Although rap started out mainly as party music, it evolved and took on other forms. Unfortunately, the more popular rap music became with White audiences, the more limited the lyrics became. Young Black and Latino male rappers increasingly rhymed about stereotypical themes of sexual prowess, drug use, and criminality. Rap lyrics digressed from party time and pro-black upliftment to recurrent gun talk, materialism, misogyny, and homophobia. Such narrow depictions of Black manhood further cemented racist stereotypes that Black and brown males are dangerous, oversexed, immoral, and disrespectful.
Corporate executives have consistently rewarded artists for presenting these negative themes, and successfully marginalized the more threatening and challenging Black male rappers who’ve offered more progressive, socially conscious, and political lyrics–thus making it more enticing for young Black males to pursue a “gangsta” rap image over the less commercially viable “conscious rapper” mode. During the Reagan and Bush administrations in the 1980s and early ’90s, crack cocaine flooded poor and working-class neighborhoods as drug addiction reached epidemic proportions, devastating Black families and communities. As a result, hip hop grew edgier, more violent and crass, and reflected the grit of street life.
Though it’s often used as a scapegoat, hip hop is rarely given credit for its nuance and complexity. Hip hop purists understand that hip hop is not monolithic, but to the casual hip hop fan, the dominant images in mainstream hip hop perpetuate very limited ideas about manhood. Many Black males believe that their path to success in life leads through hip hop. As a result, they mimic what they see and hear on corporate rap stations.
This represents a tragic state of affairs. Although hip hop has been called rebellious, revolutionary, and subversive to America’s status quo, some of the most regressive values about American manhood can be found on commercial hip hop stations and in music videos
How do Black men feel about the representations of manhood in hip hop culture? How do Black women and men feel about the pervasive images of sexually objectified women in rap music videos? How do Black males truly feel about the way women and violence are talked about in rap music? What do today’s rap lyrics tell us about the collective consciousness of Black males and females from the hip hop generation?
Excerpt from the book The Black Male Handbook
Chapter 3 Redefining Black Manhood
Written by Byron Hurt
Edited by Kevin Powell