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Hip-Hop: The Hypermasculine Hype

October 29, 2012

Independent filmmaker Byron Hurt featuring his documentary “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”

The re-election of President Barack Obama is the best thing to have happened in the U.S. in terms of Black masculinity within the new millennium. It offers a new perspective. The election of an African American president helps counterbalance the negative aspects of hip-hop culture and how a Black man defines success.

President Barack Obama redefines Black masculinity.

A great example of this juxtaposition was when President Obama called Kanye West “a jackass” after the rapper interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance of an MTV Video Music Award in 2009.

In his documentary “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” filmmaker Byron Hurt addresses the elements of violence, misogyny, and homophobia that exist in rap music. This documentary brings up important issues about Black masculinity within hip-hop culture, and the filmmaker’s concerns with African American youth become apparently admirable as the story line progresses. As a Black man and a fan of the music genre, Hurt challenges himself as an independent filmmaker by asking influential people in the industry the questions no one else seems to be asking. Hurt explains: “I guess what I’m trying to do is to get us men to just take a hard look at ourselves.”

The first question: “Why are so many rappers preoccupied with violence and gunplay?” This anger and need for violent retribution has to stem from somewhere, with respect being at the root of it. Who knows? The average rap artist may not understand the true origin of it himself. At this point, it may just be highly perpetual. It is what sells. As stated in the documentary: “It’s a prison for us!”

In the early days of rap and hip-hop, there seemed to be a different focus with acts like Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul. In its defense, the roots of hip-hop are traced to the South Bronx in the early 1980s, and the violence in rap videos is a true representation of what it means to be a thug. This is life in the hood. Hip-hop has always been gimmicky, and the executives that run the record industry are halfway in control. Furthermore, why isn’t the Hollywood film industry criticized for depicting violence the way hip-hop is?

In terms of misogyny, women hold the true power. If every woman were to take control of how they are being depicted in rap videos, we would see a different representation and the possible eradication this type of objectification. The art form would change. However, this is highly unlikely as people often feel like amazing things are happening when they take off their clothes and are half naked. The women enveloped in this culture may simply enjoy that type of attention.

But, things are beginning to change with such artists as R&B’s Frank Ocean, who has come out as being gay. That takes guts.

A photograph of Frank Ocean that Beyoncé uses to send him a message after his coming out on Twitter.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z have given Ocean support. And, Jay-Z has voiced that he is pro same-sex marriage. This may be related to his professional collaboration with Ocean. In a world where masculinity is defined by straight men, this is a huge milestone. And, not just for gay Black men but for gay men everywhere. It is up to artists like Ocean to help pioneer a new beginning.

One cannot escape the elements and images of violence, misogyny, power, and homophobia in rap music. They are fully integrated in hip-hop culture, and many could never imagine the music genre without it. The characteristics of today’s hip-hop will continue to impact impressionable young people everywhere for years to come.

You can make a name for yourself and achieve success in the rap and hip-hop industry, but it is hard to say that one can become a great person by rapping about violence and the objectification of women. You can become a great rapper and highly influential, but not necessarily a great person.

By offering Frank Ocean support, Jay-Z and Beyoncé begin to pave the way for an evolution in hip-hop.

There is a lot of truth to the saying: “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” Three, if you count Sasha and Malia. Four, if you count Beyoncé. Five, if you count Ivy.

One day that saying may change: Next to every great person, stands another great person.

It’s okay to be masculine and tough but does there need to be violence and discrimination to the point where our youth is led to believe that this is what it means to be a man?

What would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have to say? Now, he was great. And finally, what position do female rappers take on this?

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