Gangs and Hip-Hop Essay

BambaataaIn an atmosphere dominated by gang activity, it is evident that the most popular way of seeking freedom from this harsh environment of drugs and violence is self-expression through the popular culture of hip-hop. Whether it is dance, music, or even the fashion aspect of hip-hop, it seems to be the most common escape from such rough surroundings. It is also very apparent that many of these escapees actually make a living out of indulging themselves in the hospitable culture of hip-hop. In fact, many famous hip-hop dancers and music artists one might see in the media today have a history of gang affiliation.

While the majority of these hip-hoppers choose to retain their roots of connections with gangs (a lot of rap artists flaunt the fact that they are/have been in a gang), one would be unmistaken in saying that it is a much more favourable way of living life over being under such dangerous conditions as being a gang member in an active street gang. One outlet of hip-hop that is used for self-expression is the art of hip-hop dance. Many popular dance crews originating from poverty-stricken areas have a history of gang affiliation.

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Interestingly enough, according to NPR radio, dance “suppressed some of the violence between rival gangs” (Del Barco). Although it did not completely eliminate violence, dancing was a way for gangs to choose which one would pick the location for a fight. This may not seem like it is helping the cause too much, but it is in fact deteriorating some of the most extreme aspects of gang violence. Kenny Bermudez is a specific example of this. Growing up, he was a gang member and now he has been on the hit show which showcases talented dance crews, America’s Best Dance Crew, along with his crew “Rhythm City”.

Bermudez is now attending college and owns his own dance school. Additionally, a group called Massive Monkees (who also were featured on America’s Best Dance Crew) is a dance crew who have a history of gang affiliation. They now strive to teach high school kids that gangs and hip-hop do not always have a connection. Graffiti, although recognized in many countries to be vandalism which is a punishable crime, is another way of diverting one’s focus from something other than gang activity which can be, in some situations, a lot less serious in terms of consequences.

Graffiti is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property. In urban context, it is mostly seen in more public places like subway stations or on the sides of buildings. This is because graffiti artists, including gang members, tag these popular places to mark their territory and get an everyday audience admiring their works of art. An academic article called “Urban Graffiti as Territorial Markers” stated that “a new trend appeared in 1970. Graffiti writing had spread to the inner city.

Almost all of the graffiti reports discovered for 1972 and half of those for 1971 were concerned with the newfound popularity of spray-painting among inner-city youth” (Ley & Cybriwsky, 491). According to this, graffiti started trending in inner-city youth (in which many of this population is involved in gang activity) in the early 1970’s, around the same time that the whole hip-hop culture was established. This shows that the escapement of harsh gang activity in poor, ghetto neighbourhoods through self-expression in hip-hop culture is and always has been one of the most prominent ways of dealing with this harsh life.

The same article states that “Wall graffiti can be indicators of attitudes, behavioural dispositions, and social processes in settings where direct measurement is difficult” (Ley and Cybriwsky, 491). This is a direct indicator that at least some teenagers involved with gangs have made clear action of discontinuing their gang affiliation through self-expression of graffiti. It is also apparent that graffiti replaced gang violence in the sense that it decided which was the more dominant gang solely on the basis of who had marked their territory more.

The music aspect of hip-hop culture is undoubtedly the most popular and most widely-distinguished part of this hospitable culture. It has made its way over the years into the mainstream media heard and seen on a daily basis, and in such has become the most acceptable component of hip-hop. Because of this, it has had a great affect for these “refugees” requesting removal from the gang environment. Not only does this take these inner-city kids out of their gang affiliations, but it can sometimes be made a career and take someone from rags to riches as it is the most successful part of hip-hop.

Afrika Bambaataa, also known as the “Grandfather of Hip Hop Culture” and by his birth name Kevin Donovan, is living proof of this. Known as being instrumental in the development of hip hop, Bambaataa, a founding member of a gang called the “Savage Seven” (later known as The Black Spades), is a hip-hop music artist who has produced 15 albums to date. He was known as being the warlord for the Black Spades meaning it was his job to recruit members and expand turf of the gang.

Basically he was the manager of this gang which controlled over 50 divisions in the state of New York alone. It is known as being one of the most renowned gangs in history. Bambaataa would later use his leadership skills to turn those involved in the gang life into something more positive to the community. This decision began the development of what later became known as the “Universal Zulu Nation”, a group of socially and politically aware rappers, b-boys, graffiti artists, and other people involved in the hip-hop culture.

Hip-hop music undoubtedly shaped Bambaataa into the unselfish and better man he is today. Bambaataa isn’t the only example of this though. Many rappers heard in the mainstream media today have had a history of gang relation. MC’s like 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, and Snoop Dogg, who have all made a name for themselves in the popular culture of music have all had the experience of being in a gang. But this is not the full list of successful rappers today that have shared that experience. In fact, hundreds of these relevant rappers have/had some sort of gang affiliation.

While a slight majority of these rappers take pride in knowing they have been dispersed in this hostile and harsh environment, they must all realize that it is a much better life to live than that of an active gang member. To conclude, it has come very obvious that self-expression through hip-hop culture is the most prominent way of evading gang-related activity. It definitely seems as though hip-hop has become a very hospitable culture for inner-city youth indeed, and will continue to provide support for this youth as long as hip-hop stays in its current condition as a popular and socially-acceptable lifestyle.

Although it does not withhold the ability to completely eliminate gang activity, it truly is a very helpful system of taking in troubled youth. Additionally, it contains the power to bring a distressed individual incorporated with gangs into a blossoming and successful human being in society. Hip-Hop: A Way of Seeking Freedom from Gang-Related Activity HSP3M0D Ms. Ford By: Daniel Cummer June 16th/ 2011