Rapping For Equality – “Fight The Power”

Hegemony can be described as the ideological dominant social group or class within society. Gwyn Williams explains hegemony as “an order in which a certain way of life and thought is dominant, in which one concept of reality is diffused throughout society, in all its institutional and private manifestations, informing with its spirit all tastes, morality, customs, religious and political principles, and all social relations, particularly in their intellectual and moral connotations” (Femia 1975).

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Gramsci explains further that, “hegemony is the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group” (Crehan 2002: 102). In other words, hegemony is the most accepted and mainstream values, customs, etc. that are accepted as normal within society. In addition, these ideas are rarely challenged, making them more dominant. According to Gramsci, elites try to manufacture consent to their policies by promoting specific values and messages in the media favourable to their interests. As seen in many lectures throughout this semester, popular culture tends to be biased toward the wealthy, straight, able-bodied, white, males.

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Rap music is historically known as a form of counter-hegemony. Rap music originated mainly out of young, inner city, working class and poor black males. Professor Tolmie states, “hip hop started in the New York City streets specifically the Bronx in the 1970’s” (March 18, 2014). Rap music can be considered critical and challenging of the traditional institutions. It should be understood as a mass mediated criticism of the dominant ideology of racism within the Western power structure. Much of rap music rejects dominant ideological assumptions. Tolmie explains rap music as an “anti-establishment outlet for those speaking ‘to’ and ‘for’ disempowered and disenfranchised urban youth” (March 18, 2014). Public Enemy is one example that is critical of the white power structure and its portrayal of the Western system as fair and meritocratic.

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Jack Moore analyzes Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” and states,

While the song was hardly rap’s first assault on the establishment, it was a particularly explosive one. After witnessing their track get trashed by the music industry machinery, the group relocated their countercultural manifesto to the streets. Bootlegged live recordings of the track surfaced in metropolitan areas, and Public Enemy performed nearly nonstop throughout the boroughs of New York City to relay their militant message. Although the track was kept off the air because of its foul language and inflammatory political themes, record sales shot through the roof. “Fight the Power” became an anthem of urban black discontent, for better or worse (189).

ImageThe music video starts off by demonstrating ‘The March on Washington’ in 1963. It was a civil rights demonstration by several groups to fight for racial equality. The “demands of the marcher were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2 an hour minimum wage; and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority” (Ross 2007).

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The introduction to the song paves the way. The whole song discusses racism that still occurs within society. It provokes another revolution to fight against racism instead of passively consenting. Each verse says something special. In verse one they rap,

Got to give us what we want

Gotta give us what we need

Our freedom of speech is freedom or death

Freedom or death relates back to the suffrage movement. Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech declaring the women suffrage movement determination to fight to the death. In other words, it signifies fighting until they receive equal rights such as freedom of speech, or until they die. Either way, they will not stop fighting.

In verse two they rap,

To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange

People, people we are the same

No we’re not the same

Cause we don’t know the game

What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless

The idea of the game here, is the fixed rules established by those in power to keep the black and white, rich and poor, abled and disabled, etc. separated. In addition, they are saying that instead of passively consenting to the power by stating everything is fine, black citizens must acknowledge racism and take strides to eliminate it themselves.

In verse three they rap,

Don’t worry be happy

Was a number one jam

Damn if I say it you can slap me right here

This message mocks Bobby McFerrin’s massive 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” They do so because they do not feel it acknowledge the state of the world, such as the inequalities that black citizens receive. The dominant structures that are in place make it easier for a certain kind of individual (white, straight, ablebodied, male) to be happy and a lot harder for other individuals such as black citizens to be happy. Ultimately it ignores cultural and social inequalities.

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However, rap music today can be depicted as sending the wrong message. Much of rap music in contemporary society is considered misogynistic. This is extremely unfortunate that such a powerful counter-hegemonic structure has transformed into supporting the dominant.

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Though, this may bring out another type of counter-hegemonic in the future. Hopefully, people will return to the message of Public Enemy, and “fight the power.” Although rap music can be viewed as changed, many people still admire Public Enemy for bringing awareness and creating entertaining music. They used popular culture and entertainment to create awareness and change structural problems within society. Although issues of racism still exist, hopefully new forms of resistance will learn from Public Enemy and eventually minimize and eliminate structural inequality altogether.

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Chuck D., founder of Public Enemy says, “my job is to write shocking lyrics that will wake people up” (189).

References

Crehan, Kate. 2002. Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Berkely and Los Angeles,California: University of California Press.

FEMIA, & Femia, (1975). Hegemony and consciousness in the thought of Antonio Gramsci. Political Studies, 23(1), 29.

Moore, Jake. “Doin’ It Right.” Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.nyu.edu/cas/ewp/mooresad10.pdf).

Ross, Schmuel. 2007. “Civil Rights March on Washington.” Infoplease. Retrieved April 13, 2014 (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/marchonwashington.html).

 

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5 thoughts on “Rapping For Equality – “Fight The Power”

  1. Well done, I learned a lot from this post! I had heard of the saying “Fight The Power” before but I had no idea where it originated from. It’s interesting to look back at the progression of rap and see how far it has come today. I find myself endlessly defending hip hop music because of the turn mainstream music has taken and the image it puts out. Many people see rap artists or hear the music and draw conclusions based on superficial elements but it is only from tuning into the lyrics that you can find the meaning in songs. Ghetto Story by Baby Cham and Alicia Keys and Runaway Love by Ludacris and Mary J. Blige are two examples I find really powerful that make counter-hegemony palatable to people who might not be as comfortable with hardcore rap.

  2. I found this blog very interesting to read as I had never heard of “Fight the Power” (is that bad?) or thought about the origins of rap music. I find that rap music today falls on somewhat of a spectrum, with one side supporting the cultural hegemony and objectification of women and the other side conveying proper messages as you stated above. Therefore, like kristafurrobin said above it’s not until we listen to the content of the songs that we are able to figure out where that artist falls on the continuum. The media often pulls us in and we are caught listening, singing-along, or watching what pop-culture presents to us with absent minds, never stopping to reflect on the content. I think the first step we need to take against negative messages the media and pop-culture is to become actively engaged in the world around us and the content we are endlessly surrounded by.

  3. Loved this blog! To be honest, I often listen to rap music but never really considered where it originated from. As stated above, rap music today is revolving around the objectification of women. The music videos that go along the audio often have a male rapper alongside a genuinely beautiful female. I want to refer to what both posts above stated – it is not until we hear and analyze the lyrics of the music that we understand what is being said. This is beyond true. I have never found myself listening to the lyrics of the songs first. My first analysis is the beat/rhythm of the music. Then I realize what is being said in the song, and often times I am appalled. But that being said, there are also many examples of great music and lyrics that tend to speak out to a lot of positive messages in society.

  4. I’m glad someone touched on the good old rap days!
    It’s unfortunate that these days, as you have mentioned, rap music has gone down this materialistic, misogynistic, and gender hegemonic pathway. And often, the lyrics and associated music video are just sexual, explicit, and all about the extravagant lifestyle.
    Getting down to the roots of rap is where it is. If you actually read into the lyrics of some of the “older” rap artists, you get see how deep and complex their words are, unlike many of the rap artists we see today. A complex blend of spoken poetry and some old fashion rapping is what made rap so moving and fantastic–it really is a story.

  5. This is a perfect example of how rap and hip hop started. It began as an anti-establishment movement but for the sole purpose of equality. early rappers such as tupac and public enemy are perfect examples of advocates for changing the hegemonic views of blacks in the pre 2000`s. although there methods were somewhat unorthodox and offended some listeners their rise to super stardom was due to the pure messages in the music. Tupac`s song `Changes` is another good example of the attempt at changing the cultural hegemony. It is a shame that contemporary rap has strayed so far from its roots and is now based on drugs, sex and money. i enjoyed reading this post and taking a trip back 20 years!

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