Social marginalization and its effect on hip-hop

Sean E. McCormick, Staff Writer

As hip-hop moves through its fourth decade in the spotlight, a new generation of leaders rises to the forefront of American politics and media.

Many of these leaders grew up on the genre and are part of the 70 to 75 percent of white individuals who encompassed bulk hip-hop sales. In the same manner that hip-hop served as a bridge between the socially marginalized and a suburban white audience, this generation’s leadership has the ability to return the favor.

Many scholars and activists fear that hip-hop was only a passing fad for the generation who now possesses the institutional power to addresses the social marginalization experienced by impoverished communities. Furthermore, fans are frustrated with a lack of socially conscious artists like the ones who connected them with the struggles of socially marginalized communities.

Corporate interests like Atlantic, Sony and Def Jam appear more concerned with profits than meaningful content, and these companies have curved the culture toward a limited definition of success. Wealth, power and reckless behavior have become the norm.

Disassociated from the effects of their choices, many hip-hop artists have embodied a masculinity that prioritizes personal gain over concern for the well-being of others.

This limited masculinity has been projected as misogynistic, violent, and primal, yet fans of hip-hop will eagerly cite examples of beautiful, complex and colorful depictions as well. The shift from a socially conscious persona as seen by the work of hip-hop’s cultural predecessors such as Gary Byrd, Stevie Wonder and Gil-Scott Heron, to a more capitalistic aesthetic —which engages in the sociopathic pursuit of wealth— has polarized supporters of the genre.

This genre’s performance stands in opposition to hip-hop’s cultural predecessors, particularly the blues, which was an invitation for “men to be vulnerable, to express true feelings, to break open their hearts and expose them.”

Bell Hooks said it is “a music of resistance to the patriarchal notion that a real man should never express genuine feelings.”

Imani Perry notes the relationship between social marginalization and misogynistic gender performances in hip-hop.

“Social marginalization often leads to an insensitivity to the concerns of other groups, and even other members of one’s own group,” Perry said. “Understanding this, our witness of black violence and misogyny should provoke analysis and alarm more than offense.”

Hip-hop both performs and exposes the flawed value system that underlies the masculine archetypes upheld in America. This masculinity is perpetuated by artists who perform that role, but also by consumers’ choices, the submissive ideals of mainstream femininity, and corporate leadership without ethical standards. This collusion of responsibility produces unsustainable gender and race relations.

Artists that transcend this static definition of masculinity restore hip-hop to its former state of ideological fluidity. History shows that when a single person transgresses these restrictive archetypes to love, the lives of socially marginalized communities are fundamentally altered for the better.

As a new generation takes its place at the helm of American politics and media, they will have the opportunity to use their knowledge regarding socially marginalized communities to enact meaningful change.

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