My cultural artifact is hip hop music and a photograph, which demonstrates hip-hop culture in African American communities. I chose this cultural artifact because I think music has played a significant role in our daily life and it can be considered as a universal language. Music is often referred to as the international language- a simple thought with vast implications behind it (Denton, 2005). You might not understand foreign lyrics in a song, but you can enjoy its rhythm and move your body with the music. Although music is not a necessity in our daily life, I think life would be bored if there were no music. Music evolved frequently and formed different genres, additionally; some music genres form with a specific culture background and develop their own music style. It is interesting to notice that many popular music genres are coming from African American culture and are evolving from African American traditional music. One of popular music genres coming from African American culture is hip hop which is not only popular in the United States, but also very popular all over the world. Hip hop becomes a unique music style and introduces a new perspective in music.
The photo depicts four youths who were influenced by hip hop culture and performed their hip hop clothing fashion and hip hop dancing poses. Elements of hip hop do not change a lot when compared what they wear in the photo and hip hop singers in today. Hip hop singers still have unique clothing styles and lead fashion trends. Hip hop culture is consisted by four key elements: rapping, scratching, break dancing, and graffiti writing. These four elements stand as hip hop culture and establish its unique expressions in music, dance and arts. Music, as an example, hip hop presented a new definition about singing a song. Rapping has its special rhyme and lyrics style, which is famous in spoken or chanted rhyming rather than a flowed melody. When hip hop was first introduced to the African American society, African American and Latino youths were the major group that was influenced by hip hop and contributed in the development of hip hop music (Dyson, 2007). This new music style was created to express African American’s disappointment and disillusionment after the end of civil rights movement and the identity of African American in society. In many ways, African Americans still struggled with getting full civic, political and economic participation in the United State after the civil rights movement (The Emergence of Hip-Hop, n.d.). The emergence of hip hop culture could be considered as a cultural movement among African American society after civil rights movement in order to define new self-identity.
Jamel Shabazz is a street photographer and aims in capturing African American’s street culture and life in New York City throughout 70’s and 80’s. His goal is to preserving the world history and culture by taking photos with spontaneous and unique backgrounds such as streets, neighborhoods and subway system. As growing up in a large city, Brooklyn, Jamel Shabazz has opportunities to connect with diverse cultures; especially, as an African American, his biological background provides him even more perspectives of viewing the social and political activities in the city. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were two major events occurred during Jamel Shabazz’s childhood, therefore, he was growing up with violent images, and with social and political injustices in African American communities. He is inspired by these two events and wants to motivate people, who have similar background as him or notice the issue in the society, to stimulate their thoughts in order to change the current situation and make the world better by his photographs. In addition, hip hop music was having a great traction in African American communities, and Jamel Shabazz feel connecting to it because of their same purpose in inspiring African American society and the similarity of their black American background (Walk, 2015).
Hip hop was first created from an African American party in New York City in 1973, which was during the post civil rights era. African Americans did not receive full social equality and still did not truly integrate into American society after the civil rights movement (Post Civil Rights Era, 2014). There were still a large number of African Americans being in poverty, unemployed, undereducated, and imprisoned. On one hand, negative characteristics of African Americans were filled all over the society. Blacks were still being presented as menacing, violent, lazy and immoral pleasure-seekers in the society after civil rights movement. Negative identities of blacks could be seen in commercial products, films, and also music. The negative stereotypes of blacks caused poor working classes since no one want to offer jobs for African Americans. Black communities experienced urban poverty and faced inequalities in both economic and political situations. Black youths, without a doubt, had less educational and economical resources and started to work earlier than white youths. On the other hand, the number of people in jails or prisons significantly increased during 1980s. There were approximately two million Americans incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails, more than half are African American (Hip Hop and The Aesthetics of Criminalization, 2011). African American children were more easily to be sentenced to juvenile prisons because they were treated as adults in the legal system. Because of racial oppressions and inequalities in different social positions, African Americans were looking for a legal and useful route for them to express their feelings and make their self-identity. Therefore, the creation of dance, music, and art are cultural products for African Americans to expressing and identifying during this time period.
It could be said that the post civil rights era was a creative time era, but it was also a conflicted and complicated time period for African Americans. It is because there was a part of black culture developed with sexism, therefore, black women faced difficult and helpless situations in the society. Black men presented their angry and hate by growing misogyny and increasing visibility of homophobic violence since the society denied their masculinity in supporting and being responsible to their families. Hip hop music become a resistant tool for black men to express themselves and resist the society. Consequently, hip hop emerged in this time period and was a significant cultural product of African American culture.
There were different black cultures blended together in forming hip hop culture. Prison culture, street culture, and old traditional black culture came together and contributed in the development of hip hop. Prison culture, especially, played as a meaningful role in hop hip culture since black men were more likely committed crime and imprisoned during the time of post civil rights movement. Black men brought prison cultures, such as wearing loose clothes, back into the society when they were released. Prison culture influences hip hop music a lot and shows its violence and sexism ideas in lyrics and music videos. The society strongly influenced and accepted values from hip hop culture, such as heterosexual love relationship, as a result, black women’s social identity has been devalued and those negative stereotypes somehow is still existing today.
Hip hop music was more aggressive, more violent, and included more negative elements, such as drugs, violence, misogyny, and homophobia, when it was first created. However, since hip hop music has been the most popular music style in the world and feminism has raised among black women, today’s hip hop music is more commercialized and less aggressive. Sexism is rare to hear or emphasize in hip hop music. Additionally, it is normal to hear female hip hop singers. Female rappers have more power to do whatever they please and is not oppressive by black masculinity (Thorpe, 2015). Hip hop fashion has also transformed from wearing loose clothes to tighter clothing styles because it follows the world hip hop trends. In other words, today’s hip hop culture is formed with multiple cultural backgrounds since it has been the most widespread music, arts, and fashion styles in the world for decades. Nevertheless, African American cultural background always plays as the most important part in hip hop and remains in it no matter how does modern hip hop has changed.
When I searched the history of hip hop and its cultural values, I find that African Americans have faced serious racism and inequality in the society. Many African Americans are living with poverty not because they are lazy, on the contract, it is because they have less opportunities in getting education, and getting better jobs. Segregation created both social and political gap between Americans and African Americans. For example, African American families are more likely living in poor neighborhoods because of living segregation. In addition, a poor neighborhood could not offer good resources for African Americans especially educational resources, which become school segregation. Also, whites controlled the most public media and introduced a lot of negative stereotypes not only in the U.S. society but also over the world. As a personal experience, I grow up in an Asian country where barely have chances to meet African Americans or connect with their culture, instead, it is more common for me to receive American culture and perspectives because of the public media. Therefore, I would likely to get stereotypes of American Americans if I just accept any information from the media. In my own opinion, the birth of hip hop is a reflection of African American life and is a resistance to the society. Although racism and segregation still exists today, hip hop music successfully conquer the public’s ears, express African American’s ideas of the society and introduce their true identity to the world.
Denton, L. (2005, Jan 7). How Music Affects Your Life. Retrieved 12 3, 2015, from Syncrat: http://www.syncrat.com/posts/5060/how-music-affects-your-life
Dyson, M. E. (2007). Know What I Mean? : Reflections on Hip-Hop. Basic Civitas Books.
Hip Hop and The Aesthetics of Criminalization. (2011). In Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. Taylor & Francis Group.
Post Civil Rights Era. (2014). (F. S. University, Producer) Retrieved Dec 4, 2015, from Jim Crow Museum: http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/timeline/postcivil.htm
The Emergence of Hip-Hop. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec 4, 2015, from The Palley Center For Media: http://www.paleycenter.org/the-emergence-of-hip-hop/
Thorpe, I. (2015, Aug 7). All The Ways The Hip Hop Scene Has Changed Since Dr. Dre Dropped His Last Album In 1999. Retrieved Dec 11, 2015, from VH1+ music: http://www.vh1.com/news/46810/how-the-hip-hop-scene-has-changed-since-dr-dre-last-album/
Walk, J. (2015, Mar). 40 Years on NCY’s streets with Jamel Shabazz. Retrieved Dec 4, 2015, from DAZED: http://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/23870/1/40-years-on-nyc-s-streets-with-jamel-shabazz