How it all Started
Gangsta Rap , a sub-genre of rap music inspired by a lifestyle of violent and outlawed gangster, fueled by the taste for money, sex and drugs, often dislikes to public opinion because of its obscenity and vulgarity. Yet in the mid-1980s, through what they called reality rap, some Los Angeles rappers sought to describe their social situation and show difficult living conditions in their neighborhoods. It was at the end of the 1980s, in contact with the music industry, that reality rap became the gangsta rap and that it would obtain a great commercial success in the United States. How to explain the success and popularity of gangsta rap , while the values it carries seem to transgress those of the American society? A look at the socio-historical conditions of production and commodification of gangsta rap .
Because of the attitudes and remarks it highlights and the media visibility obtained through its commercialization, gangsta rap has become a scapegoat for a large part of society to explain violence and deviance morality in the United States. Yet, the famous gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur has already said: “I did not create violence in the United States. I did not invent criminal life. I diagnosed him “(our translation). Despite the diversity of rap music, gangsta rap has , since its emergence, tended to capture and even monopolize political and media attention.However, other sub-genres of rap music, such as conscious or political rap, which denounces inequalities and class and racial exploitation, receive little attention.
To date, rap music has been the subject of much academic research and the target of political and media discourse, which often shows a concern for the stability of public order, accuse rappers of inciting violence and being a threat to US society. The moralizing discourse formulated by these institutions has historically accompanied and justified the implementation of security policies in disadvantaged and segregated neighborhoods where most of the time rapp rappers come. During the 1990s, the War on Gangs , designed to combat criminal gangs and the growth of drug trafficking, will lead to containment policies and of anti-gang police units across the United States. These measures will lead to the filing and incarceration of persons who are victims of racial profiling. Municipal and national databases set up by the FBI and the Department of Justice will grossly and disproportionately incriminate racialized persons, *while the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act), signed by the Governor of California in 1988 , will inspire several cities and states across the country. To date, despite the 2008 election of the first black president in US history, these same so-called security policies maintain the criminalization and massive incarceration of black people, as well as police and state violence against them.
The expression of a “reality”
While the hip-hop movement was born in the New York Bronx in the wake of the economic crisis of the 1970s, the first rap pieces on the west coast of the United States are produced in the city of Los Angeles. Marked by neo-liberal austerity policies (including budget cuts in social programs and the education system) and the persistence of racial segregation and oppression, Los Angeles proliferation of criminal gangs and escalating violence on its streets. To translate their anger and denounce the rise of police violence and political repression, become daily in the lives of many young black Americans, artists like Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre, later members of the group (NWA), are beginning to express themselves and become precursors of what they will call reality rap. By portraying a society that oppresses and excludes them, these artists formulate a critique of American society by appropriating symbols of the dominant culture that they do not really have access to, money or success. NWA also diverts the use of certain codes and elements of the dominant culture, for example by wearing military camouflage uniforms or by borrowing a police aesthetic (rendered by the “Do Not Cross – Police Line” their concerts. However, their descriptive speeches, notably celebrating their altercations with police and gang rivalries, will be articulated in speeches that blame them for social conditions and violence in certain neighborhoods.
” Is not nuthin ‘but a gangsta party “
When, after a while, large record companies and recording studios – largely owned by white men, who control 80% of the music industry – will be attracted by the commercial potential of this music emerging, they will participate in the institutionalization of the hip-hop movement.They will produce artists such as Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, or later 50 Cent, who will become references to what will now be called the gangsta rap . Gangsta rap performed by black men will thus be marketed by an industry that will exploit a stereotyped and fictional entertainment to offer to a wider audience. Gangsta rap , by borrowing the scenery from the underprivileged districts of the United States, is gradually becoming an entertainment for a white public who, attracted by the obscenity and the controversial character of rappers’ attitudes, constitutes the majority of consumers this musical style in the early 1990s. The success and visibility of gangsta rap is also growing thanks to the production of music videos on emerging television channels such as MTV. The rappers thus become actors who personify violence and obscenity in economic networks that take advantage of this imagery.
Conquered by the profitable profit by integrating the music industry and the majors, the gangstarappers produce stories and depoliticized, simplistic and one-dimensional stories. Reiterating the violent and dangerous character of life in certain districts, the staging of the gangsta rap isbased on a black “manufactured” and commoditized “authenticity”, fueled by the taste for excess and excess: money, sex and women, violence, drugs, and ” party life”. By illustrating these elements in videoclips, gangsta rap becomes the spectacle of an apparent threat to the morals and social order of American society. However, rappers do not create these speeches in isolation. Rather, they draw inspiration from the American cultural ideal of masculinity, success, wealth and social success, even going so far as to highlight it. As the philosopher Cornel West points out, “postmodern culture is increasingly a market culture, dominated by gangster mentalities and exuberance.” Thus, the figure of the gangster and the values conveyed by the rappers do not seem so foreign to the dominant American values.
According to the author and activist bell hooks, the staging of blackness in mainstreamchannels would have become entertainment for a predominantly white audience. This author considers that the commodification of black identity in a staged fiction constitutes a form of colonial exploitation that resonates with stigmatizing historical narratives. Indeed, in rap gangsta, rappers are not real gangsters: they are rather inspired by a lifestyle of abundance and excess allowing them to generate profit. Thus, bell hooks explains the commercial success of the gangsta rap by its ability to gather a public around a deviant lifestyle and transgressing a moral order staged by black people. Stuart Hall emphasizes that racial stereotypes, historically accompanied by the creation of a fundamentally different “Other,” persist in maintaining racial domination and power inequalities. The staging of gangsta rappers in deviant activities would borrow these stereotyped historical codes that dehumanize black people (both women and men) and deprive them of complex personalities. According to Ronald L. Jackson II, the exploitation of black bodies is lucrative in market processes which, by staging them, attribute to them a meaning or an image. According to the author, negative projections of black people through market activities constitute a contemporary form of racial exploitation  .
This commercialized image of gangsta rappers will be exploited by a whole commercial network through marketing practices and the production of advertisements of clothes, sodas, fast food and, more globally, by promoting a “cool” lifestyle and nonconformist. However, this consumption in different forms of deviance historically attributed to black people requires no commitment to a complex culture or history. Without, however, prohibiting it, it does not develop any awareness of the social inequalities that gave rise to gangsta rap and does not call into question the social, political and economic order in which these practices take place . Even if some talented rappers get rich in the process, the commodification of their deviance tends to reify the stereotypical myth of the criminal black rapper and the dangerousness of the ghetto.Paradoxically, despite the ubiquity and glorification of criminal behavior, the sexualization of female bodies, and physical strength, money and materialism in film and television, these elements are considered deviations when people blacks seize it.
A binary speech
The gangsta rap is thus articulated to a set of stereotypes and prejudices towards the black persons. Lester K. Spence points out that by reproducing a binary discourse between a “them” (whites) and a “we” (blacks) based on colonial codes, gangsta rappers fail to upset negative beliefs about them and emancipate themselves from the imaginary which creates the conditions of the oppressions which they denounce. Rather, the writer, the speeches of these rappers describing the ghetto as a dangerous place and non-rights, and glorifying their role in the criminal activities that take place there, reinforce the beliefs that they are a threat to the ghetto social order. Thus, by appropriating and valuing the elements of the dominant culture, their stereotypical criticism confirms these beliefs and reproduces the binary thought that establishes natural, insurmountable and problematic differences between races that are socially and historically constructed.
The reproduction and staging of binary thought through violent and misogynous lyrics and video clips have the effect of maintaining the stereotypes of criminality and the incapacity of black people to escape the constraints imposed by their social environment. According to bell hooks, the attribution to gangsta rappers of the responsibility for sexual violence, obsession and deviance, as well as objectivity and non-respect for women, would conceal the systemic violence of white patriarchal and supremacist capitalism , in which white people embody innocence and the norm. According to the author, the so-called stable and non-violent societal order, which these discourse seeks to preserve, would be threatened by deviance manifested and staged by gangsta rappers. However, locating the vices of society in the body of former colonial subjects contributes to the reiteration and maintenance of institutional and systemic racism. In this system, to which the gangsta rap is articulated, the white standard is considered threatened, while the black people tend to be perceived as deviant and threatening.This way of thinking continues today to motivate police intervention and repression in neighborhoods where social inequalities are strongest.
The success of the gangsta rap , understood in its social and historical context of production and commodification, is therefore inseparable from the practices of commodification that accompanied it. The latter helped to conceal the context in which the gangsta rap emerged, and to transform the claims and criticisms made in reality rap into fictional entertainment.Inspired by a pre-existing gangster lifestyle in American culture, rappers will come to embody a threat and become the target of policies that accentuate the control and surveillance of black people.
The popularity and reach of gangsta rap is therefore beyond the scope of the music scene. The attention gained by its commercialization as well as its media visibility and its articulation with security policies is part of the context in which it is inscribed and of the issues at stake. Thus, the expression of the gangsta rappers made it possible to draw attention to social, political, economic and cultural issues that affect them, and which until then were hardly visible and discussed. In addition, moralizing discourses, which accompanied and justified the implementation of security policies by accusing rap music of encouraging violence and deviance, helped reaffirm the violence of American society – violence in which the gangsta raphas emerged. In his famous song “Gangsta rap made me do it” released in 2008, the rapper Ice Cube will reply with irony: “How can you tell me not to say that, when it was you who taught us ? “