Eric Olsen brought my attention to his entry about the history of hip hop at MSNBC. It was written in anticipation of the upcoming Grammy Awards.
Rap music and the so-called “hip-hop lifestyle” have become integral to American popular culture, as even a cursory look at movies, television, radio, or a simple stroll through a CD store, reveal.
Rappers appear across the cultural landscape: Will Smith, Ice Cube, and Queen Latifah are among Hollywood’s most prominent black actors. A cozy Lil’ Kim cooed for the Gap in Christmas TV commercials, Snoop Dogg pitches AOL, McDonald?s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign jingles to the rhythms of hip-hop, and heavyweight brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, Nike, Reebok, Lincoln/Mercury and Cover Girl have all availed themselves of hip-hop personalities or incorporated the lifestyle into their marketing strategies. Top 40 radio is now dominated by rap and hip-hop. Terms like “bling bling,” “dis” and Snoop’s “izzle” lingo are now ubiquitous. Rap hits are pumped over the sound systems of virtually every professional sport team.
Since 1999, rap and hip-hop sales have been second only to rock in the U.S., in 2002 rising to 13.8 percent of all records sold, a total of†more†than†84 million recordings. 50 Cent?s thuggish, monochromatic “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” was Billboard‘s top album for 2003, and his “In Da Club,” Sean Paul‘s “Get Busy,” and pop-R&B singer Beyonce‘s “Crazy In Love,” with prominent raps by Jay-Z, were three of the four top singles for the year.
I never expected rap to be as successful as it has become. I guess I’m old-fashioned. Pipes, as in voices that can break glass, will always impress me more than clever rhymes. The inanity of the lyrics, which often focus on hallucinogens, ‘hos’ and homicide, leaves something to be desired, too. The other aspect of hip hop culture that has left me ambivalent is its ongoing relationship with violence. Yes, the reputation is overstated, but there is a core of truth to it. For example, the assumption that a rapper and his main man had killed a young lawyer in Maryland was ridiculous.
Prosecutor’s murder reveals flip side of Internet
The story has a made-for-TV quality. Bad guys, a rapper and his sidekick, who also are drug dealers, have supposedly had the lead prosecutor in their heroin dealing case kidnapped and murdered.
WASHINGTON – Jonathan Luna, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore whose bloody body was found in rural Pennsylvania, had been stabbed 36 times and may have been tortured before he was thrown into a rural creek to drown, officials said Friday.
Luna’s body was discovered near the town of Ephrata, south of Reading, Pa., Thursday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court in Baltimore, 70 miles away, in the case of a rapper accused of running a violent heroin ring.
At some Internet forums, commenters are already calling for the death penalty for the drug dealing rapper, Deon Smith, and his associate, Walter Poindexter – if they willing to allow a trial. But, there is a problem – this movie of the week storyline that appeals to many people’s preconceptions may not be true.
It now appears Luna’s involvement in a seedy sex and the Internet underlife may be the key to his death.
But, the volatile reputation of hip hop has been supported by an ongoing series of attacks and killings by rappers and their associates, often within the hip hop elite. People who don’t know Will Smith from Jay-Z are aware of the East Coast/West Coast rappers’ feud. Equally damaging is the fact that hip hop clubs and concerts are clearly associated with violence in many cities.
Olsen observes that hip hop has yet to penetrate beyond youth and relative youth markets in regard to sales.
Yet for many people, especially Middle Americans 35 and older, rap and hip-hop (the music underneath the rap, and the broader lifestyle) still seem as alien as Mars.
Until hip hop cleans up its house, I suspect those visitors will continue to stay away.