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Social Inequality: Hip-Hop Culture and Movement Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 26th, 2021

Introduction/Thesis statement

In my opinion, Hip-Hop can indeed be discussed in terms of a social movement. The reason for this is that themes and motifs, which define the concerned sub-culture’s discursive stance, cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for people’s biological agenda, as socially integrated beings. In its turn, this endows Hip-Hop with the main qualitative characteristic of a social movement – the ability to affect the surrounding social reality, by the mean of providing its affiliates with the intellectually advanced sense of a ‘shared identity’. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length.

Analytical part

When it comes to defining the term ‘social movement’, it is important to understand that the process of a particular group of people striving to have their voice heard in the public sphere, must be discussed within the context of what prompts them to consider doing it, in the first place. This suggests the validity of the specifically synergetic definitions of what this term stands for, such as the one provided by Saunders: “Social movement… is a network of informal interactions between individuals and organizations that engage in collective action on the basis of a shared identity” (229). What this definition implies is that, for one to be able to claim being affiliated with a particular social (and not religious or ethnocultural) movement, his or her sense of a shared identity with the rest of this movement’s participants must secularize to an extent. That is, it must be essentially concerned with the process of people growing ever more intellectually liberated, which in turn causes them to realize the counterproductive nature of the idealistic outlooks on the actual purpose of one’s life. The perfect example of a classical ‘social movement’ can well serve early Marxism. The reason for this is that, due to being thoroughly materialistic, Marxism used to promote the idea that one’s ability to lead a meaningful life directly depends on whether the concerned person can satisfy his physiological/material needs or not. Even though this idea may appear somewhat ‘simplistic’ and even ‘wicked’, this is far from being the case. After all, although there were indeed several downsides, within the context of how Marxist ideas used to be implemented in practice, the movement in question did succeed in turning the world into a better place to live – largely on the account of its promotion of the concept of egalitarianism (equality).

Essentially the same can be said about Hip-Hop. The reason for this is that the themes and motifs, closely associated with Hip-Hop’s sub-cultural context, radiate the unmistakable spirit of materialism – hence, promoting the secularist idea that one’s sense of self-identity is rather environmentally than genetically predetermined. As Murray noted: “Hip-hop has no taboos, and it resists the mythic unity and naivete of Afrocentricity and Black Nationalism, opting instead for the hustler, ‘playa’,’ pimp mentality, the money-rules-everything-around-me mentality” (6). The mentioned idea, however, challenges the ethics-related discourse of ‘euro-centricity’, which is there to help the rich and powerful to continue exploiting the world’s natural and human resources, at the expense of denying others the opportunity to advance in life. After all, this particular discourse aims to conceal the fact that one’s conscious strive to create a family, to secure a well-paid job, and to attain a social prominence, is nothing else but the extrapolation of this individual’s deep-seated desire to preoccupy himself with seeking sex, ensuring that there is plenty of food and imposing its domination upon others. Thus, it is not very surprising that Hip-Hop continues to be referred to in primarily negative terms: “It (Hip-Hop) reeks of materialism; it gorges with stereotypes and offensive language; it spoils with retrogressive views; it is rife with hedonism; and it surely cannot always be said to side with humanistic values” (Forman xiii). The predominantly White rich and powerful rightfully think of Hip-Hop, as such that undermines the legitimacy of their continual hegemony, which rests upon the idea that it is thoroughly natural for some people (particularly Whites) to be able to enjoy a good living (while believing that they are not merely ‘hairless monkeys’), and for others to suffer from poverty.

This alone legitimizes the paper’s claim that Hip-Hop is indeed a social movement – without realizing it consciously, its affiliates bring closer the time when the mentioned discourse of ‘euro-centrism’ (regardless of what happened to be its current disguise) will cease defining the essence of the social dynamics in the world. The reason for this is that, for the currently underprivileged representatives of ‘racial minorities’ to be able to overthrow the cultural/political hegemony of Whites, they must possess plenty of ‘existential vigor’. Hip-Hop appears to be the main proof that African-Americans do have such vigor, because the sub-culture’s discursive motifs derive out of these people’s ability to face life, as it is, without trying to perceive it through the rose-colored lenses.

As of today, we can well identify three major qualitative features of the sub-culture of Hip-Hop, which are being particularly detectable in Hip-Hop music – specifically, the motifs of consumerism, male-sexism, and struggle (violence), as the most fundamental law of one’s existence (Ards 312). The first of these motifs extrapolates itself in the Hip-Hop affiliates’ tendency to promote the idea that, in order a person’s life to be considered worthy, it must be enjoyable. And, nothing enables us to enjoy ourselves better than money. If it was not the case, people would not be preoccupied with making money, as their main priority. Yet, it is not only that it is in people’s nature to prioritize moneymaking, but also to seek the possibilities to make as much money, as possible, without applying much of an effort. The reason for this is that they are predetermined to act in such a manner genetically – the quicker one’s becomes rich, the more time (and possibilities) he will have to preoccupy himself with ‘spreading the seed’. Therefore, it is thoroughly natural, on the part of Hip-Hop singers, to glorify money, as a ‘thing in itself’:

Champagne, caviar, and bubble bath
But see ahh, ah that’s the life, ah that I lead (RUN DMC 12-13)

Apparently, Hip-Hop does promote the message that being healthy and rich is so much better than being sick and poor. Formally speaking, there is nothing political about the message of hedonism/materialism, conveyed by Hip-Hop. This, however, far from being the case in reality. Because this message is psychologically healthy, there is no surprise that it does attract those Americans, who happened to be more psychologically healthier than the rest – namely, the socially underprivileged African-Americans. As a result, the socio-political influence of ‘brothers’ in this country continues to increase. According to Murray: “Hip-hop is a multibillion-dollar industry that has employed people of color in unprecedented numbers. It has created opportunities (for Blacks)… Not to mention black-owned advertising agencies, as well as law and public-relations firms whose primary clientele is from the hip-hop world” (6). It is understood, of course, that in the society where the functioning of the free-market economy defines politics, the African-Americans’ financial empowerment will inevitably help them to become more empowered, in the political sense of this word.

The motif of male-sexism/misogyny is also being often referred to; as such that significantly affects the sub-cultural context of Hip-Hop, which in turn causes the proponents of political correctness to dislike it even more. As Baldwin noted: “Sectors of the left… distance themselves from hip hop because of its misogyny and homophobia” (159). After all, there is indeed plenty of evidence that Hip-Hop singers (especially rappers) do tend to objectify women in their songs, as such, for whom it is thoroughly natural to give in to the sexual advances of men:

I fuck all the girls and I make ’em cry
I’m like a dog in heat, a freak without warning
I have an appetite for sex, ’cause me so horny’ (2 Live Crew 32-34).

Nevertheless, it rarely occurs to those who come up with these critical remarks that the reason why there are sexist overtones to the Hip-Hop songs’ semantic content, is that, due to growing increasingly feminized, many American males (regardless of what happened to be their racial affiliation), experience the unconscious desire to reclaim their long-lost manliness. What it means is that the reason why Hip-Hop can be referred to as a rather sexist sub-culture is that there is a high demand for male-sexism in American society – whatever unconventional it may sound. The reason for this is that, despite its intentionally negative sounding, the notion of ‘sexism’ is largely synonymous with the notion of ‘normalness’, within the context of how men interrelate with women. This, of course, makes it possible for Hip-Hop to be turned into ‘political capital’. Because Hip-Hop promotes the idea that, even though they cannot live without each other, the representatives of opposite sexes are differently ‘brain-wired’, it will only be logical for those Americans who believe in the traditional values, to be willing to affiliate themselves with the sub-culture in question. In their own eyes, these people will perceive such their affiliation in terms of a political stance – especially given the fact that the rest of the country’s ‘misogynist’ sub-cultures have long ago been marginalized. This again suggests that there is a strongly defined social/political sounding to even Hip-Hop’s most asocial constituents.

Nevertheless, it is specifically the sub-culture’s close affiliation with the masculine virtue of ‘struggle’, which mostly contributes towards the process of Hip-Hop growing ever more political, as the instrument of people’s artistic self-expression. The validity of this statement appears especially self-evident nowadays when the music style of Rap (spawned by Hip-Hop) continues to become increasingly popular among more and more young people around the world. Initially, the motif of ‘struggle’ in Rap-songs used to be concerned with how rappers used to reflect on the violent realities of living in the Black neighborhood. The main aspect of such a living is that the ‘outlaw code’, which is there to make sure that justice triumphs out on the streets, has very little to do with the governmental laws and regulations, meant to ensure that the society remains just and fair (Watts 595). For example, whereas, the conventional law says that it is perfectly moral (even necessary) to rat out people to the authorities, the ‘street law’ forbids such an action absolutely, as cowardly and dishonest. While being innately predisposed to feel that it is specifically the ‘street law’, which is truly ethical, gangsta-rappers (just as it happened to be the case with all intellectually honest people) begin to suspect that, despite being formally democratic, the American society is utterly oppressive. After this, it becomes only a matter of time, before their Hip-Hop lyrics grow socially charged:

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown…
Fuck the police and Ren said it with authority
because the niggaz on the street is a majority… (N.W.A. 12-13, 57-58)

As the above-quoted lines imply, it is not only that the functioning of a particular governmental institution must be fully consistent with the will of the majority of people, but that the very notion of ‘authority’ derives out of the notion of ‘raw power’ – allegorically speaking, authority comes out of the gun’s barrel. If the societal state of affairs, in this respect, is different, the concerned society cannot possibly be just, because its very existence would contradict the most fundamental laws of nature. To exemplify the validity of this suggestion, we can well refer to the U.S., where, despite having grown much too decadent, many Whites continue to consider themselves the country’s rightful rulers, which is one of the reasons why, as time goes on, America grows increasingly deprived of its former status of the world’s ‘beacon of democracy’.

Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that the very essence of the earlier mentioned Hip-Hop’s themes and motifs, allows us to consider this sub-culture a social movement. This movement is concerned with enlightening people on what kind of psychological qualities one must possess, to be able to lay claim to authority in this country. In light of Hip-Hop’s implicit message, in this respect, the current situation when the overwhelming majority of the rich and powerful in America are WASPs appears utterly unfair. Therefore, even though Hip-Hop does seem to glorify violence at times (especially when extrapolated in the form of gangsta-Rap); we talk about the liberating type of violence. This, of course, serves as yet an additional reason to suggest that the sub-culture of Hip-Hop can be seen, as such that provides us with insights into what would be the political ‘things to come’ in this country.

Conclusion

Before we conclude this paper, it needs to be stressed out once again that there is nothing incidental about the fact that, as time goes on, the sub-culture of Hip-Hop continues to gain ever more adherents. In light of what has been mentioned earlier, this trend can be interpreted as probably the main indication that Hip-Hop is indeed nothing short of a social movement. If it was not the case, there would not be so much fuss in Media, on the account of the sub-culture’s ‘destructive’ influence on American youth. We believe that this concluding remark correlates perfectly well with the paper’s initial thesis.

Works Cited

2 Live Crew. “Me So Horny.” LyricsFreaks. Web. 24 Jul. 2014.

Ards, Angela. “Organizing the Hip-Hop Generation.” That’s the Joint!: The Hip-

Hop Studies Reader. Eds. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge, 2004. 311 – 325. Print.

Baldwin, Davarian. “Black Empires, White Desires: The Spatial Politics of Identity

in the Age of Hip-Hop.” That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. Eds. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge, 2004. 159 – 177. Print.

Forman, Murray. “Foreword.” That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. Eds.

Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge, 2004. xi – xv. Print.

Murray, Derek. “Hip-Hop vs. High Art: Notes on Race as Spectacle.” Art Journal

63.2 (2004): 4-19. Print.

RUN DMC. “Sucker M.C.’s.” Azlyrics. Web. 24 Jul. 2014.

Saunders, Clare. “Using Social Network Analysis to Explore Social Movements: A

Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 6.3 (2007): 227-243. Print.

Watts, Eric. “An Exploration of Spectacular Consumption: Gangsta Rap as

Cultural Commodity.” That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader. Eds. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal. New York: Routledge, 2004. 593 – 611. Print.

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