Este sitio web utiliza galletas o cookies. Si continuas navegando entendemos que aceptas su uso.
SIBE - Sociedad de Etnomusicología
Explorar TRANS:
Por Número >
Por Artículo >
Por Autor >


Share |
Suscribir RSS Suscribir RSS Feed

Blog Observatorio de Prácticas Musicales Emergentes
ETNO Revista de música y cultura
IASPM - Espana
Musicalogía feminista
IASPM - International Association for the Study of Popular Music

< Volver

Rap Music Videos: The Voices of Organic Intellectuals

Lynda Dee Dixon Bowling and Patricia A. Washington

This research is a perspectival rhetorical analysis (P. Shaver, 1991; P. Shaver & L. Shaver, 1992a) of the voices in rap music videos created by urban male African Americans in 1993. The African American oral tradition is extended by the phenomenon of visual music in which a central figure created by these videos is the media-driven character of the outlaw or original gangsta (OG). From the analysis of the verbal and nonverbal musical displays, the critical issues of revolution, bias of the dominant power elite and the evolution of Black communities of residence emerge. These topics are discussed in this paper.


This is an exploration of the metamorphoses of urban African American male rappers from original gangstas (OG) to organic intellectuals (OI). Systems theory and is the tool used to understand this evolution. Perspectival rhetorical analysis is the methodology employed to interpret the verbal and nonverbal discourse (L. Shaver, 1993, Washington & Shaver, 1997) of 1993 rap music videos. The goals of this study are to compare the historical evolution of communities of residence that shaped the music created by both rappers and blues singers; to trace the metamorphoses of the rappers into "organic intellectuals" (OI) while identifying their roles in the creation of a national popular culture (i.e., a culture that reflects the perspectives of young urban Blacks); and (c) to analyze the discourse of rap lyrics.

Although there are different styles of rap music, this paper focuses on the media-driven central figure in hard core rap music videos, the "original gangsta" (OG) rappers. This image is rooted in the curious juxtaposition of the African American oral tradition of hero outlaws as described by LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) in Blues People (Jones, 1963). The communities that created outlaws and OGs are important as sources for understanding the evolution from outlaw to OG (Washington, 1996) to organic intellectual (OI). Original gangsta rappers and blues singers are engaged in a dynamic activity that seeks a common ground with the audience through a shared attitude about the topics that affect rappers, singers and audience (Hamlet, 1998) The emerging patterns of behavior and topics within the discourse constitute the sites of conflict in rap music: economics, violence, family, social alienation, polarization of societal units, and cultural and social deprivation (Washington & Shaver, 1997).

Historically, Africans (in the Diaspora) have relied on individuals who are talented in the transmission of ideas or feelings in the oral tradition as sources of information and inspiration. Understanding the OG outlaw and his role in this evolution requires the analysis of verbal and nonverbal musical displays , the critical issues of revolution, bias of the dominant power elite, and the historical evolution of Black communities of residence. The racial unity identity theory of Michael Eric Dyson (1993) combined with the literary historical expressive vernacular theory of Houston A. Baker Jr., 1984); the social systems model or Human Behavior in the Social Environment (HBSE) theory of Beulah R. Compton and Burt Galaway, 1989; the African tradition of radical intellectuals discussed by Franz Fanon (1968); and the European tradition of organic intellectuals (OI)(Gramsci, 1992) contribute to our understanding of OG rappers.

Gramsci (1991) theorizes that oppressed people--the rappers--are organic intellectuals whose language provide the basis for a the continued revolution and evolution of the African Diasporic aesthetic (Baker, Jr., 1983). Rappers are using the narrative tradition to foster an "insurrection of subjugated knowledge" (Spencer, 1981, p. 4).

The authors utilize an interdisciplinary analysis that encompasses African American studies, social work, communication, and sociology. The social work systems theory of Human Behavior in the context of social environment (HBSE) as described in Compton and Galaway (1989) provides the linkage both from a historical process direction and from the necessary analysis of the current phenomenon of rap music with projections for the future. The communication methodology is perspectival rhetorical analysis (P. Shaver & L. Dixon Shaver, 1992) used to examine the text of rap videos.

Social work theory stresses the importance of understanding human behavior in the context of social environment (HBSE) and the impact of that environment on past, present, and future behavior. In addition to Compton and Galaway (1989), Hearn (1969), Parsons (1964), and Pincus and Minahan (1973) have contributed to social work theory. Systems theory provides a structure for organizing a historical survey of the African American community and interactions between residents of the community with various institutions(Washington, 1996). There is a continuous exchange between people and their environment with each shaping the other (Germain & Gitterman, 1996). In addition, HBSE provides a framework for understanding the reciprocal relationship between people and their community of residence. Understanding this reciprocal relationship provides insight on the evolution of rap music, the development of the O.G. rapper and his transformation into an organic intellectual.

Perspectival Rhetorical Analysis

A methodology drawn from semiotics and rhetoric known as "perspectival rhetoric analysis" (P. Shaver & L. Dixon Shaver, 1992, p. 3) has been used to examine the discourse of the physicians and patient, construction companies, prisons, educational settings, and American Indian communities. The discourse is defined as the verbal and nonverbal language as exemplified by words, architectural changes in organizations, sign on the walls, furniture, lighting, colors, and so forth (Potter & Wetherell, 1987). The analysis of discourse allows the worldviews of the participants to emerge (Glenn, 1990/91; L. Dixon Shaver, 1997a,b; L. Dixon Shaver & Shaver, 1995). These differences between the interactants constitute "sites of conflict" Shaver & L. Dixon Shaver, 1992, p. 4) and represent the major agons or dilemmas in the interactions. Semiotics and rhetoric allow the researcher to examine the relationship of language and perspectives. Solomon (1988) refers to semiotics as the "codes and the way that ordinary words, objects, and activities can be signs that point to hidden systems of cultural belief" (p.2). Semiotics is about the "power we have to define and enforce our own conceptions of reality" (Solomon, (1980), p.3). Further, Sebeok (1979) defines semiotics as "a science that studies all possible varieties of signs, and the rules governing their generation and production, transmission and exchange, and reception and interpretation. Concisely put, semiotics has two complementary and interdependent aspects: communication and signification" (p. 272). As Solomon (1988) notes, that which seems natural, common sense or the-way-things-should-be is what we call culture. Culture is learned but not always shared. For instance, a White male middle-class physician does not share the same culture or worldview as the older African American woman elder patient who is from a socioeconomic group that is also different from her physician's group. Further, the rapper does not share the same perspective as his/her non-African American listener does.

Using semiotics and the rhetorical perspectives of Burke (1966, 1969a, 1969b, 1970), and Billig (1987) and Billig et al. (1988), the researcher seeks to understand problems between interactants as both are caught in the webs of significance (Geertz, 1973) of their cultures. They are often powerless to analyze their own participant behaviors or their expectations of the behaviors of the other. The analysis of the discourse of rap music videos in this study is suggested as the means by which the power of understanding can come to be used by researcher, rapper, listener, and reader.

Using perspective rhetorical analysis, researchers immerse themselves in the data listening to the music and reading transcripts of the lyrics. The worldviews of the participants as they interact create the dialectic. The dialectical oppositional elements of the two participants are the sites of conflict. That is, the words said, the manner of saying, the interplay within a specific stage of the interview, and the repetition of subjects contribute to the articulation of the dilemmas from the sites. The analysis allows the emergence of the major agon (Burke, 1966). Understanding the agon from which the dilemmas are derived from the sites of conflict, researchers can develop insights into the world of the organic intellectuals.

The rappers' perspectives reveal dilemmatic issues that constitute the belief systems of 'organic intellectuals' and gangsta figures in rap. The dilemmatic issues--sites of conflict--are also found in the history of the African American oral tradition and, more specifically, in the history of the blues.

The Evolution of Rap Music and the Blues

Baker (1984) says that one must incorporate the "African Diaspora aesthetic" ( p. 80) and other theories into an analysis of African American music. The tradition of oral communication within the African Diaspora is based upon a fusion of language with "äallusion, metaphor, and imagery and prolific in the use of body gestures and nonverbal nuances." (Hamlet, 1998, p. 92). So that language comes a platform for presentation of an individual's worldview with an opportunity to display verbal skills. Consequently, the transmission of ideas or feelings through language became the primary method for communication by Africans in the Diaspora.

As a Black urban art form, analysis of rap requires intense study of the past and present urban culture as in Baker (1993), Dyson (1991), Hayes (1993), Spady and Eure (1991), and Spencer (1991). Many similarities exist between urban blues and urban OG rap music from their historical origins to the preponderance of male singers to the sexually suggestive lyrics. According to Jones (now Amiri Baraka), blues is, " . . . primarily a verse form and secondarily a way of making music" (Jones, 1963, p. 50). Blues evolved from the societal realities of its time. It is necessary to understand the importance of the effects of the communities inhabited by the blues singers. These community effects include the mores, bias, values, and socioeconomic history of their communities on blues. Urban blues evolved from spirituals, work chants, chain-gang songs, jazz, gospel, ragtime, and the functional music of West Africa that was used for social control and educating youth (Jones, 1963).

Morley (1992) posits that rap music has also evolved from African American music forms with influences from be-bop, fusion, rhythm and blues, funk, and contemporary gospel. Rappers produce music that is both an evolution of the past African American oral tradition and a reflection of society from their perspective. Rap is primarily a verse form. The words and the rhymes are critically important because, like blues, these words describe the society from which it evolved. Oratory is rhythm and rhythm becomes 'stylin' or the manipulation of language to express feelings or tell a story (Hamlet, 1998, pp.96-97). Furthermore, both blues and rap speak of pain, struggle, and survival, despite periods of hopelessness.

Early forms of the blues appeared during the during the latter part of the nineteenth century in the rural areas of the South. Freed by the Civil Rights legislation of the l860s and l870s but disenfranchised by the violence of white backlash, massive numbers of African Americans left the rural South. They moved to southern cities or the cities of the North transporting their music with them.

As Blacks continued to migrate in large numbers to the northern United States during the first half of the twentieth century, images and the settings were transformed from rural into urban. The newly arrived rural immigrants became isolates in the 'Promised Land' of the north. They encountered racial segregation, discrimination in housing and unemployment. The also had to deal with a Northern law enforcement community as hostile as the one in the South (Georges-Abeyie, 1984; Mann, 1993). The blues became an instrument of identity and remembrance of hard times in the factories, stockyards, and docks. Amplified guitars and voices of blues singer blared from the community bars as they sang about "big boss man", the "po-leese," and the outlaw men of the North. Phonograph records, jukeboxes and radio broadcasts provided blues singers with an avenue to send this 'subjugated knowledge' into working class Black communities.

Rap Music and Rap Music Videos.

The similarities between rap music and blues lie in their origins. Both are the music of the dispossessed. Their voices are the voices of outlaws and outsiders. Each used the media; to reach an audience beyond the confines of the African American community and both used lyrics dealing with feelings, events and issues that most Blacks ignored or spoke about in quiet whispers. Urban blues was created from the vernacular of working class Blacks ( Baker, Jr., 1994).

Both rap and blues praise the hero outsmarting the oppressive establishment, male sexual prowess and frequently catalogue internal as well as the external sources of social problems plaguing their communities of residence. Differences between blues and rap begin with the differences in channels and contexts. For urban Blacks, blues was part and parcel of the life of the community, a blanket of sound wrapping the communities in a sensory experience of love, lust, regret and shared pain. The White culture heard blues, for the most part, on the radio or on records, audio-tapes, or sanitized television or movie productions. Rap music videos were played on Music Box, MTV, and BET. The intense voice of the OG rapper, the visual impact of music videos and the widespread exposure of rap music created a new branch of the oral tradition. The lyrics of OG rappers evolved becoming the messages of organic intellectuals that were broadcast to an expanded audience, which had a unique effect on society, the dominant culture, and the rappers themselves.

Origins of New Poverty

The African American working class and poor were concentrated in larger numbers first by their desire to be a community and second by deliberate social marginalization plans of city governments. The central cities were experiencing the destruction of generations by spiritual vacuums, urban warfare, and economic policies (Dyson, 1991).

Glasgow accurately describes the era of President Reagan and accurately predicted the era of President Bush and discusses the consequences of the negative social policies created during the late l970s and l980s as " ... a population of poor and unused Black youth, confined in economic poverty. They are undereducated, jobless, without salable skills to gain access to mainstream life" (Glasgow, 1980, p. vii). He notes that these issues, intertwined in cause and effect.

During this period African Americans were not the only ones experiencing social alienation. The music of European and Euro-American youth was nihilistic Punk; ominous heavy metal played by androgynous men snarling on MTV. Outside of this 'mix', rap music was being created at the mega-sound box parties in the parks, school auditoriums, or abandoned buildings of the South Bronx, West Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn in New York during the late 1970s or early 1980s with Kool DJ Herc from Kingston, Jamaica along with Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambataa, and the Sugar Hill Gang (Baker, 1993 & Rose 1994).

Many of the early rappers spoke of their sexual prowess or their stellar abilities to rhyme, but Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five were among the first rappers to reach a large audience with an OG theme about the problems that threatened them and their communities in l982 with "The Message." Not until the latter part of the l980s and the early 1990s were there a substantial number of OG rappers: NWA, Ice-T, Slick Rick, Gang Starr, Geto Boys, Naughty by Nature, Dr. Dre, and others. The successful (grand)children of the blues singers became members of the middle class and abandoned the central cities for the suburbs during the Reagan/Bush era. The less successful (grand)children remained in the central cities as their communities succumbed to neglect. Many of the OG rappers are residents from communities of the less successful.

Jones notes that the lyrics of the urban blues are "a portrait of the Negro in America at that particular time" (Jones, 1963, p. 137). Like the lyrics of the blues, the lyrics of gangsta rap in the 1980s and 1990s presented current stories of the lives of young, inner city, African American males in the their voices as outlaws and OGs.

The Evolution of Organic Intellectuals

Urban rappers continued the transformation from outlaws to OGs into Organic Intellectuals while continuing the African American oral tradition of re-structuring language, images, and sound.. Young African Americans rappers, who are primarily but not exclusively male, are re-constructing their reality through the discourse of rap. Dyson says that their words are being used to reclaim their history and to

". . . project a style of self onto the world that disciplines ultimate social despair into forms of cultural resistance, and transforms the ugly terrain of ghetto existence into a searing portrait of life as it is lived by millions of voiceless people." (Dyson, 1991, p. 24)

During the Black Cultural Nationalist era which lasted from the middle l960s through the middle l970s, poets (Haki Madihubuti, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez), musicians (Last Poets, Gil Scott Herron, Nina Simone), and playwrights (Ed Bullins, Charles Fuller, Douglas Turner Ward, Adrienne Kennedy) continued the discourse using words and images based upon subjugated knowledge. Many Black Cultural Nationalist called for insurrection as they clearly stated their objections to the occupation of Black communities by law enforcement officials who targeted young Black men for harassment. They also objected to the inequality in the distribution of resources in Black communities. These artists provided verbal and visual images of the way things were and the way things "sposed to be." They had a profound impact on the music of that era and the rappers twenty-five years later.

Organic Intellectuals

In Kenyatta's Facing Mount Kenya in 1963, Fanon's Wretched of the Earth in l968 and Gramsci's The Prison Notebooks in l992 is a description of the ingredients necessary for leaders to become the voices for oppressed people. Organic intellectuals speaking for oppressed people must be bonded to them. This is an organic bond based upon personal knowledge of human behavior shaped by membership and residence in a community of oppressed people. By virtue of birth, residence and experience with oppression OG rappers have the credentials to speak for the oppressed within their communities.

Spencer acknowledges the importance of the hard-core (OG) rappers as men who engage in "insurrection of subjugated knowledge . . . [practice] self-determinative politico moral leadership" (Spencer, 1991, p. 7) and have an attitude but are knowledgeable about the negative impact of various institutions on them and their communities. Furthermore, Spencer sees rappers as sources of knowledge, individuals who recognize knowledge is a tool for empowering as well as an important resource in the emancipation of the Black community.

Legal charges brought against various rappers from 1992-1995 (Snoop Doggy Dog, Tupac Shakur, and Slick Rick) have intensified both the professional causal analyses and evaluations of rap videos. Increased polarization between low-income Blacks and middle-class Blacks/Whites have resulted in an increase in racism. Such racism is demonstrated in music videos and in other visual media such as film ( Jungle Fever, and Higher Learning)and television (New York Undercover). The political rhetoric of conservative members of the Democratic Party and the far right of the Republic Party (e.g., pre-1996 presidential campaign speeches during 1995 by Phil Gramm, Robert Dole, and Patrick Buchanan, and others) has exacerbated the widening gulf between the poor and the middle class (regardless of ethnicity). These factors play an important role in the transition of rappers into organic intellectuals.

The OG rappers fit Gramsci's definition of organic intellectuals because they are members of a community of oppressed people and music is the instrument they utilize to speak of their common oppression socially, politically and economically. Ice Cube says, "People sometimes act as if [I'm] making up the stuff [I] talk about in my music . . . that [I'm] trying to be controversial and shocking, . . . but [my music] is also real . . . the language of the neighborhood" (Ice Cube in Alonso, 1991, pp. 11-12).

Organic intellectuals/OG's provide Black youths (and often youths of other ethnic groups) with a sense of " . . .homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in economic but also in social and political fields" (Gramsci, l992, p. 5). Black youths are being informed that the world they live in is dangerous and that their future is being jeopardized by the existing order. The sources of that danger lie within as well as outside of their communities. By looking critically at the institutions that purportedly exist to assist them, Black youth can prepare themselves to understand and change the forces that are threatening their future.

According to Gramsci, the creation of a national popular culture requires the dissemination of information throughout the oppressed African American community by the organic intellectuals/OGs and the continuous forging of a natural bond between themselves and the youths that listen to their songs. In their songs, they critique the existing social structure utilizing an oral tradition that has always been perceived as a reliable source of information for those who do not trust books. The community trust in the truth of their words is based upon their membership in the community and belief in a shared experience of oppression from a common source--the police. Information must be accessible to Black youths and presented in a format that they understand. The success of the cable channels BET and MTV, the proliferation and sales of videos and tapes, and the accessibility to both by all socioeconomic groups have guaranteed accessibility and an understandable format.

While the liberating of Black youth by their voices as intellectuals is predicated on exorcising hegemony, the national popular culture created by rap music will not become a liberation movement until such events occur. The rap music of the organic intellectuals/OGs is important to the development of the collective consciousness of disaffected African American youths (and other disaffected youth).

Young men of Mexican American, Euro-American, Puerto Rican and European descent are using the organic intellectual's voice to talk about their oppression.

The organic intellectuals/OG rappers speak not in the voices of insiders but in the voices of outlaws. The words of their music and the visions in their videos are usually stark urban landscapes, which paint a desolate picture of the world they inhabit. Foucault (1990) says that outlaws speak about subjugated knowledge, that is, subjects banned from polite discourse. Their words are intended to shock, and the images are deliberately graphic as well as provoking. It is the language of outlaws who are following a tradition as old as the journey of African Americans in America. The perspectives of Blacks in early blues are to be found in rap.

The OG rappers from the early l980s until the present have continued the tradition utilizing music videos. Neither the subjects of their lyrics (oppressive community conditions, male/female relationships, graphic sexual encounters, and the warfare between Black males and the police) nor the graphic descriptions of these conditions are new. Rappers continue the oral tradition of the African Diaspora aesthetic. Rap music videos are unique because of the instant visual impact and the widespread dissemination through MTV, BET, Music Box, VH-1, and other cable networks.

Smitherman (1997) supports hip-hop as a "womanist activist" (p. 25) who asserts that "rap artists appear to have heeded poet Margaret Walker's admonition to 'speak the truth to the people,' and they are doing it in a language that the people know and understand" (p. 24). She quotes Stevie Wonder: "'I hate it when the very folks who should be listening to rap are attacking it so hard that they miss the point. The point is that children and the neighborhoods--the whole country . . . are drowning in violence'" (Stevie Wonder as cited in Smitherman, 1997). The next section of this paper analyzes the language of the rappers--the language that young Black urban males understand.

Analysis of U.S. Male Black 1993 Rap Videos

From the themes and traditions of the blues, analysis of rap music videos, like analysis of the blues, reveals the effects of communities and the development of organic intellectuals. This study examines African American males who are hard core original gangsta (OG) rappers. These rappers are as follows: Public Enemy, NWA (Niggas with Attitudes), Ice-T, Ice Cube, 2 Pac, Intelligent Hoodlum and others. The researchers analyzed the videos both separately and together over several months in 1993.

The sites of conflict revealed by the analyses are (a) economics; (b) violence; (c) family; (d) social alienation; (e) polarization of social units; and (f) cultural and social deprivation. The rappers' perspectives show that dilemmatic issues constitute the belief system of "organic intellectuals" and gangsta figures in rap.

This study focuses exclusively on African American males who are hard core original gangsta (OG) rappers. These rappers are as follows: Public Enemy, NWA (Niggas with Attitudes), Ice-T, Ice Cube, 2 Pac, Intelligent Hoodlum and others. The analyses were done separately, together, and over a time period of several months by the two authors of this paper.

As discussed in Washington and Shaver (1997) the visual images and lyrics of rap extend the image of the "outlaw" as the major figure in the videos. This image is portrayed through various cinematic devices. The rappers seek to escape marginalization of self by the public presentation of the social dilemmas that mark their daily life. The sites of conflict represent the social dilemmas that are selected by the rappers because of their implicit and explicit importance. These sites are illustrated and highlighted through the following:

  1. mixing of color video with black and white images;
  2. narrating stories that combine main and subtext stories;
  3. directing messages to the viewer in "debate";
  4. detailing message format in background signs, letters on hats and shirts; interrupting noises (e.g., sirens, crashes, etc.); and
  5. stage performing; re-enacting flashbacks, and so forth.

The videos provide a variety of presentation styles that are designed to present their messages cine noire, complicated plots,

Concert settings, straightforward messages combined with subtle sub-texts with multidimensional matrices and simple narratives.

The freedom from restrictions that bind traditional film-/video-making allows most rap video makers to produce fast paced, mixed-style, challenging, and in-group videos that needs to be analyzed and studied by out-group members. Explanations by in-group members to out-group members are possible but challenging.

The OG rappers NWA, Ice-T, Ice Cube, and others are members of the community of the dispossessed by virtue of birth and their residence in central urban cities. They do not need an "organic birth" in order to speak for the residents of the central cities; their credentials are in order because they are natural birth members of the social order of organic intellectuals. Frequently, the events described in their stories are events from their lives or the lives of their friends and relatives.

"Brenda's Got a Baby" by Tupac Shakur (1993) focuses, as many videos do, on unmarried teens and dysfunctional families (e.g., drugs, missing parents, etc.). Abandonment, isolation, poverty, and fear are the emotions that the visual images, in a narrative format, portray.

Public Enemy in "Fight the Power" (1993) addresses the challenge of urban Black youths to societal power--economic loss, police brutality, injustice--and urges youths to value themselves, have positive self-perspectives, to be revolutionaries, and to make changes. The images and the lyrics direct youths to specific behaviors and beliefs. Additionally, they tell the older people and nonBlack to give young Blacks want they want and need and that young people must be freedom and must fight. This video has less narrative than others do. Direct and unadorned persuasive devices and arguments are presented in a straight rap-talk format.

Intelligent Hoodlum in "Grand Groove" (1993) gives a narrative of the rapper's life. As in many of the videos analyzed for this study, the stories contain the same sites of conflict: poverty, dysfunctional family, socialization into gangs, anger against the unfair actions of the police, and death. "Check yo Self" by Ice Cube (1993)is done in the tradition of story-line videos. There is a plot with rising action, climax, and denouement. The genre of a short movie is the structure in which this video is portrayed. This variety of style is important for the development of empathy and shared experience of the listener/viewer. This variety facilitates the development of in-groupness by the viewer. The performer raps "in character." He is shown being "busted" and processed into the local Los Angeles inner city jail. The night scene with sirens and flashing police car lights shows the stereotypical views of an arrest of an African American male in the urban setting. From the arrest, to incarceration, to pictures of angry and unsatisfactory telephone conversations with the gangsta's woman, the video reveals the violence and psychological pressures of prison and the unfairness of the system.

The lyrics of the OG rappers are sources of inspiration and hope especially for inner city Black youth who dance to the music. Ironically, the "hope" is in the attitude that "we are in this together." The listeners/viewers develop in-group connections with the rappers and among their peers who listen/watch with them. The more that the listeners/viewers disassociate with their family because of the videos or because of conflict about other issues and the more that mainstream society (i.e., Black or White) attacks rap videos, the more that the listeners/watchers make in-group identification with the message and the bearers of the message in rap music videos.

Another group, Niggas with Attitude (NWA's) young Black men in the face of authority with a semi-automatic saying all the things they wish they could say, i.e., "F___ tha police," but cannot because those words could cost them their lives. These young men are creating fear in law enforcement officers who normally are sources of fear for Black youths. Spencer says:

"Rap--whether pop or hard-core--attracts youths who are resentment listeners, who listen to rapas a means of protesting against the establishment. For Black youths who embrace rap as a symbol of protest it is an expression of Negritude. For white youths--who may despise Negritude, but emulate soul, despise Blackness of mind but wish to go "Black under the skin"--rap is an icon of the resentment they feel toward the "square" [Anglo] status quo." (Spencer, 1991, p. 5)

The OGs are transformed into organic intellectuals beginning the process of creating a popular culture movement that describes the problems of the existing social order.

Societal Response to Rap Music Videos

Walters (in Whitaker, 1990) asserts that those who see rap as negative do not understand that it comes from the frustrations a Black urban generation whose anger is expressed through rap as an "honest art form" (p. 38). The anger and experiences of one generation gave the world blues; the anger and experiences of the current Black youth are unique and are expressed differently. That is what an oral tradition is--expression of this pain now in music, poetry, and stories. However, a number of prominent African Americans have criticized rap music because they mistakenly assume that all rap music is misogynist, encourages violence and drug use. C. DeLores Tucker, head of the National Political Congress of Black Women, has been a leader in the crusade among African Americans to eliminate or reduce the influence of rap music. She has used her organization and her contacts with Senator Carol Mosely Braun to pressure producers and distributors of rap music to make rappers clean up their lyrics and stop demeaning and threatening women. Further, People Weekly in "C. Delores Tucker" (1995) reported that she bought 10 shares of stock in Time Warner and persuaded them to drop their connections with gangsta rap. Additional criticism came from members of the mainstream Black community. They felt that they must keep a vigil on what the media say about them because the perceptions of the dominant society make life-changing differences in determining their role and status (Delany, 1995).

Rap continued to have political currency with former Senator Robert Dole's attack during the 1995 Presidential Campaign. Marsh (1995) wrote, "Senator Dole's attack on gangsta rap and movie violence established very quickly that family values demagogy is abut to redesigned upon us. Although even such reactionary Hollywood types as Clint Eastwood disparaged Dole's comments, politicians did not. Not even the President: 'We welcome Senator Dole to this point and say that the issue doesn't have to have a partisan side,' said a Clinton spokesman" (1995, p. 908).

While academics continue to seek proof that rap is good, bad, or a necessary part of the Black experience (Hall, 1998), Levine (1997) discusses the commodification of rap music. Asserting that USA corporations were uneasy with rap, he says that the overwhelming embrace by white teenage consumers caused them to "overcome their squeamishness and went for a taste of what the streets call flavor" (Levine, 1997, p. 142). Further, he says that Nissan and Coca-Cola, among others, have discovered ethnic marketing and hip-hop music. The dilemma of a White corporate culture benefiting from the voices of the organic intellectuals is an anathema. Yet, the reality is that the channels that bring the message both to Black and White listeners is not possible without a successful economic use of rap or what Levine (1997) calls "this odd marriage of cool and profits" (p. 144).

In Rose (1994), the media vilification of young Black males is discussed as a "demonization." The author poses several interesting questions and makes thoughtful comments: Demonization is hard work. Making monsters "out of a multitude of young people who struggle to survive under immense pressures includes drawing attention away from the difficulties they face, minimizing the abuses they suffer, and making their cultural activity seem a product or example of their status as dangerous creatures (p. 35).

Rose further asks what would be the public reaction if for each rap music video played attention would be drawn to the political, structural, and social processes that have created the climate for the attacks on Blacks? Censuring music of the demonized Black urban young "begins to look more and more like fighting crime" (p. 35). Rose's words were prophetic as three years later Geier 1997) says that the number of murders and murder attempts has "hard-core rap . . . reeling from the murder of its stars and now fans are turning away" (p. 32). He suggests that Fugees, Erykah Badu, and Dr. Dre has made artistic decisions that have moved away from the gangsta rap. By moving away from the message, the new "soft" rap may have stifled the voice of the organic intellectuals.


This study is a perspectival rhetorical analysis of the language culture of music and videos utilizing systems theory from social work theory to explore the connections between the evolution of urban blues and rap music. These analyses of 1993 U.S. Black male rap videos reveal the evolution of blues and the ongoing transition of rap. The community effects have impacted the gangsta or the outlaw who develops into an organic intellectual through the popular culture phenomenon of rap among African American males in the United States.

Analysis of rap music videos reveals the inclusion of the @outlaw@ previously found in many examples of African American traditional literature and music, and in blues. The primary sites of conflict in the rap videos are revealed to be: economics, violence, family, social alienation, polarization of societal units, and cultural and social deprivation. These same topics are found in the blues, representing a continuation of the African American oral tradition. However, negative societal responses toward rap from Black women, mainstream Black communities, politicians, and media demonization of Black urban young males have muted the voices of some organic intellectuals and stilled the voices of others. The violent deaths of rappers have had a seemingly paradoxical effect. Rather than see the violence as illustrating the truisms of rap's denunciation of society's intolerance of the Black experience, critics see the events as an opportunity to get rid of the demon known as rap music.

The authors call for more research on rap music as an ongoing phenomenon of the oral tradition of African Americans with particular emphasis on the impact of women rappers on the genre and on Black women's lives.


  • Alonso, A. (1991, February 20). The rap revolution. The Guardian, 11-12.
  • Baker, Jr., H. A. (1993). Black studies, rap, and the academy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
  • Billig, M. (1987). Arguing and thinking: A rhetorical approach to social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Billig, M., Condon, S., Edwards, D., Gane, M., Middleton, D., and Radley, A. (1988). Ideological dilemmas: A social psychology of everyday thinking. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  • Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic action. Berkeley, CA: University Of California Press.
  • Burke, K. (1969). A grammar of motives. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.,
  • Burke, K. (1979). The rhetoric of religion. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Burke, K. (1985). Logology: Over-all view. Communication Quarterly,33, 31-32.
  • Cherwitz, R., & Hikins, J. (1986). Communication and knowledge: An investigation in rhetorical epistemology. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.
  • Compton, B., & Galaway, B. (1989). Social work processes (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Delaney, P. (1995, January). Gangsta rappers vs. the mainstraim black [sic] community. USA Today, 68.
  • Dyson, M. E. (1991). Performance, protest, and prophecy in the culture of hip-hop. Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, 5, 2-24.
  • Eco, U. (1991). The limits of interpretation. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Fanon, F. (1968). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1990). The history of Sexuality (Vol. 1. R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.
  • Geier, T. (1997, March). The killing fields in rap's gangsta-land. U.S. News & World Report,122, 32.
  • George, N. (1998). Hip hop america. New York, NY: Viking Press.
  • Georges-Abeyie, D., (Ed.). (1984). The criminal justice system and blacks. New York: Clark Boardman Company, Ltd.
  • Glasgow, D. G. (1980). The black underclass. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Glenn, (now Shaver) L. D. (1980). Health care communication between American Indian women and a white male doctor: A study of interaction at a public health care facility. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oklahoma.
  • Gramsci, A. (1992). Prison notebooks (Vol. 1). New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. (1982). The Message. [video]. New York:Sugarhill..
  • Grier, W. H., and Price, C. M. (1968). Black rage. New York: Basic Books, Inc.,.
  • Hall, P. (199). The relationship between types of rap music and memory in African American children. Journal of Black Studies, 28 (6), 802-814.
  • Hayes, D. W. (1993, September). Educating the hip-hop generation: communication barriers offset efforts to reach young minds. Black Issues in Higher Education, 9, 30-33.
  • Hamlet, J. D. (1998). Understanding African American oratory: Manifesttions of Nommo. In J. D. Hamlet (Ed.), Afrocentric visions (pp89-105). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
  • Hearn, G., (Ed. (1969)) The general systems approach: Contributions toward an holistic conception of social work. New York: Council on Social Work Education.
  • Ice Cube. (1993). Check yo self. [video]. New York: Priority Records.
  • Intelligent Hoodlum. (1993). Grand groove. [video]. New York: A&M Records.
  • Jones, L. (now Amiri Baraka). (1963). Blues people. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks.
  • Keil, C. Urban blues. (1970). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kenyatta, J. (1963). Facing Mount Kenya. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Levine, J. (1997, April 21). Badass sell. Forbes,159, 142-144.
  • Mann, C. R. (1993). Unequal justice. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Morley, J. (1992). Introduction. In L. A. Stanley (Ed.), Rap: The lyrics (pp. vii-ix). New York: Penguin Books.
  • Pincus, A., and Minahan, A. (1973). Social work practice: model and method. Itasca, IL: F.E. Peacock Publishers .
  • Potter, J., and Wetherell, M. (1987). Discourse and social psychology: Beyond attitudes and behavior. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  • Public Enemy. (1993). Fight the Power. [video]. New York: Def Jam/Chaos Records.
  • Rose, T. (1994). Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, MA: University Press of New England.
  • Sebeok, T. (1979). The sign & its masters. Lanham, MD: University press of America.
  • Shaver, L. D. The relationship between language culture and recidivism among women offenders. In B.Fletcher, L. D. Shaver & D. Moon (Eds.), Women prisoners: A forgotten population (pp.119-134). Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Shaver, P & Shaver, L.D. (1992).The chromosomal bivalency model: Applying perspectival rhetorical analysis in intercultural consulting. Intercultural Communication Studies, 28 (2), 1-22.
  • Smitherman, G. (1997). The chain remain the same: Communicative practices in the hip hop nation. Journal of Black Studies, 28 (1), 3-25.
  • Spady, J. G., and Eure, J. D. (1991). Nation conscious rap. New York: PC International Press.
  • Spencer, J. M., (Ed.). (1991). The Emergency of black and the emergence of rap. [Special issue]. Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, 5 (1-11).
  • Tupac Shakur (1993). Brenda's got a baby. [video]. New York: Atlantic Records.
  • Walters, R. in C. Whitaker. (1990, June). The real story behind the rap revolution, Ebony, 37-38.
  • Washington, P. A. (1996). The police as a help resource in African American communities. In H. W. Neighbors & J. Jackson. (Eds.). Mental health in Black Americans. Thousand Oaks,CA: Sage Publications.
  • Washington, P. & Shaver, L. D. (1997). The language culture of rap music videos. In J. K. Adjaye & A. R. Andrews (Eds.), Language, rhythm, & sound: Black popular cultures into the twenty-first century. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Subir >

TRANS - Revista Transcultural de Música