Hip hop music is under attack once again. The musical style that relies on the improvisational spoken word talent of street poets is considered to be a primary contributing factor in the deterioration of American culture and a destructive force in the minority community.
The multi-billion dollar enterprise is not as destructive as its critics would have you believe. Hip hop's popularity is primarily related to its association with being anti-establishment, and anti-establishment music has always been popular with young people. The music itself is not any more destructive than the rock and roll of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Throughout its history, rock and roll has been viewed as everything from devil’s music to just loud noise, with people screaming and flailing their hair around. Today, instead of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, there are hoes, bitches and bling. Instead of strippers, prostitutes, and porn stars, there are video vixens with big booties.
The difference between the two genres from a cultural perspective is that one glorifies black “thug life” and "shot-callers" and the other romanticized the life of white stoners and rebels. Establishment types weren’t happy with the British invasion of rockers and the anti-establishment politics they espoused, and they aren't happy with the hip hop artists who rail against oppressive structures of society today. Woodstock is legendary now, but it wasn’t received with glowing endorsements back then.
Many of the people that attack hip hop forget that it was their parents that wouldn’t let you play Judas Priest backwoods or didn’t want you listening to "Lucy in the sky with diamonds." Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Rod Stewart were not revered figures that parents and establishment types readily accepted into their homes and into mainstream America.
But now, the people who remember tripping to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Layla,” worshipping the drug-addicted rockers' contribution to society, want to cast aspersions on hip hop artists.
There may be elements of hip hop music that glamorize the worst elements of society, such as the reification of the thug life filled with bling, women, and fancy cars, but how is that any different than those who aspired to “party like a rock star?"
Rock and roll also was supposed to be a destructive force in the deterioration of American culture. It was devil's music and glorified a decadent lifestyle. It promoted a drug culture and a disrespect for Christian values. It contributed to a culture of loose morals that led to teenage pregnancy and unwed mothers. It filled kids' heads with nonsense.
Does that sound familiar?
What mainstream America really fears about hip hop is that white suburban kids really enjoy it. They buy the CDs and they go to the concerts. Hip hop music may have been born on the streets of New York and Southern California but once suburban and middle class white children began listening, it quickly went main stream and then became “dangerous.”
Well, they don’t have to worry about it.
For one, the lifestyle of the gangster has always been glorified in American culture. Whether it was "The Public Enemy," "Little Caesar," "Angels with Dirty Faces," "Black Caesar," "Superfly," "The Godfather," "Scarface," "Menace II Society," "Miller's Crossing," or "The Departed," there has always been a penchant for gangsterism. That doesn’t mean the culture is going to hell.
Secondly, hip hop music sales lag far behind other genres like rock and roll, R&B, and country, which tells you that the vast majority of society is not tuning into so-called "gangsta rap."
And again, people should keep in perspective that the packaging might be different, but the messages are surprisingly similar.