Black Youth and Politics Project
Hip Hop and Politics
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Tanji Gilliam, University of Chicago
A review of the major theoretical arguments and important empirical findings relating to the influence of hip hop on the development of youth politics, particularly among U.S. African American communities.
Hip Hop and the Media
IntroductionAlmost every text on hip hop culture begins with a narrative of origin. These histories typically announce that hip hop started in the late 1970s in the South Bronx, New York. Commercial recording information generally follows, with the 1979 single “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang proclaimed as the first hip hop release.1 Finally, some statement of impact or importance commences the author’sstudy. This paper seeks to identify the political ideas in hip hop broadly and in rap music in particular. The aforementioned “biographical” information for hip hop is relevant if only for its sheer irrelevance to hip hop’s contemporary existence. First, it is important to note that 2004 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of commercial hip hop. Therefore it is necessary to contextualize hip hop’svarious shifts and transmutations to the present day. Instrumental in this effort is an understanding that hip hop is no longer exclusively a culture of “the streets.” Therefore any serious study of the impact of today’s hip hop culture must take into account its presence as a national, mass-mediated and multimediated entity.
Although Nelson George identifies “King Tim III (The PersonalityJock)” by The Fatback Band as the first rap record. George, Nelson. 2001. Buppies, B-Boys, Baps, & Bohos: Notes on A Post-Soul Black Culture. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 16.
Hip hop’s influence can be measured within the following five major outlets: television, film, radio, magazines, and the Internet.2 While much of the research on hip hop focuses on rap music and, increasingly, musicvideo and therefore limits its scope to analyses of rap recordings and television programming, each of these five forms of media are in fact central. Hip hop magazines such as The Source, Vibe, and XXL are equally important to understanding how the culture affects young audiences as are television programs such as BET’s Rap City and Uncut or MTV’s Total Request Live. In addition, youth tune into hiphop on a daily basis in a variety of ways, not just by watching television. How much radio and what specific radio programs do youth listen to? This is an important question given the predominance of “urban” radio formats in major cities and surrounding suburbs across the nation. And last, given that we know today’s generation is increasingly attracted to the Internet, what specific Web sites areyouth browsing? At what frequency are hip hop Web sites such as Ohhla.com or Okayplayer.com being surfed? Once we begin to understand what black youth are “tuning into,” we can better evaluate why these same youth are attracted to the specific media. These questions bear
By attending to these five media we will also address a sample of hip hop advertising that includes print ads, commercials,radio spots, Internet pop-up ads, etc. While this leaves out “street” advertisements such as bus banners (which have recently been an important locus of attention with the Akademicks clothing line “Read Books, Get Brain” campaign) and billboards (which alcohol companies, as is evidenced by Hennessy’s Rakim advertisements, have traditionally used to target inner city neighborhoods with hip hop–themed advertisements), many of these same advertisements are reproduced in print ads within hip hop publications (as has been the case with the Akademicks and Hennessy ads in the December 2004 issue of Vibe). Vibe (December 2004), 63, 35.
an important relationship to how and why black youth in particular form their political attitudes and exercise their political behaviors. This paper...