As much as the prison complex and the rap industry affect the livelihood of black males in society, they also affect the way in which black males are seen in this society. Again, the understanding of how a criminal label can affect how you are seen is fairly simple, but the role of the commercial rap industry is more complicated and subdued. If the prison complex is used to label African American males as criminals, then the commercial rap industry substantiates that labeling by portraying an enjoyment of the lifestyle that leads to prison. Take the industry’s use of Travis Scott, for example. Scott is a contemporary rapper worth 2.5 million dollars whose most recent song, Antidote, has been on Billboard’s Top 15 rap songs for weeks. Here is an excerpt from Antidote, “I might do it all again / I just hit a three peat / fucked three hoes I met this week / I don’t do no old hoes / my nigga that’s a no-no / she just want the coco / I just want dinero / who that at the front door? /if it’s the feds oh-no-no” (Travis). Travis Scott grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in a two-parent home with his father running a business and his mother working for Apple. He went to college, but dropped out. Travis Scott lived in a socio-economic status that is less likely to be influenced by gang culture and criminal behavior yet, his counter-cultural lyrics still portray a blatant and monotonous display of criminality while rejecting the idea of instilling value through socially conscious poetry.
The commercial rap industry has used African American males like Travis Scott to rid the diversification of Hip-hop’s counter-cultural mentality in order to display African American males as a demographic that embraces the lifestyle of a criminal. Therefore, the commercial rap industry is aiding in the dehumanization of African American males by portraying the notion that we as a community enjoy lifestyles that lead to second-class citizenship.
Using lyrics from the 7-grammy award winner Kendrick Lamar, the commercial rap industry is saying, “Fuck niggas’/No better than Samuel or Django/No better than a white man with slave boats” (Kendrick). Yet, Kendrick’s words can also be used to show the battle that Hip-hop culture is currently fighting against the criminalization of African American males:
“Retraced my steps on what they never taught me/Did my homework fast before government caught me…[this is] straight from Ethiopia/N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty- wait listen/N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish/The history books overlook the word and hide it/America tried to make it to a house divided/The homies don’t recognize we been using it wrong/So I’ma break it down and put my game in a song.” (Kendrick)
In showing the royal lineage of African Americans, Kendrick Lamar exemplifies Hip-hop culture’s resistance against the “second-class citizen” stigma of said demographic. However, the emcee element of Hip-hop is not the only one fighting this battle. Hip-hop dance, with its growing influence in American mainstream culture, can have a massive impact on the identity and perception of African American males in this country. As a Hip-hop choreographer and teacher in graduate school, I have studied the ways in which the values of Hip-hop culture—Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun—can be cultivated within a studio classroom and a concert stage environment (Chang 105). As a result I’ve created artistic works that use street dance styles to raise awareness on issues such as police brutality, and explore ideas of identity and representation in regards to African American males living in this society. I’ve also created weekly Hip-hop dance classes in the city of Columbus called “onCUE” where “CUE” is an acrostic for create, unite, and empower. These dance classes are for the entire community where students learn foundational street dance techniques in order to grasp a new way to connect with themselves and to converse with others; thus, encouraging the dissolution of social, economic, political, and criminal barriers.
By introducing a pro-cultural agenda through Hip-hop dance, I am combatting both the “second-class citizen” label brought on by mass incarceration and the criminalization of commercialized rap music. My efforts might not be enough to change the system, but I’ve witnessed the affects enough to know that it changes lives including my own. I’ve gone from seeing myself as solely a thief to proclaiming that I am a dancer. I am a teacher. I am an artist. I am a scholar. But most importantly, I am an embodiment of the positive influence that a criminal can have on this society through Hip-hop.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.
“Billboard Hot Rap Songs.” n.p. n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.
Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.
Cummings, Pond. Andre Douglas. “Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice.” Social Science Research Network (2009): 19. Web. 23 February 2016.
Kendrick Lamar. “i.” Genius. 23 February 2016.
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap. dir. Ice T. Indomina Releasing, 2012. DVD.
Travis Scott. “Antidote.” Genius. 23 February 2016.