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The genre of rap and hip-hop music has been a fundamental part of American “black culture” for decades. Since coming to America on slave ships, black people have always had outlets of song and various forms of music through which to express the incessant burden given to them by the color of the skin. In the early 1980’s this began to evolve in what we now identify as the rap and hip hop music genre. It started out with spoken word artists, such as Gil-Scott Heron, who would speak, occasionally in verse, over a beat. Eventually the words adapted to the beats and the power of word and music became synchronized like never before. While this form of music originated within African-American culture, many foreign countries began to take notice of its early popularity and quickly integrated rap and hip hop into their musical cultures. Considering it started within black culture in America, it is understandable why many associate the hip-hop genre with black people; Thus, the argument goes, If anyone else tries to do it, it’s cultural appropriation. This holds true in most cases, specifically with most privileged white Americans. However, I argue Rap and hip-hop not only functions as an outlet for struggle and oppression for simply being black; in other international cultures, rap and hip-hop grants the ability for any discriminated class of people to express themselves and let their voice be heard. The employment of rap and hip-hop in foreign countries doesn’t come in the form of cultural appropriation, but more in the form of empathetic identification.
Specifically, the integration of rap and hip-hop in European cultures exemplify how the genre acts as an outlet for any underprivileged demographic and not exclusively for black people. Rap had just started becoming popular in the late 70’s, early 80’s, and foreign countries seemed to notice. In France, Jazz tunes had been very popular into the 1950’s along with other various genres that followed such as American rock and disco. In October of 1982, a French newspaper titled Libération ran a series of articles about various New York rappers and their lifestyles. Unsurprisingly, a French pop group named Chagrin D’amour recorded an album all in French that utilized rapping techniques. The group is known today as the first example of French rap and hip-hop (Prévos 714). Chagrin D’amour, however, did not rap with the same intention or purpose as American rappers; this was a mainstream pop group attempting to emulate an American tradition for popularity, similar to Iggy Azalea in current day, who many call a large culprit of cultural appropriation. Meanwhile in the northern urban areas of Paris, rap and breakdancing had already been introduced and spread widely throughout these urban areas. These areas were very similar to American ghettos, in that they likewise, “became hot beds of violence, drugs, crime, and poverty”(Prévos 714). These Parisian rappers were both pleased and concerned by the popularity of Chagrin D’amour. They were excited to see that rap was becoming quickly accepted as an art form to the public, but were worried because their own lyrics were nothing like the innocuous ones of Chagrin D’amour (Prévos 714). Rap and hip-hop became a fundamental part of culture in these urban, poor, unsupported areas, just as it did in American ghettos for the black community. While rap certainly arrived in France in forms of cultural appropriation, it really began to gain velocity and power from the underprivileged youth living in communities similar to communities of rappers In America.
Towards the late 1980’s, the music of urban rappers emerged on the French popular scene, overtaking the more innocuous groups such as Chagrin D’amour. The new rap artists closely resembled their American counterparts like rap group NWA. The contents of the lyrics involved a lot of anti-establishment prose, in that most rappers spoke on the discrimination they faced, both socially and systemically. These urban rappers expressed the hardships of their everyday living situations to the public through their new art (Prévos 715). A specific example is a song named “Dimanche dans le ghetto” by French artist Puppa Leslie, which translates to Sunday in the ghetto. The song describes the hardships dealing with violence and crime on an average day in Paris ghetto.
Once the early 1990’s rolled around, rap was truly becoming the outlet for the underprivileged groups just as in the American black community. The urban French rappers were separated by more than just wealth and socioeconomic class though. Rap and hip-hop was becoming a power to be accessed by the French black community as well. This didn’t happen because the black people in France noticed the black people in America were doing it and therefore they should be allowed to do it too. This happened because large portions of the black community were Arabs who had emigrated from North Africa (Knox 126). The oppression the Arab minorities faced became a popular subject in rap lyrics. One specific popular French rapper in the late 1990’s was Suprême NTM who made many songs discussing racism and authoritative injustice, themes shared by American rappers at the time (Prévos 716). Rap and hip-hop had become a, ‘black’ thing in France, but only because rap and hip hop are the fundamental art forms for the underprivileged and oppressed. Throughout Europe, in fact, rap and hip-hop continued to speak for marginalized groups.
The implementation of hip-hop and rap into the culture of Turkish youths in Germany further shows how much the power of the genre transcends black communities alone. In the middle of the twentieth century, many Turkish people began to immigrate to Germany for work. The Turkish immigrants were met with absolute alienation due to cultural and linguistic barriers. German society did not seem to have much patience for the Turkish assimilation process. Over the next few decades, the Turkish community began to settle in in Germany but lived at a disadvantage. In addition to the emotional and physical pain experienced by being treated as second-class citizens, the Turkish people had minimal exposure to decent education even though many struggled with illiteracy. The third generation of Turkish immigrants, in particular, all born in Germany by this point, struggled with employment opportunities because many of their parents did not finish school. In the 1990’s, unemployment among young Turkish-Germans was more than twice as high than among young Germans. It was this generation of Turkish people, people who were born into an alienating country and who were disconnected from their native culture, that brought rap and hip hop to Germany (Ickstadt 573). This new art form that arose in Germany did not stray far in message or intention as it did in France or the United States. The Turkish-German rap often spoke out on the social discrimination and stereotyping of Turkish-German youth. One specific song named “Der Weg”, “plays with the sinister and blood-curdling macho stereotype of the ‘bad’ Turk” only to persuade its audience that this stereotype is completely false (Ickstadt 574). Furthermore, once the hip-hop scene was established in Germany, many rappers worked to encourage many Turkish youth to stay off the streets and work hard in school (Ickstadt 574). Even though the hip-hop community in Germany isn’t white, their art still does not come in the form of cultural appropriation because once again, an underprivileged group is utilizing rap and hip-hop as an expressive art form in order to combat experienced oppression.
The rap and hip-hop genre has helped many socially disadvantaged communities express themselves and let their voices be heard on a public level, and the genre’s ability to accomplish this is evidently not exclusive to the black American community. Even when (and in modern day rap often can come in this form) the content of rap can be quite negative and seemingly encouraging of crime and violence, “Traditionally, Hip-hop has always been a reflection of the environment the artist had to endure…so if you want to change the content of the music, change the environment of the artist and he won’t have such negative things to say”(T.I, The Daily Show, Sep 2016). Consequently, privileged people who try to take part in the genre but have had no societal hardships to endure lack authenticity in their performance and thus appropriate hip-hop culture in that instance. Rap and hip-hop doesn’t only belong to black Americans, but only those who have endured similar social and economic hardships can genuinely access its power.
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