THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AFRICAN AMERICAN IDENTITY AND RAP SONGS: A STUDY OF SELECTED RAP SONGS OF GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AFRICAN AMERICAN IDENTITY AND RAP SONGS: A STUDY OF SELECTED RAP SONGS OF GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE

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ABSTRACT

Rap music as one of the elements of hip hop culture originated in New York’s South Bronx neighbourhood in the late 1970s. Its lyrics provide a powerful lens through which to view the many dimensions of the African American predicament. As a form, Rap music is for African Americans the means to pen down their history and social circumstances and forge their identities out of the white oriented and white dominated American society and culture. The dominant discourses have relegated African Americans to the margin and excluded them from the power, profits and privileges that Whites overtime have enjoyed in American society. By devaluing the blacks in every possible manner, Whites were able to hold in place the racial hierarchy of the American society. Thus, this dissertation explores rap songs as the medium through which African Americans reflect their predicaments and not only challenge dominant discourses but project their ethnic identities as well. The study deploys postcolonial theory in analysing the selected rap songs based on the relations between Whites and Blacks on American soil and how the songs are used in expressing identity related issues such as racism, marginalization, politics, legal and economic disparities. The study finds out that African American ethnic identity emerged from an identification that is rooted in perceived commonality of oppression, suppression and marginalization.

CHAPTER ONE

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

1.0       INTRODUCTION

African Americans are citizens of the United States of America whose forefathers were

forcefully removed from Africa during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such

Africans were forced into slavery and were stripped of their cultural affinities. Consequently,

this forceful removal had an effect on the Africans who found themselves in an alien world

and had to learn new ways in order to survive. In the process, Africans were caught up

between two cultures; an African one on one hand and an American one on the other. It is

important to note that American culture is not universal, as Africans taken into slavery found

it different from the culture they were used to. The slaves had to adapt to an alien culture.

Thus, it is this dual identity that gave rise to the term African American, a term that

deliberately recognizes the African and American cultures that have moulded the African

American personality.

One important area in which researchers interested in African American culture focus on is

―identity‖. The concept of identity has always been linked to the history of African

Americans and their presence in what has now become the United States of America. For a

long time, the image or view blacks had of themselves was largely defined by the way Whites

in America described them in their writings, films and other forms of representation. In the

past, in the course of domicile in the United States, African Americans have been called by

such names as – Negros, Blacks, Coloured, but in the last thirty years, the term African

American and Black American has been used. The mechanisms the Whites put in place to

subjugate the blacks go a long way in making them think and feel inferior (Wikipedia).

Slavery affected every aspect of their lives. The nearly 300 years of slavery have distorted

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and caused great pain such that African Americans have had to create a new culture and

identity out of their experiences in the new world. This is because the white masters did not

acknowledge the right of African American to an independent ethnic or cultural identity. As

historian T, Vaughan (1995) has noted that the Europeans rarely identified African arrivals in

the colonies with terms denoting either nation or ethnicity (Quoted in Hornsby, 2005). For

instance, Africans were referred to as Negroes, a term referring to their skin colour.

Before the beginning of slavery, Africans lived in a society that was predicated upon a

religious system and cultural practices (Hamlet, 2011). As such the people‘s beliefs, values,

norms, history, were transmitted by griots and other members of the society who were the

custodian of African culture from one generation to another. The transportation of blacks

from Africa to the Americas for slavery stripped them of their culture, identity, family and

possessions. Language was the first cultural trait the slave traders and holders tried to

suppress. On the slave ship, members of the same community were deliberately separated

from each other to prevent communication (ibid). This notwithstanding and given that the

blacks came from different backgrounds, the similarities in the basic structure of their culture

allowed them to be able to form a different form of communication that was partly African

and American (Gay and Barber: 1989). Oral tradition was a major cultural vestige that blacks

took to the new world. In African American culture, oral tradition has served as a

fundamental vehicle for cultural expression and survival. This oral tradition also preserved

the cultural heritage and reflected the collective spirit of the race. African American oral

tradition can be traced to Africa.African American cultural expressions have been some of

the ways of resisting racial oppression and also a way of expressing African American

identity. Although the institution of slavery was out-lawed in 1865 in United States, African

practices continued to evolve in to newer modes of expression that provided a foundation for

African American cultural or ethnic identity. These include folktales, ritualised games such as

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the dozens, songs, spirituals, vernacular expression e.t.c. From the foregoing, rap can also be

classified as a part of the African American cultural e


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