culture becomes a world-wide language for youth resistance,
according to UC Berkeley course
Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs
middle-class parents thought it was just a fad when their teenagers
started wearing jeans that sagged below their hips in imitation
of hip-hop culture. But the fad did not pass.
almost 30 years after hip-hop got its start in the black urban
scene of the 1970s, this complex, riveting mixture of sound,
rhythm, dress, attitude and poetics has become a universal,
underground culture for youth resistance around the globe, according
to a new course on the sociology of hip-hop being taught at
the University of California, Berkeley.
year, rap - one of four components of hip-hop culture - became
the top-selling music genre in America.
has become a global culture," said Halifu Osumare, a lecturer
in African American Studies at UC Berkeley, who teaches "Power
Moves: Hip-hop Culture and Sociology."
began in black and Latino American communities, but you can't
go to any youth culture in any capital city on the globe today
where you won't find rappers talking about their marginalization
using similar lyrics, similar music and similar dress,"
has found, in research on hip-hop cultures in Japan, England,
France and Germany, that youths in each region adapt American
patterns to their own demographics.
London, marginalized East Indian youth blend Indian melodies
and Hindi with English rap as a street form of protest.
Paris, poor Jewish, Middle Eastern and West African youth coming
out of the projects use hip-hop styles and rap to talk about
their poverty and police brutality, as exemplified in a current
French video called "La Haine" (hate) shown in Osumare's
In Japan, female hip-hoppers use the genre to defy gender restrictions
has become a universal tool for talking back to the mainstream
of any society," said Osumare, adding that hip-hoppers
communicate regional news through their lyrics on CDs, not only
between communities in the United States, but with youth in
Tokyo, London and Paris.
the very success of this genre has created something of a schism
in hip-hop culture, according to Osumare and one of her teaching
assistants, Michael Barnes, a UC Berkeley graduate student in
sociology who is also a disc jockey.
underground rappers are drowned out by the mass appeal and commercialization
of the big-time, best-selling artists, some of whom are marketing
a gangster persona with songs that focus on wealth, possessions
and crime, often with a misogynistic attitude toward women,
the "gangsta" style arose in New York, Philadelphia
and Los Angeles in the early 1990s as an authentic expression
of the grinding poverty, mass unemployment and prison experience
of ghetto youth, Barnes believes it has been appropriated in
recent years by "studio playas" (players), who don't
come from that background and are in it only for the money.
guys are ultra capitalists who glorify materialism," said
Barnes. "Whether these playas are as rich as they say they
are is up for debate, but they definitely appeal to the outlaw,
anti-establishment tendencies of American culture, and the music
industry capitalizes on that.
can't tell in the beginning if a studio player comes from poverty,
as he claims, but if he becomes famous, he can't hide it, and
authenticity matters. It certainly does."
you hear songs not just criticizing the establishment, but calling
people (other rappers) out, saying, 'This isn't right for hip-hop
culture,'" said Barnes. "'Fine. You're making money,
but what are you going to do for the community?'"
is incredibly diverse," said Barnes. "More underground
artists are doing substantive, in-depth social criticism, and
you're starting to see more youth-based movements based on hip-hop."
said the activism of hip-hop culture shows itself when a large
number of artists, as many as 20, come together to put out an
entire album on specific issues such as the up-coming "Hip-Hop
for Respect" album, done in reaction to the Amadou Diallo
shooting in New York; "Mumia 911," dedicated to Mumia
Abu-Jamal, who is on death row in Philadelphia; or "America
is Dying Slowly," an album on the ravages of AIDS in the
Only by listening to their music do outsiders know what is going
on with urban black youth or, recently, with Asian youth, Latino
youth or the youth of any other ethnicity, he said.
kind of activism was very apparent one recent afternoon among
the 145 students in UC Berkeley's hip-hop and sociology class.
with breakdancers, graffiti artists, rappers and DJs (the four
groups within hip-hop culture), the class vibrates with the
personal experience of the students and their politics, particularly
regarding criminal justice reform. Statistics about U.S. prisons
flew around the room.
has the second largest prison population in the world,"
announced one student. "America is first."
prisons and only one university have been built in California
since 1984," said another.
are 2 million Americans in prison," said a third. "That
is twenty-five percent of the world's prison population."
students are active on the issues," said Osumare. "They
already know more than I do about some of these topics, and
they are out there trying to do something about it. I tell them
they should be proud of their work here and their activist consciousness."