Hip Hop And The Black Social Movements In America

Hip Hop music is a world­wide phe­nomen­on, how­ever it is imper­at­ive to trace the ori­gins of the music and how it spe­cific­ally inter­re­lated to the injustices of black Amer­ica through its polit­ic­al under­tones. Such ele­ments of the Hip Hop cul­ture have been iden­ti­fied with prom­in­ent black move­ments from the 1960s and 70s which pro­moted an essence of Black Nation­al­ism.  Hip-hop merged the two power­ful forms of Black art; poetry and jazz and it has provided a form­a­tion of iden­tity for many Afric­an Amer­ic­an youth who are strug­gling around issues of man­hood and woman­hood. Black Amer­ica had been denied their cul­ture by white suprem­acy; how­ever the Hip Hop move­ment had devised one that would uni­ver­sally encour­age Black pride and empath­ise with troubles they faced.

After the fail­ure and decline of such move­ments, it is the power­ful, influ­en­tial and rebel­li­ous music that seeks to rein­force Black Nation­al­ism, unity and sig­ni­fy the struggle. The Black Power move­ment of the 1960s was the ini­tial hope of demo­cracy for Black Amer­ica. It was a polit­ic­al move­ment for Afric­ans world­wide how­ever it had a pro­found rel­ev­ance for the Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, who suffered social and racial out-cast­ing. panthers_21demoFor the first time the Black race were able to embrace them­selves and be treated as equal cit­izens. Black cit­izens in Amer­ica were able to acknow­ledge their her­it­age openly. Although there was some increase of racial unity this did not stop racism, and in many cases black cit­izens were still treated unequally. Solu­tions to these prob­lems that Black Power Move­ment advoc­ates put into action often lead to the use of guns as a means of self-defence.  

The main aim of the Black Power Move­ment was to embrace the black race and their col­our, to give self-defin­i­tion and finally put an end to inter­n­al­ised racism. In her book Out­law Cul­ture, Bell Hooks speaks about how the Black Power Move­ment chal­lenged the black people to exam­ine the impact of white suprem­acy. White beauty stand­ards were the ideal in Amer­ica, and because of this “intern­al­ized racism” was an issue with­in Black com­munit­ies. It was this devalu­ation of Black­ness that the Black Power Move­ment had polit­ic­ally addressed. Pri­or to this noth­ing was ever chal­lenged when a dark­er skinned black per­son had been treated unfairly to a light­er skinned black per­son. How­ever Hooks notes that as the Black people were giv­en the free­dom and equal rights to become as suc­cess­ful as white people, the devalu­ation of black­ness emerged again, “once again the fate of black folks res­ted with white power. If a black per­son wanted a job and found it easi­er to get it if she or he did not wear a nat­ur­al hair­style, this was per­ceived by many to be a legit­im­ate reas­on to change.” It is clear that the revolu­tion­ary struggle for black self-esteem still plays a big role, although now addressed by Hip Hop artists, who embrace the black race. Dur­ing the Black Power Move­ment many Hip Hop founders were being born or grow­ing up through it. Hip hop cul­ture emerged from an era that was suf­fer­ing from the dis­ap­point­ment of power­ful social move­ments. Although there was some pro­gress there was a sense of depres­sion sur­round­ing the most oppressed.


The rebel­lions of many had meant that the need for power­ful nation­al­ist lead­ers was vital and a close ana­logy can be drawn with many of the earli­er hip hop artists who voiced the repressed anger that Black Amer­ica was facing. Although many argue that a hip hop artist are enter­tain­ers and not lead­ers, Michael Eric Dys­on notes that “such a view over­looks the urgent spir­itu­al crisis passed on to hip hop gen­er­a­tion by older black gen­er­a­tions. It also slights the ini­ti­at­ive and ingenu­ity of poor black youth who filled a lead­er­ship vacu­um with artist­ic expres­sion.”  Hip-Hop is a branch of the Black arts move­ment, which has improved the mes­sage and has brought much needed dia­logue to issues affect­ing Amer­ica’s Black com­munity in a man­ner that no pop­u­lar art form has, prompt­ing Pub­lic Enemy’s Chuck D to refer to hip-hop as the “CNN” of the Black com­munity. The Black Arts Movement’s main goal was to cre­ate polit­ic­ally engaged work that explored the black cul­ture and his­tory. Through its ref­er­ence of the social con­di­tions of Black people and its abil­ity to guide its listen­ers through the con­tem­por­ary prob­lems of urb­an life, Hip Hop is more than just art, like the Black Arts Move­ment it too is polit­ic­ally act­ive.

Pub­lic Enemy was a rap group that encour­aged a new wave of sup­port for Black Nation­al­ism and Afro­centrism. In 1988 they released “Party For Your Right To Fight” which was a song about black prerog­at­ive and a power­ful, explan­a­tion of the Black Pan­ther Party for self-defence. With a sub­vers­ive title it was a response to white rock-rap group Beast­ie Boys party anthem “Fight For Your Right To Party” and illus­trates the power­ful, polit­ic­al and nation­al­ist ele­ments that rap had to offer. Hip Hop’s act­ive nature repro­duced con­tem­por­ary Black Nation­al­ism. Many of these artists had grown up through past revolu­tions or had par­ents who were act­ive dur­ing them which inspired them.

An artist who had a revolu­tion­ary back­ground was Tupac Shak­ur whose moth­er Afeni Shak­ur was a mem­ber of The Black Pan­thers. Tupac had polit­ic­al dia­logue in his music that reflec­ted nation­al­ism. He lived between what he labelled as “Thug Life” and his revolu­tion­ary ambi­tion which was sparked from his upbring­ing. Not only did Tupac rein­force the nation­al­ism that was with­in him he took a dif­fer­ent approach to the failed revolu­tion­ar­ies of the past. His com­pre­hen­sion of past act­iv­ists allowed him to real­ise the import­ant social respons­ib­il­ity that came with the art of Hip Hop and used his music as a mes­sage to raise mor­al issues. To sur­vive through the depres­sion of the after­math of the Black social move­ments in Amer­ica, and chal­lenge white suprem­acy, Hip Hop artists had imme­di­ately under­taken the role of the mes­sen­ger, in which they delivered polit­ic­al dia­logue, rein­forced an image of Black Nation­al­ism and Pride. This gave hope for Black Amer­ica, allowed them to polit­ic­ally address the situ­ation they were in, and learn­ing from the faults of pre­vi­ous move­ments, find a way to suc­cess­fully attain Black lib­er­a­tion.


The Hip-Hop gen­er­a­tion is a product of Afric­an Amer­ic­an his­tory, and an inven­tion of a Black cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion that rein­forced Black Nation­al­ism and Black pride and provided Black Amer­ica with tal­en­ted con­tem­por­ary lead­ers who voiced the struggle they were facing. Its supreme impact comes from the fact that it has encour­aged a pro­found Nation­al­ism in Black Amer­ica.

So with artists that have been known for their music­al voice such as The Last Poets, Grand­mas­ter Flash, KRS-One, Pub­lic Enemy (and many many more), and the break dan­cers and artists that allowed their move­ment and spray can to speak, Hip Hop was alive, and still is alive in a soci­ety that has used it to battle injustices glob­ally.


Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhali­w­al

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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