cultural violence but not the cause. Young people who lived in the truly poor neighborhoods, often were victims of AIDS, showdowns and homicide, spent some time of their life in prisons, and had small chances to be in employment, could not sing cheerful songs. In this way, they did not meet the expectations of society, but changed the social views, making others accept the fact of their existence and fight for the same rights.
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To sum up, rap genre is one of the latest music genres of XX century that was arising as a form of oppression to American social “white” standards and unfair life conditions. Since 1980s, rappers have been awakening awareness among people, demanding equal rights not only for white people, but minorities, as well. Black-skinned youth attracted many other young people, and this movement got a world-wide recognition. Currently, rap singers are one of the most popular singers who cover different topics in their songs. The important issue is that every rapper remembers the roots of his music culture, principles he should adhere and rap authorities that need to be respected because they made this whole rap culture possible. Rap is a music art with deep meaning that not everybody can understand but everybody can try to listen and find something special for himself.