A Brief History Lesson in Hip Hop: The Commercialisation of Hyper-masculinity.

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When Hip Hop began it was shunned by those in positions authority. Before it’s commercialisation, it spoke out against the conditions in which people were forced to live, and gave a creative outlet to disjointed communities. By the 1990s, thanks to the movement’s increasing popularity, music industry big-wigs realised that they could capitalise on “gangsta rap”.

Unlike the original themes of Hip Hop, this branch of rap focused on glorifying violence and the objectification of women. Gaye Theresa Johnson referred to this as “Hyper-masculinity”. A form of rap that would put the figure of the Alpha-Male on a pedestal, surrounded by money and half-naked women – instead of focusing in on harsh depictions of reality.

50 cent – P.I.M.P feat. Snoop Dogg

This form of Hip Hop was to be marketed at a new fan base: white males.

Greg Tate argued in The Village Voice that this commercialisation of Hip Hop is a solely negative phenomenon. He stated that:

“what we call hiphop is now inseparable from what we call the hip hop industry, in which the nouveau riche and the super-rich employers get richer”

It is this difference that has caused some older fans of the genre to loose faith in it; over the years it has changed and adapted so much that it has seemingly lost sight of the core values that many people were drawn in by in the first place.

Manthia Diawara argues against this. In his book In Search of Africa, he writes that the:

“worldwide spread of hip hop as a market revolution” is actually global “expression of poor people’s desire for the good life,” and that it “also reveals the need to go beyond such struggles and celebrate the redemption of the black individual through tradition.”

Therefore the current version of Hip Hop is a response to the changing challenges that people face in a modern society. Their hardships may not be the same as the ones depicted in “traditional” Hip Hop, so now the aspirational messages portrayed in the genre have a deeper resonance.

Arguably, Hip Hop is less authentic than it originally was, with political messages few and far between. With the increase in uber-wealthy rappers who also venture into other businesses we can see a stronger sense of aspirationalism. Rappers such as Kanye West and Jay Z have established themselves as savvy businessmen as well as talented artists, thus giving young black people strong, physical embodiments of success to aspire to.

While this new wave of aspirationalism is indeed a positive outcome from the commercialisation of Hip Hop, the Alpha Male image is one that feeds on misogyny. Next time I’ll be taking a look at how this New Wave of Hip Hop has impacted on Female Hip Hop artists, and how they are remaining true to themselves in this male-dominated culture.