Gangsta rap  

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Gangsta rap is a subgenre of hip-hop music which developed during the late 1980s. 'Gangsta' is a corruption of the spelling of 'gangster'. The genre was pioneered around 1983 by Ice-T with songs like Cold Wind Madness and Body Rock/Killers (1984), was popularized by groups like N.W.A in the late 1980s, and was as of 2008 one of the most commercially lucrative subgenres of hip-hop.

The subject matter inherent in gangsta rap has caused a great deal of controversy. Criticism has come from both right wing and left wing commentators, and religious leaders, who have accused the genre of homophobia, violence, profanity, promiscuity, misogyny, drug use, racism, and materialism.

Gangsta rappers often defend themselves by claiming that they are describing the reality of inner-city life, and that they are only adopting a character, like an actor playing a role, which behaves in ways that they may not necessarily endorse. Some commentators (for example, Spike Lee in his satirical film Bamboozled) have criticized it as analogous to black minstrel shows and blackface performance, in which performers – both black and white – were made up to look African American, and acted in a stereotypically uncultured and ignorant manner for the entertainment of white audiences.

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Gangsta rap or gangster rap is a subgenre of hip hop music with themes and lyrics that generally emphasize the "gangsta" lifestyle. The genre evolved from hardcore hip hop into a distinct form, pioneered in the mid-1980s by rappers such as Schoolly D and Ice-T, and was popularized in the later part of the 1980s by groups like N.W.A. After the national attention that Ice-T and N.W.A attracted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gangsta rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of hip hop. Many (if not most) gangsta rap artists openly boast of their associations with various active street gangs as part of their artistic image, with the Bloods and Crips being the most commonly represented. Gangsta rap is closely related to other indigenous gang and crime-oriented forms of music, such as the narcocorrido genre of northern Mexico.

The subject matter inherent in gangsta rap has caused a great deal of controversy. Criticism has come from both left wing and right wing commentators, as well as religious leaders, who have accused the genre of promoting crime, serial killing, murder, violence, profanity, sex addiction, homophobia, racism, promiscuity, misogyny, rape, street gangs, disorderly conduct, drive-by shootings, vandalism, thievery, driving under the influence, drug dealing, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, disregarding law enforcement, materialism, and narcissism. The White House administrations of both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton criticized the genre. "Many black rappers—including Ice-T and Sister Souljah—contend that they are being unfairly singled out because their music reflects deep changes in society not being addressed anywhere else in the public forum. The white politicians, the artists complain, neither understand the music nor desire to hear what's going on in the devastated communities that gave birth to the art form," wrote journalist Chuck Philips in a review of the battle between "the Establishment" and defenders of rap music. "The reason why rap is under attack is because it exposes all the contradictions of American culture ...What started out as an underground art form has become a vehicle to expose a lot of critical issues that are not usually discussed in American politics. The problem here is that the White House and wanna-bes like Bill Clinton represent a political system that never intends to deal with inner city urban chaos," Sister Souljah told Philips.

On the other hand, some commentators (for example, Spike Lee in his satirical film Bamboozled) have criticized gangsta rap as analogous to black minstrel shows and blackface performance, in which performers – both black and white – were made to look African American, and acted in a stereotypical uncultured and ignorant manner for entertainment. Gangsta rappers often defend themselves by arguing they are describing the reality of inner-city life, and that they are only adopting a character which behaves in ways they do not necessarily endorse. Gangsta rappers are also famous (or infamous) for appearing more hardcore compared to early concepts and themes of hip-hop artists, and are known for saying things that are often considered taboo; for instance, the gangsta rap group N.W.A produced the famous Fuck tha Police protest song about police brutality and racial profiling.

In high-crime areas, putting on these made up personas is life-threatening, but the fact that gangsta rappers told the stories of others is often seen as having earned them respect for raising awareness of the severity of inner-city crime. Many gangsta rappers argue that in the world of their genre exists the emotions and perspectives of a people whose suffering is too often overlooked and belittled by society. Gangsta rap, some argue, was an effect of the various wrongdoings perpetrated against African-Americans in underprivileged neighborhoods. The various riots sparked by the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of the police officers responsible for the beating sparked anger and outrage in an area that was already on the bubble. Gangsta rap acted as an outlet so such people could express themselves angrily and not in fear that they were going to be silenced for telling the truth. They often used gangsta rap to tell the stories of their lives, which sometimes included strong violence, hypersexuality, and drug abuse.

Criticism and debate

The explicit nature of gangsta rap's lyrics has made it heavily controversial. There is also debate about the relationship between gangsta rap and real-world crime taking the form of a chicken or the egg scenario.

Critics of gangsta rap hold that it glorifies and encourages criminal behavior, and may be at least partially to blame for the problem of street gangs. Although this view is often stereotyped as that of white conservatives, it has been shared by members of the black community, most notably Bill Cosby.

Those who are supportive or at least less critical of gangsta rap hold that crime on the street level is for the most part a reaction to poverty and that gangsta rap reflects the reality of lower class life. Many believe that the blaming of crime on gangsta rap is a form of unwarranted moral panic; The World Development Report 2011, for instance, confirmed that most street gang members maintain that poverty and unemployment is what drove them to crime; none made reference to music. Ice Cube famously satirized the blame placed on gangsta rap for social ills in his song "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It".

Moreover, English scholar Ronald A.T. Judy has argued that gangsta rap reflects the experience of blackness at the end of political economy, when capital is no longer wholly produced by human labor but in a globalized system of commodities. In this economy, gangsta rap traffics blackness as a commodifiable affect of "being a nigga." In other words, gangsta rap defines the experience of blackness, in which he locates in gangsta rap's deployment of the word "nigga," in this new global economic system as "adaptation to the force of commodification." For Judy, nigga (and gangsta rap) becomes an ontologically authentic category for describing the condition of being black in the modern "realm of things."

Despite this, many who hold that gangsta rap is not responsible for social ills are critical of the way many gangsta rappers intentionally exaggerate their criminal pasts for the sake of street credibility. Rick Ross and Slim Jesus among others have been heavily criticized for this and the gangster rap music has declined in sales and waned in popularity due to piracy.

Early Gangster themes

The 1973 album Hustler's Convention by Lightnin' Rod featured lyrics that deal with street life, including pimping and hustling. The Last Poets member Jalal Mansur Nuriddin delivers rhyming vocals in the urban slang of his time, and together with the other Last Poets members, was quite influential on later hip hop groups, such as Public Enemy. Many rappers, such as Ice T, have credited pimp and writer Iceberg Slim with influencing their rhymes. Rudy Ray Moore's, aka Dolemite, stand-up comedy and films dealing with his hustler-pimp persona also had an impact on gangsta rap and is still a popular source for samples.

See also




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