Hip Hop in Street Organizations
How can we understand the gang phenomenon today without analyzing the meaning of gangsta-rap?
Rap and hip hop have become cultures of rebellion, which testify to the creation of a powerful global identity based on street experiences full of other meanings, contradictions and an intense cultural struggle. Hagedorn, who probably represents the most accredited voice for a global vision of gangs (Brotherton, 2011), is the first to deal with conviction with music production as a characterizing element of street organizations.
The cultural roots of hip hop: from gangs to “old school rap”
This street culture is made up of four different elements: MCing (the Master Ceremony rapping), DJing (the art of spinning records and scratching), break dance (or B-boying, a kind of dance ” freestyle “) and writing (or the art of making graffiti). The origins date back to the mid-seventies and are the same as Kool Herc and Africa Bambaata, progenitors of the movement and today icons for young people of all latitudes. Legend has it that the same term hip hop was coined one night while the two competed playing cymbals in a Bronx club.
The biographies of these two artists allow us to highlight two elements of great importance: the cultural and environmental proximity to the world of gangs , of which hip hop is historically even a “product”; its proximity to the world of graffiti writinг, an art form that was born in parallel in the New York of the seventies. There is no historical reconstruction that fails to underline this proximity: the young people of the gangs of the metropolis of the late seventies were the audience of the first parties conducted by a Master Ceremony. Hip hop style, in simple terms, was born in the Bronx.
Dynamics of recovery: the entry of cultural industries into the hip hop world
Hip hop historiography clearly distinguishes two eras: the “old school” (1975-1983) and the “golden age” (1983-1994). The latter refers to the enormous economic success achieved by the artists in vogue in that decade, when, at the turn of the eighties, Manhattan was the scene of an incredible cultural explosion. Hip hop was the undisputed star. The unstoppable popularity of MC parties and contests attracted not only thousands of young African Americans seeking a way out of the spiral of gang violence, but also the aims of the most forward-thinking entrepreneurs.
Until 1979, the only documentation on hip hop was still made up of clandestine cassettes or tapes distributed to friends or kids who went around with giant radio recorders (Toop, 1992). But in the 1980s, the music industry majors ” discovered the presence of potential white consumers of black music: Rap went from being published by independent ‘black labels’ to co-opting into big business ” (Pipitone, 2010, p. .ninety two). The huge investments of the American culture industry transformed rap from an underground music genre to a mainstream phenomenon with a huge following in suburban America. The importance of the power of money and the illusion of success among young rappers was also the beginning of a clash between trends and currents within the movement.
The other side of gangsta rap
The gangsta style has actually accompanied hip hop since its inception. We saw how gang culture was one with the African American youth of the Bronx of the 1970s. Artists such as Schooly D (considered the first gangsta rapper in the world), Just Ice, Cipress Hill or Public Enemy and his ” fight the power” testify to the presence of a rap from the very beginning socially engaged in denouncing the serious problems that afflicted black America: drugs, imprisonment, police brutality and the continuous perpetuation of the action of criminal organizations (Pipitone, 2012). Listening to the albums of these artists, the idea of a street culture oriented solely towards violence and self-destruction is unable to explain the complexity of the sensations received: the texts actually seem to openly claim spaces of autonomy from a system perceived as unfair and oppressive. like those of Public Enemy or Just Ice, coming as Bambaata from the Bronx of the late seventies, allow us to highlight an element of enormous importance: the criminal undergrowth of the years in which the hip hop also had a strong political component capable of shaping the attitude of street youth.
Hip hop culture, since its inception, has also been a “container” for the practice of break dance and graffity. The most visible clue to the existence of a rap movement is often the signs traced on the walls and furnishings of our cities, or the spectacular acrobatics of the breakers.
The birth of graffiti can be dated between the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies. Hip hop historiography claims that the movement began at the hands of a seventeen-year-old who signed himself Taki 183, the Greek diminutive of Demetrius. Demetrius begins to write his tag almost everywhere, with a particular fondness for the subway and trains in general. When the name of Taki 183 appeared in the “New York Times“, the writer movement begins to spread on a large scale: challenging each other to make the biggest and most dangerous tag became a rampant mania.
The most interesting aspect, which will positively influence the whole hip hop world, is the multicultural character that the writer movement immediately assumes. The drawings are characterized by having no neighborhood or – above all – race, and the subway trains painted in each carriage cross the whole city. Styles and cultures can intertwine and influence each other.