Educated and Misguided: The Desensitization of Hip Hop
Throughout history, there have been many prominent leaders, and individuals who have had major power and influence. Some have come from harsh backgrounds and areas, while others were ushered into a world of privilege and opportunity to some degree. Regardless of the social class, individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X, have made great strides in their efforts to motivate and inspire change amongst the African American community during the 20 century. But as time has passed, the newer generation is being influenced by individuals that they see on television, or hear on the radio due to the decline of prominent black leaders in the African American community. Rap music, or what some people describe as Hip Hop has been the main attention-getter for the younger generation. The ambiance of fast cars, pretty women, and money pose as luxuries to the younger generation considering the fact that this is the content that is being broadcasted in the majority of today’s music. But what most young people don’t understand is that it’s all an illusion. The content that is being presented is only entertainment, meaning it’s not real. Eric Thomas, who is a world renowned motivational speaker, described the rap industry like this: “I used to stand in the welfare line with my grandmother and folks used to fight over blocks of government cheese, but money is being thrown around in the Biggie video, “Hypnotize”, and no one is throwing any punches, which lets you know that entertainment is just a false perception of reality.”
Before Hip-Hop was even a term, or a genre of music, there were instances that occurred during slavery that can be easily be described as the blue-print in the formation of hip-hop in preceding years to come. During slavery, many slaves used to play rhyming games amongst each other to cover up the harsh remarks that they were making about their white masters. Also, it was used as a form of entertainment and comic relief. It has been said that slaves would even use metaphors because of course, they would be killed if they were caught speaking in unfamiliar tongues. But as time has passed, there has been more of a structural basis imposed upon the culture. The pure objective of Hip-Hop was to shed light and serve as a voice to the lower-income housing communities and promote positivity and spread unity among minorities. Also, Hip-Hop started as a showcase of lyrical ability, while the DJ (Disc Jockey) would play records. The DJ was the main attraction during this time period. The origins of hip hop are deeply rooted in New York City. During the 1970s, individuals such as Kool DJ Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and DJ Grandmaster Flash are considered to be the innovators in the formation of hip-hop. At this time, Hip-Hop was viewed as fun, and exciting, but still served as a platform in regards to addressing social, political, and economic issues that were affecting blacks. But again, time tends to change things and thus, this is what occurred during the 1980’s concerning rap music.
In the early 1990’s, Corporate America played a huge part in helping create this different aura in the Hip Hop community, for better or for worse. As stated before, during the 1970’s and part of the 1980’s, hip-hop and rap music was new, exciting, and creative. But due to conflict, and the over-saturation of violence, sex, and drugs, hip-hop was entering into an uncharted territory that many people feared would lead to the demise of the culture. Hip-Hop Journalist, Christopher John Farley gave a brief depiction of the state of rap music during the 1990’s.
“Corporate America's infatuation with rap has increased as the genre's political content has withered. Ice Cube's early songs attacked white racism; Ice-T sang a song about a cop killer; Public Enemy challenged listeners to "fight the power". But many newer acts are focused almost entirely on pathologies within the black community. They rap about shooting other blacks, but almost never about challenging governmental authority or encouraging social activism.”
Many prominent rappers in the 1990’s had either went to a Performing Arts School, or attended some type of college institution before they were breakout stars. Suge Knight attended Berklee Institute, before he started Death Row Records. Diddy did two years at Howard University, where he majored in Business Administration, and was an intern at Uptown Records. And even Tupac, who is arguably considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, was a scholar prior to entering rap to the point that he studied Shakespeare while attending a Performing Arts School. Tupac had never seen jail before, or sold drugs either, but it was that lifestyle, that force of entertainment that one latches on to in order to obtain riches and fame that consumed him at one point, even though he still had a voice. And his voice, along with others propelled hip-hop from its underground roots, to the mainstream media during the late 1990s. As stated before, the lifestyle that many rappers portray is just an illusion, meaning it’s not real. Although Hip-Hop is one of the most lucrative, and profitable entities in popular culture, it’s still a fully functional business at the end of the day. Many of the individuals whom are a part of the younger generation believe that the Hip-Hop industry will serve as a scape-goat to free them from the hardships and situations that occur in their everyday life. But they fail to realize that the industry is actually controlled by upper-class white men who tend to use urban minority musicians as objects rather than artists. According to Time Magazine, “more than 70% of hip-hop albums are purchased by whites”. Which means that even if they were to make it in the industry, they would almost have to subject themselves and their music in order to meet the expectations of a certain company, or record label, rather than being able to have artistic control, thus creating a power struggle which is the reason why many artists lean towards going independent as opposed to signing to a major record label. Sadly, this is one of the many issues that an aspiring new artist will face in the ever-changing genre of hip-hop.
|(Photo: HipHopweekly.com 2013)|
There has been a deliberate and strategic theory formed in the Hip-Hop industry that is described as the “Desensitization Theory”. The glorification of violence, sex, and drugs has placed a huge dent on a culture that was derived strictly from positivity. Desensitization means, “insensitive or nonreactive to a sensitizing agent”. It can also be described as being “emotionally insensitive to stimuli due to over-exposure.” It is has been said that there is a direct correlation between the desensitization theory, and the music and images that are being presented in hip-hop, and rap music. When young individuals watch or listen to certain types of hip hop music, it desensitizes them to the dangers of being violent, promiscuous, or reluctant to try drugs. For example, if a young individual hears a song that encourages them to rob people, they will internalize it altogether. And if there is a prolonged exposure to these occurrences, then these same vices have the ability to change the mind-set and perception of these individuals, thus creating a sense of desensitization. For example, if a male teen is constantly listening to rap music that objectifies women, and refers to them as, “bitches” or “sluts”, then that same teen will become desensitized in regards to how a woman is supposed to be treated as a whole. The same thing applies to violence and drugs as well.
The Desensitization Theory has two main components; emotional desensitization, and cognitive desensitization. Emotional desensitization takes place when an individual exposes themselves to a large amount of negative content (violence, sex, and drugs) and they don’t have the ability to be able to understand why they are emotionally responsive once this content is presented to them. Excessive exposure to this type of content can lead to an altered mindset and also a mental imbalance as well. Cognitive desensitization occurs when there is a complete understanding of the content, which can lead to negative traits and behaviors. Being that an individual fully understands what’s being presented to them, they tend to react a certain way due to what they see, regardless of the content, which is also a form of desensitization. In 1994, Took and Weiss discovered that “watching large amounts of violence music videos, and listening to anti-social lyrics have the potential for influencing the attitudes and values of some viewers, and/or listeners over time because of the repeated listening and visual consumption.” Part of the reason why there is such a major desensitization issue in the hip hop industry is because of the media in general. Programs such as BET, MTV, and VH1 constantly air music videos and hip hop related material that contain negative images and reinforce certain stereotypes that have been placed upon the black community. This also creates an emulation process for those individuals whose minds aren’t fully developed and capable of distinguishing between what is of reality, and what is fabricated. This creates a void in the formation of positive messages through music and media because since there is an over-saturation of negativity in the forefront, positive music and media has no place, and in general, no one will pay attention, which leads to less viewers and a loss of revenue on the part of the major media corporations.
Today, there are only a few rappers in the game whose music doesn’t contain the same level of vulgar and inappropriate content that is being played on the radio. Individuals such as Nas, Common, Lupe Fiasco, and Andre 3000 are using their craft to the best of their ability, and making individuals feel good about what they’re listening to. And if they do tend to switch up and rap about suggestive themes, they go about doing so in a positive way that all individuals can relate to, and enjoy. For example, On Common’s song, “Nag Champa”, he rapped,
“It's rumors of gay MC's, just don't come around me wit it,
You still rockin hickies, don't let me find out he did it,
Got My Eyes on the Tiger, Eyes on the Prize,
Eyes on the thighs of Mary J. Blige, imagin on how good the cat must be,
Stop eatin meat, lost weight, but I still rap husky,
My verse depth is that of a baby's first step,
Or the old lady who died and the nurse wept,
I flow like cursive writing, invitin you and yours to my openess,
Shows allow me to cop Range/range like a vocalist,
But man does not live on bread alone, What good is a Range/range when it's time to
Even though there were some lines that were suggestive, it wasn’t a blunt or blatant act of disrespect. He rapped about certain situations in a way that sticks to the art-form, and core of hip-hop. That showmanship, lyrical ability, and bravado mentality that doesn’t go too far off of the grain. But quite frankly, people these days don’t want to hear anything conscious or up-lifting. People don’t want to hear music that is going to evoke change, and effort on their part. This is because we as a people have been desensitized to only pay attention to drama and negativity due largely in part because of major corporations. Record labels and radio stations present vicious vices such as; sex, drugs and alcohol in the forefront so that they can actually get paid. Take for instance the East Coast vs. West Coast stand-off. Biggie, and Tupac had their issues, but there wasn’t major a beef going on until the mainstream media started blowing the whole situation out of the proportion, thus leading to both of their demises in the late 1990s. And now as of late, Reality TV now has taken an interest in Hip Hop as well.
In March of 2011, VH1 aired a show called, “Love & Hip Hop”. Love & Hip Hop focuses on a group of women who are involved in hip-hop, whether it is personally, or professionally. As the seasons progressed, the show got to be more chaotic, and filled with drama, whether it is in regards to someone having a simple conversation that turns into an all-out brawl, or even at a semi-casual affair which most would consider abstaining from violence. There was no filter when it came to the amount of violence, and ignorance that was pumped into this show. There was even a petition put into place in 2012 that demanded VH1 to actually halt production on the show altogether due to the amount of negativity being imposed during many episodes. Producer Mona Scott has constantly argued that she isn’t trying to push stereotypes, and portray black women in a negative light. “This show never supposed to be a representation of all African American women everywhere,” she stated during an interview with Hot 97 in late 2011. “This show was about their lives, their struggle. And they every right to tell them.” But due to the overwhelming demand from viewers, Season 4 of Love & Hip Hop will be airing next Monday.
Will Hip-Hop ever get back to its origins and roots that promoted love, respect, and social awareness? That remains to be seen. Many people feel that due to the desensitization and over-exposure to violence, sex, and drugs on the culture, that hip hop will never be the same again. Nas boasted that, “Hip-Hop is Dead”, in 2008 only to turn around and release his critically acclaim album, “Life is Good”, in 2012 which was nominated for a Grammy, but got ousted by Drake’s, “Take Care”, earlier this year. In 2000, TIME magazine stated that, “Hip Hop is the Most Important Youth Culture on The Planet.” But how can this be something that’s celebrated when artists in Hip-Hop such as Chief Keef, 2 Chainz, and Travis Porter are promoting negativity, and also being paid millions of dollars to do so. How can this be something that’s positive when there are people dying every day because of this same nonsense that they are promoting? Some people believe that the reason why these same artists who have no content or substance in their lyrics are constantly being put in the forefront is because they want us, meaning African Americans to destroy ourselves. But it’s up to the individuals who are in positions of power to fix the scope of what we see, what we hear, and watch we watch, because this problem is going to go anywhere, anytime soon. There need to be an overhaul in the music industry, or else future generations will be subjected to even more forms of negativity and eventually become desensitized as well.
Written by A.J.E