Musical accompaniments, of a minimal nature, were typically of a percussive ostinato and punctuated by an occasional guitar or bass chord. Rappers, while speaking to the rhythm of the music, would “pingpong” with each other all the elements found in good poetry— metaphors (an image that suggests something else), similes (“like” or “as” comparisons), analogies (showing similarities between unlike things), alliterations (repeating of the same first sound in a line of poetry), and creative allegories (a story within a story). Typical themes concerned their life experiences, anguishes, and relationships. Later themes expanded to include political, environmental, and social messages.
Professor X (Lumumba Carson) straddled the time period between non-violent rap and the rap that emphasized gangster life. Yet, the business can be dangerous. Killings—e.g. Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G.—two of hip-hop’s biggest stars—and Jam Master Jay— may result from unpaid debts to anger over who discovered or first signed up a protégé.
The late 1980s and the 1990s produced hip-hop artists who infused their music with a serious dose of hard-edged social commentary and political content. Professor X followed the tradition of the Last Poets, a collective that formed out of the Harlem Writers Workshop in the 1960s. He went on to produce politically charged recordings that some say was a precursor of today’s Rap. He called for Blacks to stand up for themselves in the face of injustice; made tributes to Black heroes and heroines; and gave messages to uplift Blacks through self-awareness and historical knowledge. Blacks were literally inspired to go out and do something to change their communities. His group—wearing the colors of Black Nationalism: red, black, and green—had a philosophy that was a call to action for Blacks to “clean up our home” and to see that Blacks are in control of their own destiny. On the negative side GANGSTA RAP emphasized the use of taboo language to describe drugs, sex, violence, and degrading attitudes toward the opposite sex, policemen, and other races. Many Whites have taken to these grim, lurid, and hostile lyrics as part of having a “safe” vicarious experience in the dark side of inner city life.
Just as the elders have a world view sense of how things fit and the problems caused when something does not fit, Rappers and their audiences have a sense of when someone is “real” or not. The great enemy of effective and clear language is insincerity— and Black people are very sensitive to this. When one is not “real”, one tries to use words and arranges words in ways to which the people cannot relate because it is coming from “the head” and not from “the heart”. Rap music causes Blacks to feel their existence more powerfully and from a greater perspective of significance. Like good poetry, Rap stirs people to feel alive to do things and react to things and be things and create things and change things. A few Rappers have made a fortune and a percentage of those are wisely using that money to make money in other businesses.
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