I grew up playing instruments and participating in multiple choirs. Rarely do I complete tasks such as studying or relaxing without playing music in the background. The significance of music in my life parallels to the impact of music in the lives of African Americans during various eras. Commenced during slavery, songs were used to upkeep faith while doing field work and it was also a form of communication. Lyrics could contain secret messages that had instructions on how slaves could escape to free land. Music was an important staple in a slave’s life and provides one example of their resistance. It has evolved in the contemporary post-civil rights era as a stage for artists to challenge dominant perspectives on topics such as racism or stereotypes against African Americans.
Tupac Amaru Shakur was born on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, New York. Previously known as Lesane Parish Crooks, Tupac was one of the most influential rappers of all time and was known for his progressive lyricism. He played a considerable role in shaping the direction of hip hop. The specific song that I chose to do my cultural product on is Changes which was produced under Interscope label in 1992. The song references the war on drugs, the perpetuation of poverty, and the difficulties of life in the ghetto. “We gotta make a change. It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.” In Changes, Tupac dares his listeners to look within themselves first to initiate this change in how blacks are perceived.
Unlike other ethnic groups who migrated to America, African Americans did not immigrate to America on their own free will; they were forced to become laborers through the transatlantic slave trade. Africans endured horrific experiences such as the middle passage where they were chained and forced to lie in their own feces. Justification of racial slavery by whites included “othering” African Americans. They claimed that Africans were inherently different and were born to be laborers. Slavery altered the lives of African Americans and has even wiped the lineage of many families. Yet, at times, slavery has been conveniently left out in curriculums taught in school. When it is taught, it’s usually in a Eurocentric perspective. The dominant paradigm for example makes slavery appear to not be as terrible as it was. Slave owners were portrayed as rarely breaking up families and caring adequately for them. In contrast, the revisionist paradigm argued that the interstate slave trade was not possible without breaking up families and that white inheritance practices were done which kept slaves in bondage. The dominant paradigm diverted attention away from slaveholders and white washes slavery.
The abolition of slavery did not calm the discrimination that African Americans suffered; in fact, it instilled fear into whites especially in the south because they were scared of losing the economic profit of free black labor that sustained the capitalism of the south. Laws were passed and violence occurred in order to prevent African Americans from leaving. The great migration transpired nonetheless and more hardships occurred like finding affordable housing. Black housing was located in the least desirable segments of the low income areas but they still paid higher rents than whites. Employment opportunities for women were usually found in domestics where they worked for low wages. It was difficult for African American men to find stable employment. Even though both parents worked, a lot of their wages went towards paying rent making it challenging to save up and watch over their kids since they worked a lot.
African Americans are stereotyped to be welfare queens/kings even though they work longer days and more into old age than their white counterpart. One of Tupac’s versus in Changes say, “Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares. One less hungry mouth on the welfare” talks about how African Americans are seen as working the system in order to collect their welfare checks. Parents do not notice that their kids are taking drugs but it does not matter anyway because their lives are disposable. The blame is put on African Americans but the unfair system is what leads to these conditions.
“I see no changes wake up in the morning and I ask myself. Is life worth living should I blast myself? I’m tired of bein’ poor and even worse I’m black.” This line talks about the negativity associated with being black and how he does not see changes in a society that deliberately oppresses black people. It is worse than being economically unstable and bad enough to consider taking your life away because of the color of your skin. It is such a powerful line that really puts the exploitation of blacks in perspective.
Stereotypes have plagued African Americans ever since they were forced to come through the transatlantic slave trade. African Americans have showed resistance and strength by infusing it in their family values. During the Jim Crow Era, children were taught to have a child socialization double conscious where they learned how to survive in a hostile environment but are still aware of their importance in the black community. They also created black culture which included but was not limited to music. Talented artists such as Tupac were able to use music as a platform to voice their opinion on social matters where they might otherwise not be heard. Billy Joel once said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”
- “Changes ((Explicit)) (feat. Talent) – 2Pac.” – Google Play Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
- Wilder, Craig Steven. “Ordinary Horrific Affairs of Trade.” Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 60-63. Print.
- Weiss, Jeff. “Read These Previously Unreleased Handwritten Poems by a 17-Year-Old Tupac Shakur.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.