#ADTV Talking Point: “Does Violence In Hip-Hop Affect The Genre As An Art Form”



Words By Magdalene Abraha

Despite its trajectory from a lower class subculture to a worldwide movement, Hip-Hop has still failed to be recognized as a respected art form. Of course it is easy to claim that the reason for this is due to the fact that it is rooted within the African American struggle against white America. However as I shall go on to explain the race card does not quite work here.

Rapper Ice-T’s documentary ‘The Art of Rap’ brings to light the fact that Jazz like Hip-Hop is also rooted in the ‘black man’s struggle’ and yet remains a respected art form.

So why isn’t Hip Hop revered in the same way?

The reasons behind the perception of Hip-Hop are therefore more complex than it simply being a matter of colour. Now, I’m not ignoring the fact that racial context has its part to play in the representation of Hip Hop, there is just a lot more to it than this.

In 2006 David Cameron asked Radio 1 in reference to Tim Westwood’s radio show

‘Do you realise some of the stuff you play on Saturday nights encourages people to carry guns and knives?’

Whilst this question appears naively structured and rather ignorant it still highlights the commonly held view of Hip-Hop as a musical genre engulfed by violence.  It is no secret that violence is frequently mentioned in rap music but I am not convinced that this means it shouldn’t be seen as a respected art form.

With the success of gangster rap group NWA the sub-genre of gangster rap dominated the Hip-Hop scene in the 1980’s. Don’t worry; I am not a deluded Hip-Hop fan. I won’t attempt to argue that gangster rap groups such as NWA did not depict violence in their music nor will I try to provide watered down explanations for their violent lyrics; that would be stupid. Particularly when considering that portraying violence was the very point of their music. Before I make my point  it is critical to remember that Hip-Hop like many art forms stems from attempting to provide a voice for the voiceless and to some extent this was what NWA were doing. They were merely reflecting the social situation in Compton in the 80′s and 90’s.

‘Usually you have no voice; no one can hear you scream’ so ‘we can take all that pain and frustration and scream it’.   ICE CUBE

Through songs such as ‘Fuck tha Police’ and ‘Straight outta  Compton’ the gangster rap group sought to tell their story of life in Compton and exposed police brutality to the mainstream.  Dr Dre famously explained that NWA were almost taking on the role of “news reporters” informing people of what they saw on their streets through their music.  Many viewed and continue to view NWA and the wave of gangster rap music that emerged in the 1980’s as “aggressive, nihilistic, black, militant rage” and would argue that this robbed Hip-Hop of its respectability. To me it is as simple as this; the nature of gangster rap is negative as it is reflecting a negative situation. Hip-Hop came from the streets and therefore makes sense that it reflects what happens on the streets.

‘Everybody wants to come down on us, “You got a responsibility to the kids.” .. We got a responsibility to the kids to tell the truth.’ ICE CUBE

Antithetically, Hip-Hop fan and President of the United States Barack Obama made a very good point when   being questioned about Hip-Hop:

 ‘Hip-Hop is not just a mirror of what is. It should also be a reflection of what can be’

Obama’s standpoint brings another argument to light. Perhaps in order to gain the respect as an art form the violence present in Hip-Hop should be subverted to a didactic message to combat violence present within some American communities?  Personally however I have to disagree with Mr Obama on this one.

“Art does not solve problems but makes us aware of their existence. It opens our eyes to see and our brain to imagine” Magdalena Abakanowicz

If the violence present within Hip-Hop music legitimatises it not being respected as an art form then many other ‘respected’ music genres should be stripped of this very title. In Michael Moore’s satirical book ‘Stupid White Men’ he recites the violent lyrics of Johnny Cash “I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die” and Bruce Springsteen “I killed everything in my path/I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done” yet it would be unthinkable to claim that Springsteen or Cash were not respectable artists right?  We are much faster to deem the likes of Ice Cube and Tupac as being violent and militant. Both Ice Cube and Tupac have released music that contains violence but have also have penned lyrics that calls for unity among the black community and pays homage to females.

Hip-Hop is an art and deserves the right to respected as an art form. The definition of art often arouses controversy with one school of thought going as far as claiming that art cannot be defined. What is clear about art is it is in part an expression and reflection of human emotion and experiences. Surely then the fact that Hip-Hop music portrays violence is part of what would make it a ‘respectable’ art form.  Art is a product of freedom, freedom of expression it therefore should not be censored and should reflect life in its entirety, the good, bad and the ugly.

Do you agree with Magdalene talking point? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on twitter @AmaruDonTV @MrAmaru







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