During my senior year in High School, I completed a major project that investigated Hip-Hop as a medium of social commentary for minority groups. If you’d like a deeper look into the contents of today’s blog, I highly recommend taking the time to read that article. This blog will act almost as a sequel to it and examine some of the latest examples of Hip-Hop’s power for social change across countries.
Hip-Hop began in the boroughs of New York during the 1970’s, enabling the African-American community to respond to the systemic silencing by institutional powers (Deshazier, 2017). Over time, Hip-Hop has become global and allowed individuals of different ethnicities and genders to provide a social commentary of important issues within their own environment. Here are three examples from the U.S, U.K and Australia that either occurred after my major project or I didn’t get a chance to discuss.
The most recent demonstration of Hip-Hop as a social commentary within America can be seen in the release of Rapsody’s third studio album. Eve discusses themes of African-American culture, femininity within Hip-Hop and the impact of many African-American women throughout history. From face value, the album pays homage with the 16 long track list being named after important African-American female figures including Sojourner Truth, Nina Simone, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
Though its unclear whether Eve will have the same influence in Hip-Hop like Kendrick Lamar’s politically driven To Pimp A Butterfly, Eve has already received positive praises and crowned by many as the album of the year. Hip-Hop provided Rapsody a medium to deliver a strong social and political commentary in the form of a full-length project. With the globalisation of the genre, artists around the world have been given a platform that has allowed them to utilise other forms of media to compliment their message.
One of U.K.’s biggest rap stars Stormzy, performed “Blinded By Your Grace” and “Big For Your Boots” at the 2018 Brits. His performance alone says a lot about Hip-Hop’s global dominance, its acknowledgement from larger institutions and position into the mainstream, but the content of his lyrics provide insight into how minority groups perceive Hip-Hop as medium to incite social change. Similar to how artists like Rapsody discusses issues within her cultural proximity, Stormzy rapped about the Grenfell Tower fire and the image of Hip-Hop portrayed in unreliable media sources such as the Daily Mail. While it is a cultural appropriation of sorts, the essence of Hip-Hop thrives in the U.K. scene and is able to create a powerful social commentary on a huge visual platform such as televised award shows that further support the artist’s political and social messages (Vella, 2016).
The mainstream initially resisted the Australian Hip-Hop scene and dubbed the sub-genre ‘skiphop’. However, in recent years the scene has become as diverse as ever and the mainstream is become more and more accepting. Once again, artists have adapted Hip-Hop into their own culture and begun using it to create their own social commentary on the issues involving them and their country history. A.B Original and their song “January 26” spoke about the debate of changing of the Australia Day date. This social commentary was able to create social change with Triple J announcing the official moving of the Hottest 100 from January 26th. Additionally, the city of Fremantle shifted their Australia Day celebrations to January 28 in the same week that A.B. Original’s album Reclaim Australia was released.
Hip-Hop has stemmed many sub-genres that emerge from a “very specific set of local circumstances … and to speak to, and for, marginalised fractions of society” (Adams, 2019). Though beginning in an American setting, artists localise the genre creating new sounds such as Grime, and Hip-Hop has now become a global commodity with the power to provide a social commentary capable of creating social change.
Deshazier J, 2017, ‘Hip-Hop, Job, and the Black Struggle for Being‘, On Being Project, October 23, viewed on August 30, <https://onbeing.org/blog/julian-deshazier-hip-hop-job-and-the-black-struggle-for-being/>.
Ruth Adams (2019) “Home sweet home, that’s where I come from,
where I got my knowledge of the road and the flow from”: Grime music as an expression
of identity in postcolonial London., Popular Music and Society, 42:4, 438-455, DOI:
Vella, R. 2016, ‘Music industry faces digitization challenges, but all is not lost’, ABC News, November 28, viewing on August 30, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-28/why-music-is-not-lost/8055044>.