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Napoleon Milligan

Ms. Kenly

British Literature

22 March 2018

Music Lyrics: How it changed and its effects?

Music throughout its creation has been known to be a universal language. Along with the

sounds came lyrics which added more life to music. Lyrics were made for people to express

themselves whether if it was by telling a story or having fun. When music first started in BCE,

Aborigines used it for celebrations and rituals. Over the years music expanded into many

different genres, one being rap which my topic is based on. There have been many controversies

around rap, with some saying that some rap lyrics are murder confessions and turn listeners into

murderers themselves, however that depends on the person that listens to it. Most popular rap

songs are inspirational, and may eventually lead to creativity. While the general public feels as if

rap is a gateway to violence, not all rappers are the same.

Rap is a musical form of vocal delivery that incorporates "rhyme, rhythmic speech, and

street vernacular", which is performed or chanted in a variety of ways, usually over a backbeat or

musical accompaniment. Depending on who you ask and from which generation 'rap' will take

on different meanings. At one point in time, a rap was a set of excuses a con artist handed you in

an effort to deceive you. In the 70s a rap was the words a person used when trying to persuade

you. This particularly applied to the persuasive efforts of a young man trying to obtain sexual

favors from a female. Today rap means saying rhymes to the beat of the music. It's one of the

four major elements of hip-hop culture, the other elements include deejaying, breakdancing and
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graffiti aren't as widespread hip hop and rap have been used interchangeably over the years. It

was the success of that party that would begin a grassroots musical revolution, fully six years

before the term “hip-hop” even entered the popular vocabulary. After that an African-American

Disc Jockey by the name of Afrika Bambaataa became a contributor to hip-hop culture, he drew

from two inspiration sources: the black liberation movement(Black Panthers) and the sounds of

DJ Kool Herc. In the late 1970s, Afrika Bambaataa began hosting parties as a way to get

teenagers off the streets and end gang violence. He established the Universal Zulu Nation, a

group of dancers, artists, and fellow DJs. By the 1980s, the Universal Zulu Nation was

performing and Afrika Bambaataa was recording music. Most notably, he released records with

electronic sounds. He is known as “The Godfather” and “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture.”Born on

April 17, 1957, in the Bronx. Today he continues to DJ and works as an activist for hip-hop.

Another contributor to hip-hop was Grandmaster Flash, born Joseph Saddler on January 1, 1958,

in Barbados. He moved to New York City as a child and he became interested in music after

leafing through his father’s extensive record collection. Inspired by the DJing style of DJ Kool

Herc, Grandmaster Flash took Herc’s style one step further and invented three distinct DJing

techniques known as the backspin, punch phrasing and scratching. In addition to his work as a

DJ, Grandmaster Flash organized a group called Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the

late 1970s. By 1979, the group had a recording deal with Sugar Hill Records. Their biggest hit

was recorded in 1982. Known as “The Message,” it was a harrowing narrative of inner-city life.

Music critic Vince Aletti argued in a review that the song was “a slow chant seething with

desperation and fury.”

Considered a hip-hop classic, “The Message” became the first hip hop recording to be chosen by

the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

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Although the group disbanded soon after, Grandmaster Flash continued to work as a DJ. In the

later years, more and more artists started to take part of the culture.

When it comes to music there will always be these three things: fans, hate, and most of

all criticism. An example of this is Vince Aletti, a white music critic who reviewed “The

Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. He described the song to be “a slow chant

seething with desperation and fury.” He was disturbed by the lyrics but did not know its true

meaning, the group was telling a story in their music. They rapped about past experiences they

each went through, and conditions that they live in which were disgusting. Vince Aletti was

disturbed didn’t because he was not black and did not go through what Grandmaster Flash and

the Furious Five have suffered. This would soon lead to many people analyzing rap lyrics and

deconstructing them to find the true meaning or have used an artist lyrics against this in a trial.

Gangsta rap is a style of hip-hop that reflects the violent lifestyles of inner-city youth.

Gangsta rap evolved from hardcore hip-hop in the early 1980s. Ice T, best known to kids

everywhere as "That Guy from Law & Order," is widely credited as one of the early pioneers of

gangsta rap. By the time 1983 rolled around, Ice T was making noise with his aggressive content.

His first single, "Cold Winter Madness" (aka "The Coldest Rap") was banned on the radio

because of its hardcore lyrics. Ice T pioneered gangsta rap in the west coast(California), he had

two rapcore singles “Home of the Bodybag " and "Cop Killers." Rapcore is a mixture of rap and

hardcore rock, sometimes metal. Both songs are about retaliating against police brutality and

overall the government system. Later on, Ice-T's reign made way for a groundbreaking collective

from the west coast(California), namely N.W.A. Gangsta rap continues to gain popularity, with

the likes of N.W.A., Boogie Down Productions, Geto Boys and more. This was the late-80s. Hip-

hop was in its nascent stage and the world was terrified of this burgeoning art form. The most
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notable group, N.W.A. is a 1980s rap group comprised of original members Ice Cube (O’Shea

Jackson), Dr. Dre (Andre Young), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby), and MC

Ren (Lorenzo Jerald Patterson). The group's first album raged against police brutality, racism,

and injustice. The group rapped about sex, money, drugs and police violence which all occurred

in the area they lived in. One of their best was literally called “F**k the police” with Ice Cubes

famous verse, “F**k the police! Comin' straight from the underground A young nigga got it bad

‘cause I'm brown And not the other color, so police think they have The authority to kill a

minority.” This was one of the groups hit songs which are still played to this day. Jason L. Riley

“Gangsta Rap's Grim Legacy for Comptons Everywhere" talks about the famous rap group

N.W.A. The article focuses on the biographical film, “Straight Outta Compton” which tells the

story of the rise and fall of Compton, California rap group N.W.A. It explains how the group

popularizes ‘gangsta rap.’ It arrived on a weekend when protesters took to the streets of

Ferguson, MO, to mark the anniversary of the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white cop.

With all the backlash it received that doesn’t take away the fact that groups legacy has endured to

the detriment of poor black communities. Other artists such as Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg, 2pac

and etc. played big roles in gangsta rap legacy but as a group N.W.A popularize the style.

A new form of music was created and called trap music. Trap first gained attention in

the 1990s, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that it began to grow in mainstream culture. When

we entered the 2000s, DJs started fusing crunk music with synths to produce the quintessential

trap sound. Trap's popularity arrived with the emergence of Atlanta rappers, Young Jeezy, and

T.I. and with that made trap a fixture on their respective debut albums. The term itself comes

directly from the streets. The word "trap" typically refers to a drug house, where narcotics are

cooked up and sold. As such, trap rappers usually rap about drugs and slinging dope. An example
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of this is Future’s "Move That Dope." The content of a rap song isn't limited to the subjects of

the trap. Trap music also touches on the standard of living in the hood. Trap music details

observations of life in the streets. And, of course, trap songs can also make for catchy party

tunes. Trap music has maintained a strong presence in hip-hop since it exploded onto the

mainstream in 2009. Today, the presence of Future, Young Thug, and Drake keep the trap flag

flying high with new waves of artist stepping into the scene.

As music evolved so did the lyrics some for better and some for worse. Ever since the creation of

gangsta rap there has many controversies surrounding rappers and their lyrics. Many suggest that

rap is evil and leads to violence. There were many incidents throughout the 20th and 21st century

where a rappers lyrics can leave them behind bars or killed. In one court case, a rapper named

Twain Gotti has a song called, “Ride Out.” He has two lyrics that describes how he killed

someone and got away without anybody seeing him. These same lyrics relates to a murder of

two young men who were murdered and no suspects could be found. Detectives say that the

same lyrics describe how the two victims were murdered. The rapper was soon charged with the

murder of the victims and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Plans are being made to shorten

his sentence. Overall this talked about how some people say that violent rap lyrics are

confessions while others say that it a form of expression and how you need to survive in the

streets. In the article “Rap Lyrics on trial,” the authors Nielson, Erik, and E. K. Charis argue that

like any other art form, rap music is a form of expression and should be protected as such by law.

Although appellate courts in Massachusetts and Maryland have recently reversed convictions

after citing prosecutors for their improper use of rap lyrics or videos as evidence, most similar

appeals are unsuccessful. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey found that

in 18 cases in which various courts considered the admissibility of rap as evidence, the lyrics
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were allowed nearly 80 percent of the time. Even when defendants use a stage name to signal

their creation of a fictional first-person narrator, rap about exploits that are exaggerated to the

point of absurdity, and make use of figurative language, prosecutors will insist that the lyrics are

effectively rhymed confessions. At issue is a prosecutor's extensive use of rap lyrics, composed

by a man named Vonte Skinner, as evidence of his involvement in a 2005 shooting. The article

states that, during Mr.Skinner’s trial in 2008, the prosecutor read the jury 13 pages of violent

lyrics written by Mr. Skinner, even though all of the lyrics were composed before the shooting

and none of them mentioned the victim or specific details about the crime. The lyrics however

were written like an ode to street violence with lines that read like "In the hood, I am a threat /

It's written on my arm and signed in blood on my Tech" -- a reference to a Tec-9 handgun. "I'm

in love with you, death." The other evidence against Mr. Skinner was largely testimony from

witnesses who changed their stories multiple times. And yet, let the jury found him guilty of

attempted murder, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2012, the conviction was

overturned by an appellate court that ruled that the lyrics should never have been admitted as

evidence. This case was far from unique because rap lyrics and videos are turning up as evidence

in courtrooms across the country with alarming regularity. Last year, the American Civil

Liberties Union of New Jersey found that in 18 cases in which various courts considered the

admissibility of rap as evidence, the lyrics were allowed nearly 80 percent of the time. Another

article called “How Rhyme Leads to Doing Time” by Samuel Klusmeyer talks about how a

rappers lyrics could be used against them in court case. According to Charis Kubrin, a professor

in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine and an

expert in the field of gangster rap music, gangster rap lyrics have become commonly used to

provide enough evidence to convict aspiring and established rappers. Kubrin recently gave a free
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lecture on Tuesday, Sept.12 entitled "Rap on Trial." Kubrin began her lecture looking at aspiring

rapper Olutosin Oduwole, also known as "Tosin's," controversial trial. While conducting research

supporting her testimony and after analyzing other songs within the gangster rap genre, Kubrin

determined that the charges against Tosin could certainly be based on a rap song beginning

stages. Despite Kubrin's continual efforts to "Provide some context about hip-hop and gangster

rap in particular," the jury ultimately sentenced Tosin to five years in prison for the lyrics that he

had written. "It's virtually unheard of outside of rap for our musicians to have their lyrics used as

evidence against them." Because of her research on rap music criminalization, Kubrin began

asking the question: when does artistic expression stop being artistic expression? Kubrin ended

with a data-based presentation on the assumptions that people tend to make when rap music is

compared with other music genres. Social psychologist Carrie Fried's 1999 study "Who's Afraid

of Rap? Differential Reactions to Music Lyrics" found that when people were presented with the

same set of violent lyrics and were told that the lyrics were either country lyrics or rap lyrics, the

test subjects viewed the lyrics as "Significantly more dangerous and threatening" when told that

they were from a rap song. Kubrin has been making it her work to confirm the notion that rap

music is an art form and that it is not a truthful recounting of the performer's actions or an

individual's ideals. Unsurprisingly, no other form of fictional expression is exploited this way in

the courts.

Not only have rap made its mark in the U.S. but in other places across the world. I would have

never expected for rap to expand to Australia, but it did and just like in the U.S. their rap lyrics

involves the same aspects. One in five Australian top-20 songs over the past decade included

references to alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs, according to new research published in the Drug

and Alcohol Review. The finding is in line with research from the US, which found American
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adolescents are exposed to about 34 alcohol mentions in popular music every day. School of

psychology and speech pathology Professor Simone Pettigrew says young people are heavily

exposed to popular music, with estimates of about three hours a day among 15 to 18-year-olds.

The research made recommendations such as monitoring music lyrics as a way of helping

researchers gain a clearer insight into substance use among youths. "The link between the

reduction in the consumption of alcohol among youths and the references to alcohol in top 20

songs may indicate popular music closely mirrors actual consumption rates," Prof Pettigrew

says. Nearly 20 percent of the popular songs examined by mentioned alcohol alone mirroring

overseas research.

When the word violence comes to mind you wouldn't expect children to be mentioned but

violent rap lyrics can also affect them. I believe that there are distinctions to be made regarding

the effects of violent media on its audience. Children exposed to violent media will incorporate it

more seriously than mature adults, as they are still developing and learning about socially

accepted behaviors. Glamorizing sexual violence and using its communication constituent of

violent sexual language actively promotes dangerous attitudes toward women in our society and

objectifies relationship partners. Most child and even adult rappers will start their name with ‘lil’,

two examples a nine-year-old named Lil poopy and the famous Lil Wayne. Lil poopy name

reminds me of an episode of Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where an arachnid-demon

rapper named 'MC Pee pants' raps about candy. 'Lil' brings the same themes as many

commercially motivated rap songs, glorifying drugs and promiscuity while establishing artist

credibility by posing in front of expensive cars in his recent music video. The newest member of

the 'Lil' family has perhaps signaled the early symptoms of children's exposure to mature and

often illegal ideas expressed through rap. I do not mean to say that rap as a whole is a negative
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genre, however; artists continue to use the medium to advocate for social justice issues, as

exemplified by local artists such as Brother Ali and internationally with Arab Spring leaders who

used rap as a motivational and expressive tool in the Middle East.

Although most of my research paper spoke on the negatives of rap lyrics, there are positives. A

scenario the bedroom door closes, a volume dial is rotated clockwise and loud music fills the

room for an hour at a time. After years of studies purporting to show the harmful effects of young

people listening to songs with violent or misogynistic themes, a psychologist has concluded that

music containing a positive message has a beneficial impact on listeners. Dr. Tobias Greitemeyer

from the University of Sussex carried out a series of tests on groups of students in which those

exposed to so-called prosocial music one example was “Help!” by the Beatles. It was later acted

in a more considerate and empathetic way than peers who had listened to songs containing a

neutral or apparently meaningless lyrical message. His experiments took groups of students and

split them at random into those who listened individually either too socially conscious songs or

those with a neutral message and then used various ways to measure the apparent effect. On

average, those who had heard songs like Michael Jackson's Heal the World responded more

quickly and picked up almost five times as many pencils as people in the other group. Other

volunteers were asked, after listening to the music, whether they would help with a separate

research project (like this one).

In conclusion, I believe that rap is the music of struggle and identity, and as such we place a large

emphasis on the notion that rappers should maintain authenticity in their music by living

consistently with the topics it discusses. Some rappers rap about sex, money, murder, and drugs

because they grew up around that sort of environment, while others do it for popularity and to

flex. From what I have seen and heard rap is moving in both a negative and positive direction,
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some rappers are still going to talk about the same thing, while others come in with something

and enjoyable. Every year new a wave of artists appear on the scene, some that are prepared and

others that should get back to writing. I chose to do my research on this topic because, after I

graduate high school I plan on going to college for music production. I will be in the studio

making beats for a variety of artists, who I hope are talented and not average.

Works Cited

Adaso, Henry. “See History of Hip-Hop from 1925 to Today.” ThoughtCo,
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Adaso, Henry. “A Brief History of Gangsta Rap.” ThoughtCo,


Adaso, Henry. “The History of Trap Music.” ThoughtCo,


Cornell University Library. “Cornell University Library Digital Collections.” Review: "The

Message" by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five - Cornell University Library Digital

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Gregory, Jason. “The Evolution Of Rap Lyrics: 1988-2015.” Capital XTRA, 23 Oct. 2013,

Hankes, Keegan. "Music & Money & Hate." Intelligence Report, 2014. SIRS Issues Researcher,

“Hip Hop Is Born at a Birthday Party in the Bronx.”, A&E Television Networks,

Klusmeyer, Samuel. "How Rhyme Leads to Doing Time." University Wire, 13 Sep, 2017. SIRS

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Lewis, Femi. “Who Are Pioneering DJs of Hip Hop Music?” ThoughtCo,
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Ryan, Patrick. "As the Culture Shifts, Violent Lyrics Persist." USA TODAY, 26 Nov, 2014, pp.

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