Hip-Hop: Reflective, Political, and Experimental

Music as a force for activism and revolution is best demonstrated by the hip-hop genre. As its creation is credited to inner-city African Americans, there are legacies of institutionalized oppression and systemic racism that permeate the lyrics, rhythms, and melodies of hip-hop. Hip-hop allows these legacies and histories to be documented and unpacked, carrying on a history of oral tradition, while forcing a consideration of forgotten histories.

Theresa Riley’s interview with Jeff Chang illuminates this aspect, as Chang describes how hip-hop “speaks to the kinds of pressures that young people have been facing because of globalization, changes in policing and the . . . breakdown of institutions and structures in the communities that hip hop comes from.” A feature of this breakdown is being able to recount contemporary stories while referencing historical pressures. For example, Joyner Lucas’ viral song “I’m Not Racist” delivers a compelling narrative that uses rhetoric of the current political climate to create a song that mimics the form of call and response. The first half of the song, the call, is written from the perspective of a non-black person (portrayed in the video as a white male wearing a Make America Great Again hat), with the last half of the song serving as the response written from the perspective of Lucas. In effect, a dialogue is created between the two personas, making statements on cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and modern activism. The almost 7 minute song also recalls how Kevin Young describes hip-hop as “veer[ing] between folk and epic,” showing how this contradiction uses geographic and cultural markers influences to craft a heroic gesture at times (334). Call and response in hip-hop is also channeled in Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.” The ballad uses this form to play with the voice of two lovers, creating an intimate story that shows the flexibility of the hip-hop genre.


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