How politically liberating is rap music?

NWA was a gangsta rap crew who told stories of the ‘hustler’ life style exactly where “life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and dollars.” As such, they relied heavily on becoming as offensive as possible. The cover of their 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton, characteristics a energy-emphasising low-angle shot of the band members searching down into the camera, which areas the audience in the position of the defeated enemy. A gun is pointing straight at us. Every single man is wearing ‘street’ clothes, and 1 has a chunky gold necklace showing. The image is shot in natural lighting, and the eyes of 3 of the guys are obscured by shadows. Judging by their stern facial expressions, they almost certainly won’t be showing mercy. This is the image they’re aiming for: challenging, ruthless, cold. Over the course of the narrative the three front guys – Ice Cube, MC Ren and Eazy-E – accuse the LAPD of racism and violence and go so far as to threaten any rogue officers with death. Their overtly violent stance separates them from the rap mainstream, and the righteous anger of the song – the marked refusal to let the enemy smite the other cheek – is loaded with subversive prospective. It begins with a courtroom scene pastiche in which the DJ, Dr. Dre, re-positions himself as the judge and the 3 vocalists as witnesses. In his booming voice Judge Dre asks Ice Cube if he swears to inform “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing at all but the truth, so support your black ass?” Ice Cube replies: “You’re Goddamn ideal!” The exaggerated informality of the NWA courtroom shows how they also bring a sense of humour with them. Tricia Rose says “oppressed people today use language, dance, and music to mock these in power, express rage, and produce fantasies of subversion.”1 This can be a powerful tool for raising awareness of complications that face African Americans, and engendering the spirit of resistance in other people. NWA’s mocking role-plays give way to rage over the verses, where they lay down the charges against the police. 1 of the much less strongly worded and blatantly valid accusations comes from Ice Cube: “Searching my car or truck/Searching for the item/Pondering each nigga is sellin’ narcotics.” This refers to ‘profile’ arrests – Rose’s name for the policy of stopping and looking young black males, especially if they are driving an costly car or truck, on the shaky and unashamedly racist basis that…

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