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Within 10 Years: The Coming Decline of Hip-Hop and Gangster-Rap

I'm a self-made monster of the city streets, Remotely controlled by hard hip-hop beats.

These lines from 6'n The Mornin, by Los Angeles-based rapper Ice-T (1987), demonstrate the manner in which such a text represents the dominant Hip-Hop hegemony. The rapper is identified as an independent character who is divorced from mainstream culture and laws. He terms himself a 'monster' in order to preempt the audience's assumed interpretation of a gangster-rapper. He continues to declare that he comes from the 'city streets' - an important identifier in Hip-Hop culture, which validates his authority with his peer-group, and serves to intensify the cultural identity of hip-hop - a 'street' culture of mainly poor African-American youths asserting their dominance through violent and aggressive lyrics, and trading in imagery of gangland drug-and-gun culture. He is 'remotely controlled by hard hip hop beats'. This is to say that the music is 'in charge' - his performance is not merely inspired by his personal motives, but serves a higher cultural cause, contributing to the hegemony and cementing the rapper's role as both product and prophet of his culture.

Central to Hip-Hop's hegemony since its inception has been its reaction against authority and mainstream culture. With the gradual naturalisation of the music into the very mainstream against which it sought to react, has come a removal from the original causes for its production. The vast wealth created by such a successful industry has finally resulted in important changes to the subject-material used in the writing of Hip-Hop lyrics. Whereas rappers in the past might have been able to legitimise their often controversial lyrical content by reference to their cultural background and politico-sociological message, it is simply untenable for their art to continue unfettered when the focus of the rap is the wealth of the rapper. Critical mass is likely to be reached within the coming 10 years, with the significant and growing media backlash over the blood-diamond issue, and it is only a matter of time before the industry begins to incur significant casualties. Just as in the case of Nirvana and Rock Music, when proponents of musical genres who rely so heavily upon their cultural positions lose sight of that fact and become fixated with their increasing wealth, the resultant impact upon the public and the media's reading of their artistic integrity is bound to suffer.

This is not to say that no traces of Hip-Hop will be left - a wealth of musical legacies will persist, with the exclusively musical aspects of DJing and rapping influencing music for years to come. It would be prudent to predict, however, that Gangster-Rap, in what many would consider to be its true form, has become a parody of itself, severely limiting its credibility. One might wonder whether Hip-Hop could have been saved from this fate. To have done so would have been to resist the inevitable; it would have had to deny the powerful influence of the media, the seemingly inescapable fascination of Man with wealth, and the continually morphing structure of genres that has for centuries guided our understanding of music, and is extremely likely to continue to so into the future.

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