Out of appreciation for Black History Month, as prominent as hip-hop music is in America, I felt the urge to write about the history of rap music. However, in lieu of the facts, I will not be able to do the history of hip-hop any justice unless I write about how hip-hop has affected me as an African-American male in America.
I do not have any first, concrete memories of hip-hop, but I do remember a few. There were times during my elementary school days where I would miss the metro bus, and my mom would have no other option of getting me to school on time other than driving. Because the radio already censored most of the four-letter words that the younger generation loses their childhood innocence when they first hear them for the first time, she would play 93.9 FM WKYS. I remember a fleet of music artists such as Mary J. Blige, the Notorious BIG, Tupac, Jay-Z, Nas, Raekwon, Crucial Conflict, and the Fugeees.
The Fugees’ album, The Score, was the first rap album I owned with cursing and the censored advisory sticker on the cover. I knew the song, Ready Or Not word-for-word rapping the lyrics in the car sitting in the fast-food drive through lines or whenever I would be in the car. I still own this album on my iPod today. Although times have change, when I listen to the album today, I constanly find lyrics and substance that I would not have been able to understand with the young mind that first heard most of these song lyrics.
Because there is a 10-year age gap between my older brother and I, I was also introduced to the premier hip-hop artists such as Kool Moe Dee, Beastie Boys, and Run DMC. Run DMC is responsible for the success of hip-hop in my opinion. Will Smith was also important to the history of hip-hop because he had the first music video by a hip-hop artist show on MTV. Will Smith never used cursing in his lyrics. My mom would always push his music on me; however, I preferred the F-word. It was constantly thrown around on the playgrounds and corners of my neighborhood. It also represented something I take pride in having as an American. It represented the freedom of speech. It represented the freedom of expression.
Songs like King of Rock, Run’s House, My Adidas were played in my household so much that even my mother could be found singing along with the lyrics. I was always surrounded by rap music, but it wasn’t until I entered high school I began to recognize the lyrics as actually being a reality presented to listeners by people who experienced a variety of feelings ranging from girls, money, success, failures, crimes, guns, gangs, and everything else that I grew up around. I found a safe haven in the music. It presented a form of comfort as well as a coping mechanism to battle the things I went through or witness on a daily basis.
The West Coast and East Coast beef did not affect me as much as it affected America. It mainly focused on NY versus LA, but it did hit home a little. Washington, DC is broken up into four different quadrants, Southeast, Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest. Growing up in Southeast, one would not only be different from the other quadrants, but one would also be at odds with different neighborhoods. Even a street away. The music kept me out of trouble. When Tupac died, music became more of a reality. When Biggie Smalls died, music became superficial.
After the death of BIG, the emersion of southern rap blossomed across the states. Master P did a lot for hip-hop and for me. No Limit records had a host of artist, showing me that the hood life didn’t have to be an end all to life. Cash Money Records and the Hot Boys showed me that 14 year old could perfect his craft at rapping. That fourteen year old is now Lil Wayne. Outkast added an element to hip-hop, and became arguably the greatest hip-hop duo ever.
From 1996, rap music changed. Jay-Z lost a rap battle to Nas, but still remained unharmed and on top. With the Internet boom, anyone could become a rapper or entertainer. I remember listening to Eminem, one of the greatest rappers of all-time. It amazes me that a Caucasian male in a field overpopulated by blacks, never used the N-Word once in his career. However, I hear it everyday from people not of the African heritage. This is about how hip-hop affected me, but we as Americans and people can learn a thing from Eminem and his neglect of the use of the N-Word.
All in all, had it not been for hip-hop, I honestly would not be here today. I, like many hip-hop artist, love to write. Writing is a means of expression, and without expression, we have nothing but oppression. You can oppress a group of people, but you cannot take away their words. So, ending with a Jay-Z quote, I wish you a happy black history month.
“I wrote my way out the hood/ and I pray that I stay out for good.” If you can find meaning in hip-hop, you can find meaning in life. Hip-Hop is everything to me and my history. Luckily as Americans, we all share in this history. If you can’t find a way to celebrate the month, go out and buy an album.
~Keep Hip-Hop Alive~