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Gangsta Rap Music as Social Culture in the Journal of Youth Studies by Alexander Riley Essay


Alexander Riley wrote an article in the Journal of Youth Studies on the rebirth of tragedy as a social culture in the subgenre of gangsta rap music. He is interested in the hip hop culture especially in the subgenre of gangsta rap and the audiences it has in the White youth communities. The article starts by giving the ways in which rap music has been misunderstood by different authors as being violent and chauvinistic.

He states that the artist’s albums have sold millions and the fans continue to increase daily. An empirical and highly objective analysis of the rap genre will not really assist people to understand the music. Just as one needs to interview the readers of novels to know what makes them tick, the academic experts need get in touch with the audience of gangsta rap to understand what makes them buy every new release by these artists.

The author brings in an argument on the lack of focus and research on other audiences of hip-hop music especially in the White community. There have been misconceptions that the hip-hop explosion in the 1980’s was a Black man’s experience only. The truth is that the Whites and Latinos also played a role in the movement.

This is a unique study that should answer a lot of questions regarding the White youth experiences. What are their motives in the hip hop culture? For the middle income suburban White youth the author shows that the music provides a different world view and culture that they can identify with.

They cannot relate with the way rap music has been politicized. These reasons are the same for the youth who are attracted to heavy metal rock music. The author however ignores some of the truths given by earlier researchers on gangsta music. The truth is that the music’s message is indeed sexist and violent.

It influences the youth to engage in crime and other social ills simply because it glorifies and even glamorises sex, drugs and crime. Even though these artists have been raised in the ghetto, their videos are rarely shot from the perspectives of lessons. Until the message changes there will still be negative messages in journals and books about this genre of music.

The writer justifies the behaviour that the media and public find unattractive about the music such as taking drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. He calls these activities the youth’s subcultures. These are the activities that they do in times of connection and interaction. The author has done a wonderful exposition on the message of the gangsta rap and he looks at it from the perspective of tragedy (Riley, 303).

In gangsta culture, the participants are not focused on a saviour saving them from the pain and the harsh realities in the world. The people have accepted the tragedies and pains of life. When one person gains an opportunity another person will definitely lose.

It is quite a bleak outlook and maybe that is why it has been observed that the audience of gangsta rap tend to make decisions only for today. The future is not really thought of. Let us enjoy today, the drinking, sex and the drugs. All the artists have the same message.

The author has examined segments of rap verses from the songs of Tupac, Jay Z and 50 cent. In this gangsta culture there is also a preoccupation with death. Tupac and Biggie both rapped a lot about the death of their friends and they even prophesied about their own deaths. The author suggests that tragedy and acceptance of violence is the culture of this hip hop generation. When the people lose friends, they are overwhelmed. Songs are written about the loss of friends.

The author suggests that it should be understood as a way that the people mourn about the deaths of their loved ones instead of the message being politicized. The media and the public tend to see the music videos as a medium of feeding violence to the youth and glorifying death.

There is also a lot of focus in the music on vengeance. If the people simply preoccupied themselves with issues of mortality it would be fine. However, the artists keep speaking of their friends who have been murdered and how it is obvious that certain people will have to pay or die. The author again chooses not to really see the negative messages in the message but rather justifies these views by explaining that this is what really happens in the society.

There are usually conflicts in the home and other environments such as schools, churches and even hospitals. There are people who have been wronged. Unlike rap music where the frustration and desire for revenge is talked about the society suppresses the issues. It is dirt swept under the carpet, tensions bubbling under that will sooner or later come to be revealed and acted on.

The youth see the symbolism and the culture exhibited in the gangsta rap music however they do not necessarily have to allow the music to influence them to commit violent acts. In rap music there is also the tendency to engage in battles in terms of who can rap better. There is a place for healthy competition however the issue with rap music is that is usually degenerates into violence as people align themselves to different camps. A good example is given by the events that occurred in Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G lives.

The aspect of culture in terms of competition, play and battling can be understood however the gangsta artists has taken advantage of the phenomena and used it as a platform to conduct criminal activities.

The author again chooses to defend the message in gangsta rap by highlighting that there is a lot of gang related violence on the streets and the youth do not want to be forced to live in an idealistic world. People battle, revenge and they die. It is the harsh reality. There is no use refusing to confront the truth yet as they interact on the streets these are the issues they are grappling with. It is what awaits you at the end of the day.

The author supports the view that gangsta music is authentic.

The culture on the angle of the music is a positive attempt by the author to examine the genre of music from where the audience is. It may be a better approach to try and understand them rather than to always criticize them. With the angle of culture however it becomes easy to understand the critics. However, the culture of tragedy, violence, battling is an environment that any parent does not want their young in at all.

Works Cited

Hesmondhalgh, David. “Subcultures, scenes, or tribes? None of the above”. Journal of Youth Studies, 8.1 (2005): 21-40. Print.

Montano, Ed “’How do you know hes not playing Pac-Man while hes supposed to be Djing?’ Technology formats and the digital future of DJ culture”. Popular music, 29.3(2010): 397-416. Print.

Riley, Alexander. “The rebirth of tragedy out of the spirit of hip hop: A cultural sociology of gangsta rap music”. Journal of Youth Studies. 8.3(2005): 297-311. Print.

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