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Los Angeles and Seattle’ Music in 80-90s Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 22nd, 2020

Music is one of the best ways of understanding society. Music gives voice to the struggles and aspirations of a people. This paper explores life in South Central Los Angeles and Seattle in the late eighties and in the early nineties based on musical productions in the sub-genres of Gangsta Rap, and Grunge.

Historical Analysis of Gangsta Rap Songs and Videos

Gangsta Rap emerged as a music sub-genre in the late eighties and the early nineties. It arose from Hip-Hop and hardcore Hip-Hop. The goal of this paper is to show that there was a direct correlation between the emergence of Gangsta Rap in Los Angeles and the increase in crime rates and social dysfunction. In order to prove this assertion, the paper explores two music videos released within that period. The first video is “This is Compton,” released by the Group Compton’s Most Wasted in 1987. The second video is “Ain’t Nuthing But a G Thing” by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg.

The shooting of the video by Compton’s Most Wanted took place in Los Angeles. The primary setting was a railway bridge. However, the video has a few supplementary scenes found near the railway tracks. It feathers two rappers that are the main characters in this video. Two other members of the group do not sing as they are a part of the crowd scene. The two rappers are wearing labeled baseball caps. One cap has the Los Angeles Kings (an ice hockey team) logo, and the other cap has the Los Angeles Raiders (a football team) logo. In the video, there are passing shots of an overhead helicopter and the Compton Lazben Hotel. The hotel had construction controversies at the time. The central theme of the song is to lay claim on Compton. The artists present themselves as the defenders of the city, and they use their song to intimidate those who do not respect Compton.

The second video by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg tells a long story. The video starts featuring the scenes of a typical African American neighborhood. Dr. Dre goes into a house to pick Snoop Dogg. The song portrays daily life in South Central Los Angeles in an African American home. A matriarch is fussing in the house while caring for the children. Dr. Dre’s brother is watching television. Just outside the house, middle-aged men are doing press-ups on a makeshift gym bench.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg go out to a barbeque party. There are children at the party and other people playing games. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg then leave to go to an evening party. In the closing scene, the next morning, Snoop goes back home staggering. In this video, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are wearing baseball caps. Snoop’s cap has a marijuana leaf printed on it, while Dr. Dre’s cap has the initials “SOX” written on it. This is the official emblem of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. Snoop Dogg’s shirt has the initials LBC.

The mid-eighties and the early nineties were very difficult years in Los Angeles. The city was the epicenter of the crack epidemic that happened in the early eighties. Historically, Gangs ruled the city, and it lacked social cohesion. White supremacists gangs lost ground to African American and Hispanic gangs in the late seventies and early eighties (Scott 4). In the years of their rise, gang life was normal in Los Angeles. The city’s gang tradition found its way to music and film. The emergence of Gangsta Rap was a natural outflow from the interaction between Hip-Hop music and the gang realities in Los Angeles.

The crack epidemic tore apart the social structures of South Central Los Angeles. This happened because many people became crack addicts. The result was that addicted parents could not take care of their children. In addition, many young people were either dealing crack, on the streets, or they were too addicted to it. The impacts of the crack epidemic still haunt Los Angeles to date. The relationship between the residents and the police was also very poor. The city has had some of the worst riots arising from the poor interaction between the police and the resident of the city. The riots of 1992 arose because of perceived injustice when a judge acquitted the police officers that had physically assaulted Rodney King on camera.

Both songs contain vulgar words such as “pussy” (slang for the vagina). The songs also contain references to prostitution through words, such as “hookas” (also spelled “hookers,” and used as a general term for prostitutes) and skeezers (slang for a very cheap prostitute). This gives a clear indication of the moral decadence in South Central Los Angeles. The video by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg gives a broader view of life in the city.

The video shows a single-parent family that does not have a father. In reality, the number of households headed by women was on the increase at the time (Lockhart and Danis 5). Secondly, there is no one in the entire video that would actually be working. Los Angeles had one of the highest unemployment rates in the whole country at the time. The unemployment rates were partly to be blamed for the controversy surrounding the construction of the Compton Lazben Hotel. The video revolves around a party lifestyle that was very rampant in Los Angeles at the time. Both the videos depict drug use. The video by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg represents people drinking alcohol while the one by Compton’s Most Wanted shows one of the rappers with a cigarette. In conclusion, both the pieces provide a fair representation of events in Los Angeles in the late eighties and the early nineties.

Cultural Analysis of Grunge

The DIY punk ethic was a radical approach to the production and distribution of music. Punk musicians practicing this ethic insisted on doing all the activities required to develop and sell music. Their motivation was to keep away corporate sponsors in order to guarantee their creative freedom (Wikstrom 14). This paper postulates that the DIY punk ethic influenced life in the suburbs of Seattle to the extent that it promoted slacking. The paper reviews two songs produced in the mid-eighties to prove the thesis. The two songs are “Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, and “Down in a Hole” by Alice in Chains.

At the time when Nirvana was created in 1987, the Grunge sub-genre was not yet established. However, it was proving to be popular among rock fans in Seattle. The success of the song “Smells like Teen Spirit” took the sub-genre to national and international audiences. The band popularized Grunge in the Seattle area. The song by Nirvana is set in a mini theatre. The band sings in front of a live audience. Initially, the entire audience is sitting down. As the song progresses, all the people in the theater stand up and start rocking their heads in classic rock fashion. The video also features cheerleaders dancing to the music played by the band. As the song progresses, one cheerleader get carries away alongside the crowd. As she jumps up and down, a clear anarchist sign is visible on her vest. The lyrics of the song are awkward and lack a clear theme.

The song, however, has hints of violence because it speaks of taking up arms. It also has veiled references to sex. It speaks of libido in a very vague manner. The clearest lines are self-effacing. The singer seems to be not motivated to do anything about it. In one of the lines, the author characterizes himself as stupid and contagious. The lyrics of the song do not seem to make sense as a whole. Could it be that this is a case of slacking in lyrics writing?

The second video by the group known as Alice in Chains is more active and has a variety of scenes. The video shows a number of people in a dry place. The video then proceeds to feature what looks like a family living in a dry place. The day seems very hot. In one scene, a young girl is chasing a boy. The girl has a hammer while the boy has a rifle. An adult outruns the boy and recovers the rifle. We then see that the girl has a wound on her forehead. Soon after that, we see a window with a bullet hole. In most scenes of the video, people are seated, standing, or lying down. These poses resonate well with the lyrics of the song. The song is a cry from someone buried in a hole. The main reason for this is frustration. The author of the song states that he wants to fly, but he cannot because someone clipped his wings. The song uses the imagery of a tomb. The writer describes the tomb in various lines.

The history of Seattle is replete with various periods of prosperity followed by economic disasters. Seattle was the scene of the great American gold rush in the closing years of the nineteenth century. The city’s economy shriveled thereafter during the Great Depression. The city again flourished during the Second World War as a shipbuilding center. However, it went under immediately after the war because the military did not need new ships. In the same vein, Seattle rose again in the mid-eighties as a technology city when Microsoft chose to build its headquarters there. The music from that era speaks of apathy and helplessness (Weichmann 33).

It seems to communicate a lack of direction and an inability to take charge. This is a common theme in the punk ethos that provided the foundation for Grunge. At this time, the tensions between the West and Russia were peaking. Seattle may have faced another bout of war, but at the same time, it may have been feeling vulnerable. Seattle is a strategic port in the American Northwest. It is also the largest population center in that region. A missile strike by communist Russia would have targeted it. The songs seem to bemoan the helplessness of the city to the political currents of the time.

Works Cited

Lockhart, Lettie L and Fran S Danis. Domestic Violence: Intersectionality and Culturally Competent Practice. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2010. Print.

Scott, J Hugh. The African American Culture. White Plains, NY: Pace Univesity, 2005. Print.

Weichmann, Daniel. The Impact of Online Music Services on the Music Recording Industry: Opportunities and Challenges. Berlin: GRIN Verlag, 2009. Print.

Wikstrom, Patrik. The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. Cambridge: Polity, 2010. Print.

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