Department of English

Spring 2011 Edition

Sex, Drugs, and Hip-Hop: A Deeper Look into the Misconceptions Surrounding the Industry

Jordan Cox
Argumentative 1010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Julie Simon

Meet Chris Bridges. Chris is a 33-year-old self-made millionaire and entrepreneur whose professional endeavors include being a Grammy award winning musician, actor, producer, product endorser, and philanthropist. Under the light of these prestigious accolades and numerous charitable donations that he has made, one would praise Mr. Bridges for the tremendous amounts of success that he has amassed at such an early age. Now meet Chris Bridges's alter-ego, Ludacris. Ludacris is a rap star whose lyrics and image have him labeled as a "dangerous, decadent mercenary." Conservative talk-radio host Bill O'Reilly proclaimed that Ludacris's music represents "...a life of guns, violence, drugs and disrespect of women, which can lead children into a lifestyle of defiance and destruction that could ruin them for many years – perhaps forever" (O'Reilly).

In a modern twist of Robert Louis Steven's classic tale of a man of two identities, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is a prime example of the public's crusade against hip hop's destroying influence in society. Simply by watching a popular music video by many of today's top rap artists, one walks away with an indelible impression that hip-hop music is littered with superficial sensationalism that exploits racial stereotypes of African-Americans for profit margins. The evolution of the genre towards a mainstream commercialized audience offers no other reasonable logic than this particular one associated with hip-hop, which currently stands as a multi-billion dollar industry whose influence spans the global community. However, the current image of hip hop as violent and materialistic is not an accurate representation of its originally conceived essence as a reflection of African-American culture through intelligent, socially conscious expression.

Many of the misconceptions of hip hop that arise are based upon the perception of the genre that has been acquired as the industry has expanded from a regional underground movement to a multi-billion dollar global Goliath. When hip hop originated, it was as a small underground movement wherein the performers either participated because it was an interesting trend or out of pure love for the music. They definitely did not involve themselves for the financial benefits. However, as the 1980s came to a close, hip hop began to experience an increased amount of financial success with the emergence of acts such as LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. As the notion that hip hop was simply a trend that would eventually phase out began to dwindle, major record labels, radio, and television took notice. Suddenly, minorities coming from impoverished backgrounds were receiving lucrative opportunities to climb out of the Afro-centric lifestyle from which their musical expression derived. Concurrently, acts such N.W.A and Tupac Shakur began realizing tremendous commercial success, despite controversial lyrics that promoted violence, drug-use, the objectification of women, and the use of heavy profanity. From this point, the industry spiraled out of control and has contributed to the current negative perceptions associated with hip-hop music.

Early hip hop has often been credited with helping to reduce inner-city gang violence by replacing physical violence with an alternative outlet to the adversity and destitution linked with poverty and ghetto life. Since hiphop's inception in the early 1980s, violent crime rates have decreased from 594.3 per 100,000 capita to 429.4 people in 2009, with a homicide rate that decreased nearly in half from 9.8 to 5.4 (Justice). Now, obviously this decline cannot all be accredited to the rise of hip hop with all the various variables involved, but considering that hip hop is often associated with stimulating violent tendencies and behavior from its listeners this trend seems to negate that theorem. For the abundance of attention placed upon artists that freely utilize violent lyrics in a "shock and awe" approach of delivering their music, many others discourage violence in their music. Artists such as Public Enemy utilized hip hop as a means of stimulating political action in order to progress towards change within the African-American community. Hip hop did not portray negative violent stigmas typical of modern "gangsta rap" music; instead, it acted as a microphone for an entire race to clamor for social and political reform in order to distant themselves from violence.

The typical image shown of a rapper is often accompanied by expensive jewelry, luxury cars, and private jets; however, instead of evidence reflecting the materialism within hip hop, these images act more as a reflection of the materialism of society as a whole. Think about it rationally, would it be fair to stereotype all women as being needy, immoral, and dependent on men based off of what is portrayed on Desperate Housewives? How more inconceivable is it then that hip hop is so freely associated with materialism based upon a handful of individuals? To fully understand this rationale, take a step back and analyze society as a whole. In any lucrative industry or power-based organization, a certain degree of exploitation takes place, which often results in people setting aside their own true nature in place for a big payoff. If this is difficult to believe, watch a half hour of reality television. It is filled with people that will discard their normal sense of right and wrong in exchange for a quick buck. Thus, instead of associating hip hop with all these stereotypes, look at the examples of the artists who understand the essence of what hip hop is, such as KRS-One, Nas, and Rakim who all maintained the integrity of their music, even though shifting their style towards a more mainstream friendly audience most likely would have resulted in a more lucrative paycheck.

Hip-hop music is a reflection of African-American culture accessible to those both within and outside the ethnicity. As a white, middle-class male who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, it is difficult for me to relate to African-American culture. I do not understand the humor typically found in a Tyler Perry Blaxploitation film, nor do I relate with the modern plights of civil rights activists such as Jesse Jackson. Indeed, I do understand the relevance of these things within African-American culture, but through these outlets, I cannot see the view from their eyes. Hip hop, in its purest form, is a means by which I have been able to accomplish just that – take a glimpse of their world. Music is the lens through which one can look at a society. I may never step foot into a ghetto, but by listening to the lyrics in Nas's record "Memory Lane," I came to understand a bit more of the conditions in which millions of people live on a daily basis. The lyrics of this song don't glamorize the ghetto in anyway, they simply acknowledge the reality that is intercity life.

Unfortunately enough, society likes to depict groups and characters by their imperfect nature. Perhaps, it is a human fallacy that curbs the ability to objectively reason and judge. Maybe it is this fallacy that keeps society focused on the Chris "Ludacris" Bridges of the world. I never chose to listen to hip hop because I glorified in being a "gangsta" or embraced violence as a universal solution for all of life's toils. Truth be told, these things have never interested me and never will. I chose to listen to hip hop because it allows me to overcome prejudice and embrace all the good things in life, wherever they may come from. Perhaps, hip hop will always be viewed as Mr. Hyde, but remember, even Mr. Hyde had his good side.

Works Cited
Department of Justice. "Crime in the United States." Department of Justice. Usa.gov, 2011. Web. 22 March 2011.
O'Reilly, Bill. "Singing a different tune." World Net Daily 12 September 2002. Worldnetdaily.com, 2011. Web. 22 March 2011.