How Rap and Mercedes-Benz Give Life to the American Dream
In as early as the 15th to 16th century, rap was already a term that many people in Britain use. However, initially, it solely meant either to strike or to hit a surface to attract attention.
It was only a few centuries after when other people began using a variation of the word to mean speaking or chatting in general. Nowadays, many people know rap as a genre of music that originally sprang up from inner cities.
Going back to the roots of rap
For a long time in Western Africa, “griots” are the historians and storytellers who shared tales with their community by playing handmade instruments at local events. Now, there isn’t an equivalent word in the English language that could cover every function we can associate with a griot.
That’s because being a traditional griot means having a profession that can include various roles like those of musicians, spokespeople, diplomats, teachers, historians, ambassadors, interpreters, warriors, advisors, masters of ceremonies, and more.
While not every griot will do all of those roles, each griot still helps mainly to keep their past alive by practicing the tradition of remembering their history and articulating it for their fellowmen. A griot will usually sing, celebrate, and make announcements, but above all, a griot will remember their story as a people.
To never forget is perhaps the most valuable role of a griot. And it is that tradition that got carried over when colonizers began taking Africans against their will and transporting them to America as part of the large slave industry.
One of the ways the enslaved Africans coped with the oppression, subjugation, and injustices they experienced at the time was to sing. So while they spent most of their time working in the fields and vast plantations, they often spontaneously performed a “call to answer” song.
The call to answer requires a leader or the griot singing a particular part of a song with the rest of the enslaved responding with the following line. That kind of crowd engagement is what performing artists of today call as emceeing or the act of generating group participation.
The particular style of storytelling that griots usually make, combined with the act of inviting a crowd to participate is the root of rap music as we know it today.
Rap as a genre
Though the roots of rap go deep and as far back as the West African tradition, it was only in the early 1970s when the American people began to consider rap as a genre. It started in block parties held in New York City when DJs experimented with the isolation of percussion breaks of the soul, disco, and funky songs.
MCs, whom we more commonly recognize today as rappers, then had the task to introduce the DJs as well as keep the crowd energized in between songs. To do that, they would talk, crack jokes, and in general, interact with the audience. As time passed, it became common for MCs to talk and spit rhymes that were in sync with the beat of the music.
What many initially dismissed as a fad, rap soon made a name as recognizable as Hip Hop and proved its capacity for commercial success when the first singles and albums broke records in the music industry.
The music of rappers and DJs did not stop evolving, and in the late 1980s to early 1990s they entered what we now know as Hip Hop’s golden age. That was the period when rappers and DJs pushed the limits of their music and turned it into a mainstream genre we listen to today.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hip Hop evolved from the consciousness of the black community within the United States. That was a time when the US experienced its worst recession since the Great Depression happened. That was also a time when millions of Americans lost their jobs, their businesses, their homes, and their lands.
Even with the decline in the economy, or the stock market crash that happened in October 1987, a majority of the middle and upper-class Americans still had confidence in the administration. And because of that, the character people associated with the decade was still the “yuppie.”
The yuppie symbolized the young American who has a well-paying job that can support his expensive taste thanks to his college education. Some people see the young urban professionals as materialistic and self-centered who were only concerned with the large consumption of goods while making a lot of money.
Material consumption was one of the issues that the Hip Hop culture responded to with their production of rap music. Hip Hop and rap, as a genre of music, predominantly became a response to the cultural, socio-economic, and political issues that plagued marginalized groups such as the black American society.
Just like their African ancestors who were forced into slavery, the black community used rap to transform their resentment of the injustices and social inequality they experienced into something productive. Through their music, they reframed the attitudes of people and created opportunities for themselves to go beyond the challenges they experienced on a day to day basis.
The Criticisms of Rap and Hip Hop Culture
With the inevitable evolution of rap and Hip Hop as a whole, and the acceptance that audiences from the United States and other countries had, there is no doubt about their prevalence in the music industry. However, despite the popularity rap and hip hop were enjoying, some people criticized its seemingly pervasive nature, which reflects cultures of chauvinism, profanity, aggression, vulgarity, and indecency.
The genre was not short of criticisms as others identified the community as promoters of subversion and insurgency. They were in support of the notion that any attributable positive changes in the social and cultural aspects were a mere offshoot of the disorder that defines the music in general.
But in spite of all the controversy that the genre has been getting, especially with their lyrics that seem to campaign for the practice of vulgarity and aggression, many rappers and hip hop artists were still able to push for a national movement that has the potential to uplift marginalized communities.
Rap and Hip Hop as Forms of Expression
Now, even if we recognize the arguments of the critics of rap and hip hop as valid and to a degree reasonable, their statements still in no way can reduce the massive influence the genre has as a medium for mobilization, promotion of cultural differences, and basic social awareness.
Through the years when rap music evolved, it became a useful tool for provoking thought and action, more than just awareness. Through the music, plenty of artists became advocates for movements against violence, power, inequality, and poverty that enslaved their communities for centuries.
And together with being an instrument of such movements of people, the music that rappers created also reflected their trends and ideas, as well as the social realities they were living in and their interpretations of such. The songs were expressions of their thoughts, in the hopes that these might inspire change in their society.
Accordingly, most people listen to rap and hip hop and think of the music as a mix of the reality and fiction that create contemporary artists’ responses to the ever-present conditions like joblessness, discrimination, poverty, and dis-empowerment. And in general, people saw rap and hip hop as a movement to counter the policies and attitudes that many members of the white American society had against the black community.
And with the growing popularity of the genre, specifically through the 1980s and 1990s, rap songs became a revolution, to some extent, against the yuppie figure that was busy with the consumption of goods that only the affluent society can purchase.
Minorities and groups that experienced oppression for years found a channel for expressing their plight, and in a creative and, in reality, nonviolent way, fight the oppressive conventionalities that the majority of the country has served them.
The music of Gerald Earl Gillum
Gerald Earl Gillum, born on May 24, 1989, is an American songwriter, producer, and rapper most people know as G-Eazy. G-Eazy, who is of Ukrainian descent, was born and raised in Oakland, California.
He independently produced his first singles, and his first major-label album called These Things Happen hit the number 3 spot on the US Billboard 200 after its release on June 23, 2014.
The second studio album he released, titled When It’s Dark Out, featured the hit single “Me, Myself & I” that garnered a place in the top 10 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 after its release on December 4, 2015.
In a span of eight years, G-Eazy has built quite an impressive career that progressed from being just a promising act that’s making a mark in the underground music scene to being a major-label artist who is now working with big names in the Hip Hop and Pop music industries.
The Music Style of G-Eazy
Gillum, or G-Eazy, takes inspiration for his music style from the late 1950s to early 1960s culture with a blend of contemporary rap. He admits his style pulls together different styles of music from distinct genres and cultures, which he weaves together to produce the kind of music that has catapulted him to this year’s favorite Hip Hop artist.
The style he illustrated is evident in the music and message of a song he released in 2011. Mercedes Benz (The American Dream) was a takeoff from the piece that the famous rock icon Janis Joplin performed in 1973.
It is a song that outright describes the gluttony and wastes the American upper class had. G-Eazy, together with the rawness of Janis Joplin’s voice, sings of the fortune that many of today’s “yuppies” and affluent members of the society often take for granted.
While G-Eazy also includes in his music the jealousy he has for the kind of luxury that the wealthy can benefit from anytime, he also explains in the song that he earned what he currently has through hard work, and by being true to himself.
He is honest about overcoming the struggles and troubles that his class status afforded him to earn his spot in the industry. And that while a significant amount of money can turn people against each other, he still stays true to his friends and what he has does for years to be the kind of artist he envisions himself.
Mercedes Benz (The American Dream)
Much of G Eazy’s early music is about his life and his pursuit of the American dream. It’s the reality he experienced as a budding rap artist in the early 2000s.
With G-Eazy taking inspiration from the American culture of the 1950s and 1960s, it is worthy to note that the decade that followed World War II is one that many people would consider as a prosperous period in the history of the American economy.
Americans in the 1950s experienced victory after years of war. They had money to spend and pursue their American dreams in an optimistic, and even better, realistic manner. Part of the big goal was to achieve comfort from family and home building, as supported by their purchase of real estate properties.
When around 16 million veterans went back after the second World War, America experienced a housing spree, and the industry boomed with war survivors starting over with their lives by creating a family. After the housing boom, the baby boom followed, and then car production also experienced a boost in purchases.
Then rapid technological production for family use also happened after the war ended. The 1950s up to the 1960s were a period for the modern American family to live life to the fullest, particularly regarding the consumption of goods they could buy.
That was the American dream that, in a way, also reflected G Eazy’s aspirations in life. Through hard work, he is also open to seeking material wealth and not taking things for granted, unlike those in the upper-class society he stereotypically described.
Though the Mercedes-Benz song that Janis Joplin popularized evokes a sense of loneliness that comes with a rather illusory happiness, G Eazy’s take on it was more of being true to oneself about being enticed by the very same worldly goods that Joplin seemingly criticizes.
While for many people, the song is Joplin’s rejection of the deeply consumerist world that drives the American dream, G-Eazy’s is a welcoming of that reality, but still with a grain of salt. After all, Mercedes-Benz as a brand is the symbol of timeless luxury anyone would want to achieve.
Criticisms and the Realization of Dreams
Just like G-Eazy, other rappers still link hip hop and rap with their class aspirations, and despite differences in cultural backgrounds, they use the music to convey their take on the experiences they have in society.
However, for a genre with complex layers of cultural, socio-economic, and political elements, it isn’t surprising when some people raise questions about the essence and success of a white rapper. Some would question if the artist is authentic enough or is in a position to practice an age-old tradition and turn it into his own.
And like all things, hip-hop today changes and alters its identity as speculations emerge regarding the authenticity of a genre and the significance of its roots in an industry that merges art with consumerism. Will a genre that fought inequality and injustice continue with the practice of exclusivity for people based on their skin color and history?
What the colored youth used as a medium for exerting their rights to self-determination, hip hop and rap grew beyond an art form and into an industry where control over its direction and production were at the disposition of multinational corporations.
That growth, even with what some might say as the reason behind the dying of a genuine movement for self-expression, propelled artists regardless of color to realizing their respective American dreams.
With a history of movements against oppression and towards living the American dream, hip hop and rap continue to inspire artists of all backgrounds and colors to take a stand and express their thoughts in a productive way. To be able to express individualism in aspiring what would define a good life, despite all negativity, is a true value of rap as an evolving music genre.
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