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Isabella McShane

Professor Mora
Children, Youth and Inequities
Identity and Conforming
From the moment DJ Kool Herc performed the break, people in the room felt
that it was going to be something big and something more than just a fad. In an
interview DJ Kool Herc says, It wasnt a black thing, it was a we thing. DJ Kool
Hercs statement had some truth in the fact that hip hop transcended cultures other than
black culture. In this paper I argue that black culture and French culture adopted hip-hop
to define their social identities by means of defiance against oppressive political
institutions and by conforming to hip-hops gender and race depiction.
During the 1970s, political and economic hits to black youth in the Bronx were
catalysts for hip-hop artists to voice the concerns of their community and this shaped the
ideologies of some of the hip-hop community. For example, during this time period, the
economy was weak and that worsened the situation for some Black youth in the Bronx.
In the comic book Hip-Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor mentions that the first politically
conscious song was How We Gonna Make a Black Nation Rise by Brother D (with
collective effort). Some see this as a social turning point for hip-hop because this song
talks about issues such as high unemployment, appalling housing conditions and how
New York has become a police state. In doing so, this created a new social identity for
Black youth. Laurie Rudman, a social psychologist, attempts to explain that Blacks, or
any other minorities, subconsciously try to make sense of their inferior status by taking

in societies critical observation of their community (80). For example, the Asian
minority causes some Black youth to believe that they do not have the ability to
overcome certain economic obstacles and in turn this allows Black youth to justify their
position of why they do not do well based on societys standards. Hip-hop provided
youth a way to challenge the oppressive institutions and be consciously aware of the
issues that ravage their community. In a time of economic downturn and continued
marginalization it makes sense that hip-hop was a tool to create a new political social
Even though hip-hop seems progressive by giving a voice to those who would
otherwise not have one, for some Black youth in West Oakland or the Bronx, hip-hop
has kept a hegemonic tone of a patriarchal society mixed with ideals of Black
masculinity and hyper sexualized men and women. In Blackophilia and Blackophobia,
Bill Yousman acknowledged that, the articulation of misogyny, homophobia, and
violent behavior with Black masculinity,(p. 380) are often depicted within the lyrics of
commercialized hip-hop elements such as rap. For Black male youth, certain rap songs
depict males as having masculinity based on their wealth and their affiliation with drugs
and violence. An example would be Kendrick Lamars song, Alright because it shows
how drugs and violence surround Black youth. For Black women, most females are seen
as sexual objects. An example would be Nicki Minaj because she is a skilled lyricist yet
she still has to resort to her body to make herself be seen and heard. Her predicament
reinforces the patriarchal society that we live in. Hip-hop in America is a mostly maledominated culture that encourages competition between different males based on
masculinity but this also causes girls to be seen as sexual objects.

French rappers used their everyday life in order to rap a story about their
struggles in le ghetto. The French ghettos are a strong comparison to the American
ghettos because of the similarity that both cities have become hot spots of poverty,
crime, and drugs. According to Prvos, the gangsta rap style of the United States never
gained popularity in France because armed gangs and violent drug-dealing gangs in
France are still very rare. (719) Compared to Black rappers, French rappers are much
more focused when it comes to exclaiming their opposition to the social hierarchy and to
political and economic oppression. In the movie, La Haine, there are many aspects of
hip-hop such as graffiti and DJing that is prevalent and used to express their political
opinions. For example, in the beginning of the movie, Sad expresses his disdain for the
police by using graffiti to tag the police car and to say, Fuck the police.
One of the struggles in La Haine was the characters inability to escape the
ghettos because they would always end up conforming and resorting to deviant ways
like dealing drugs or resorting to violence as an answer. Prvos predicts that, They are
kept outside because of forces within the societal mainstream or because of their own
inability to correct the negative image they project. (717) For example, Hubert talks
about how he wishes to escape the ghetto and violence but with the limited education
and limited means he has, he goes back to dealing drugs and doing drugs. When all three
of them go to the art museum, they have a hard time socializing with the privileged
Parisians and Sad even resorts to almost slapping one of the women. The museum
scene not only shows how youth from impoverished places have a difficult time
escaping their economic and social situation but it also shows how they have to conform
to societal views.

Seeing all the influences that American hip-hop has had on cultures abroad, it
has shown that DJ Kool Hercs statement, It wasnt a black thing, it was a we thing,
resonated throughout this essay. When he talked about hip-hop being a we thing, he
did not mean that it was about solely bridging cultures, it was also about bridging
people together in the communities. This should be a wake up call to society to say
that we are not done with all of our social issues. We all may agree on the corruption
of our own institutions but rapping about it only brings a sense of awareness. The
only way to fix the oppressive and patriarchal institutions is to come together as one
cohesive unit.

Works Cited
Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy."
Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. By Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur.
Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 25-48. Print.
Haenfler, Ross. Introduction. Goths, Gamers, and Grrrls: Deviance and Youth
Subcultures. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 1-13. Print.
La Haine. Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz. Perf. Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kound, and Sad
Taghmaoui. Canal+, 1995. Film.
Lamar, Kendrick. Alright. To Pimp a Butterfly. Interscope, 2015. CD
Piskor, Ed. Hip-Hop Family Tree. Vol. 1. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2013. Print.
Prvos, Andr J. M. "The Evolution of French Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture in the
1980s and 1990s." The French Review 69.5 (1996): 713-25. JSTOR. Web. 07
July 2015.
Yousman, B. "Blackophilia and Blackophobia: White Youth, the Consumption of Rap
Music, and White Supremacy." Communication Theory 13.4 (2003): 366-91.