Not Just Music

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Nas (left) and Dr. Dre (right) have revolutionized the Golden Age, Gangsta, and modern age of rap with positive imprints on society.

Hip-hop has evolved from a vessel for the voices of the unheard minority groups in the United States to an invaluable aspect of pop culture that has swept the world.

When Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” mainstreamed hip-hop in 1979, talented lyricists were encouraged to educate the nation of the underclass.

In “The Message,” Melle Mel raps of surviving a ghetto “jungle” where young men were “used and abused” by “smugglers, scramblers, burglars, [and] gamblers.”

Mid-1980s “Golden Age” rappers like Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. and Rakim, and KRS-One used complex wordplay to shed light on experiences enduring drugs, gangs, and poverty on their paths to success.

They also addressed the common uneasiness higher classes felt when associating themselves with urban people.

In “Fear of a Black Planet,” Chuck D advocates coexistence with “peace and love on this planet” claiming it was “how God planned it.”

“Rappers tell of their people’s struggles and sacrifices through music,” Eric “EB3” Barrier III, son of Golden Age hip-hop icon Eric B. and up-and-coming lyricist himself, says. “They act as the ambassadors of the urban lifestyle to let the world know how proud they are of their background.”

Even the heavily-criticized 1990s gangsta rap era left a positive imprint on society.

Nas’s acclaimed “Illmatic” album discussed social pressures in crack-stricken New York and 2Pac’s “Dear Mama” revealed the underlying emotions and motivations of urban “thugs.”

Today, hip-hop has gained a far larger influence.

Dr. Dre’s $3.2 billion transaction with Apple in May for his Beats Electronics shows how rap legends turned business moguls can utilize their platforms as successful recording artists to prosper on a much grander scale in different economic fields.

Sean “Diddy” Combs and 50 Cent have multiple entertainment groups, restaurants, clothing lines, and corporate sponsorships under their names.  Jay-Z is a minority owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and has his own record label and sports management agency.  Kanye West is an accomplished film director and a controversial, yet respected fashion designer.

Hip-hop’s audience has grown to include all different races, and rappers in the United States come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, be it Korean, Armenian, German, or Mexican.

“It’s a blessing, to walk into my son’s basketball game, and to hear all the students rapping along [to hip-hop],” says Rodney Taylor, a former signee of Death Row Records. “It shows you how much we’ve influenced this world.”

Furthermore, hip-hop has permeated cultures throughout the globe.  The emergence of East Asian and European rap has taken the art of hip-hop to new heights.

Chinese rap pioneered by MC HotDog and Da Xi Men introduced shuōchàng, or narrative singing combined with flow and modern culture.  J-rap was influenced by MCs Busy Bee and Double Trouble and focuses on “transforming the slogans of politicians and economic reformers into a language and style appropriate to today’s Japanese youth.”  Korean hip-hop is carried by Drunken Tiger’s The Movement Crew (Dynamic Duo, Epik High, Leessang, Drunken Tiger, Eun Ji-Won, and Tasha Reid) and PSY’s insane international Gangnam Style sensation.

“It drives me even more to make a contribution to the hip-hop culture when I see how prominent it has become,” says Barrier. “It’s everywhere.”

The ubiquity of the hip-hop culture in our present society is unbelievable.  Dreadlocked athletes, urban movie themes, and a President who represents black nationalism and pride show that hip-hop values govern much of today’s major professional sports and Hollywood’s film industries, and, with Obama’s administration, even influence our nation’s politics.