Music can be regarded as a powerful entity that can stimulate the minds of the masses. In a sense, musicians can be viewed to have a stronger influence over popular culture than those in political positions. The use of words and ideas amalgamated together in rhyming format develop a memorable voice which is engraved into the mind of the listener. The concepts explored by musicians can be utilised to educate, inform, and vividly describe various themes that are inspired by the human experience. Fela Kuti, Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer referred to his idea of the power of music stating: “When you are the king of African music you are the king because music is the king of all professions.” The more frequent music is purchased, streamed, or played on the radio, can denote the extent of its effectiveness as a piece of propaganda. In the Guardian article ‘Is UK drill music really behind London's wave of violent crime?’ Author Ben Beaumont-Thomas makes references to how music has always been an area of significance in terms of the strength of its influence: “Whether it’s the running battles between mods and rockers in 1960s British seaside towns, or the “parental advisory” panic over the lyrical content of 90s gangsta rap, music has long been the focus of moral panic – and the latest is over UK drill, a tough, often lyrically violent subset of British rap.”
Rap Music and semiotics can be considered to have a close relationship. Rap musicians lyrical style utilises a wide range of vocabulary, using words and sounds as signs, shaping images within the imagination of its listeners. The sounds, lyrics, and visual aspects of semiotics form a powerful syntagm, becoming the base that draws the attention of its listeners. The grove of Rap instrumentals and the manner which these instrumentals alter in dynamic appeal to the mood and emotion of the listener, developing a spiritual bond with the receiver. The rhythmic style following the strong emphasis of words and syncopation can hypnotise listeners into a constant repetition of lyrics, leading to the ideas presented by Rap musicians becoming stored within their subconscious mind. Visuals are also a strong element within Rap music, music videos are a direct projection of how the music is intended to be perceived. Propaganda from a visual standpoint is effective as unlike the musical factor which gives the listener the tools to assemble their perception of the music, music videos are the direct embodiment of the music, strengthening its the propaganda as a whole.
The aim and purpose of this work is to analyse propaganda within Rap music, establish how propaganda in this genre of music is put together, and also understand the effect this propaganda has on the masses. This project will also use analytical methods such as content analysis and quantitive analysis to explore how repetitive patterns within Rap music create musical and cultural familiarity amongst its listeners, strengthening the effectiveness of the genre’s propaganda.
Hip-Hop music or Rap music was birthed as a genre of popular music in the early 1970s, by inner-city African-American’s and Latino’s in New York City. Hip-Hop music in the ’70s was mainly based around the aspect of breakdancing, partying, and enjoyment. However, in the 1980s the music evolved from a genre situated around playful lyrics, to one that began to embrace themes Afrocentrism and social commentary. Hip-Hop in the 1980s is dubbed by many as the ‘golden era of hip-hop,’ this is a result of the vast innovation and quality of material that was being released around the time. Nonetheless, in the 1990s Rap music took a turn from social commentary, to what is referred to as ‘gangster rap.’ Gangster rap from the perspective of many gangster rap artist’s was a vivid description of the violent everyday life which plunged their communities. In 1992, journalist Chuck Phillips spoke of this in the Los Angeles Times: “Many black rappers—including Ice-T and Sister Souljah—contend that they are being unfairly singled out because their music reflects deep changes in society not being addressed anywhere else in the public forum. The white politicians, the artists complain, neither understand the music nor desire to hear what's going on in the devastated communities that gave birth to the art form.”
Racial injustices within black communities in the United States, and across the world can be seen to have invigorated the tension within the sub-genre of Rap music, developing a strong interest in Rap music globally through the cultural familiarity of their realities. On March 3rd, 1991, African-American male Rodney King was viscously assaulted by Los Angeles police officers. The brutal beating was met with outrage across the world, and especially across African-American communities in the nation. The event led to the LA riots which devastated the city and injured thousands. In the 1990s, LA was considered a hub for gangster rap with prominent Hip-Hop acts such as Ice-T, N.W.A, and Tupac Shakur gaining appeal globally. Police brutality cases similar to that of Rodney King sparked up another wave of social commentary within rap music which was essentially gangsterism combined with themes of revolutionary sentiments. Records such as Ice-T’s ‘Cop Killer’ where he states “Cop Killer, better you than me. Cop Killer, f--- police brutality !” Ice-T’s song cop killer was met with so much controversy, President Bush denounced the record, calling for it to be removed from commercial markets, considering the record to be propaganda that called for the murder of police officers. ‘F**k the Police’ another emphatic controversial Rap song released by the group N.W.A, was also met with the same level of dissension, and led to the group receiving a letter from the FBI.
The personal affinity each Rap fan developed for their genre through the music speaking to their emotions, or merely through their interest in its musical elements, culminated into the collective alignment of the experiences of people from similar communities. The interaction of world-renowned entities such as the President of the United States and the FBI depict how the masses adhering to the propaganda promoted by Rap artists, which was a blend of Afrocentrism and militant gangsterism, are perceived as a great threat to the security of the nation if acted on by its listeners. Joseph Goebbles, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, spoke on this perspective stating: “Music affects the heart and emotions more than the intellect. Where then could the heart of a nation beat stronger than in the huge masses, in which the heart of a nation has found its true home?” The strongest form of propaganda can be viewed as one which speaks to the necessities of individuals. Persuasion is a pivotal element in the effectiveness of propaganda. Rap artists can be seen to possess many aspects that give them the ability to persuade their listeners to act on their propaganda, these include their celebrity appeal, credibility, and also the personal relationship listeners have established with their favourite artists through their relatable content. Rap music propaganda at its most powerful can be highlighted by Ice-T’s Cop Killer, as the song is ‘pro’ the assassination of police officers, a by any means necessary perspective that does not take into account the actions, nor consequences that will occur as a result infuriated listeners following through with his idea.
Malcolm X, a radical black nationalist leader who encouraged violent methods to oppose the civil rights era, and Martin Luther King, an advocate for peaceful non-violent approaches in the struggle, were both assassinated in the 1960s. The assassination of both prominent leaders in the black community can be seen to have developed a sense of hopelessness, as both leaders were opposites in terms of their propaganda, however, both leaders shared the same fate and were murdered. This can be viewed to have developed a lack of interest within the collective psyche of the black community in terms of dispelling peaceful alternatives to end the racial oppression that has occurred for centuries. Ice-T’s viewpoint of retaliation can be seen to be immersed in the feeling of generational despair, and therefore his propagandist approach is one that seeks to influence his followers that violence is the only way end violent oppression. The frustration presented by Ice-T and N.W.A can be seen to link in with Walter Lippmann’s theory of human mind being a cognitive miser, constantly looking for a simpler, less thoughtful methods when solving issues, especially when more thoughtful approaches have proven to be unsuccessful.
Rapper Tupac Shakur’s propagandist approach is one that intends to give the listener an understanding as to why he deliverers certain messages in his music, he stated in an interview: “Nothing I ever say, this is that we could set it clear, anything I ever say as it pertains to being strapped, is only in self -defence.” A component of reason can be identified throughout Tupac Shakur’s musical material. His song ‘Changes’ contains thoughtful lyrics that gives his listeners a deeper insight into many issues that birth the violent content of Rap music: “I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself Is life worth livin'? Should I blast myself? I'm tired of bein' poor and, even worse, I'm black, My stomach hurts so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch.” This honest perspective can be seen to develop into a form of propaganda that unconsciously gives listeners who have a biased perspective of Rap music, an alternative view. Rap music has also recruited fans from many different racial backgrounds who identify with the music. When asked by interviewer Ed Gordon whether he is being ‘pimped’ to perpetuate a negative perception of black youth, Tupac Shakur stated: “If you really look at this situation, it is not I who is being pimped, when you look at them white kids with the Raiders hats on, it's them white folks getting pimped because I’m making their future, I’m writing down their curriculum, what I write in my album today, when when it comes out in two months, that's what white kids’ are doing, so who's really is getting pimped? What I’m writing in my raps is what them white kids’ is going to be saying to their Mummies’ and Daddies’ when they get home.”
Tupac Shakur can be seen to allude to the strength of his propaganda, recognising how it breaks racial barriers. His interpretation of ‘white kids’ possessing as strong affinity for his music, influencing how they dress, how they talk, and what about what they talk about, can be seen to reveal his intentions of luring his listeners in through the pleasure of his music to the perceptions that his propaganda seeks to establish. This transition is exercised through sound, syncopation, and emphasis, leading to a repetitive trance that finds its way to the older generations who despise the genre but are now constantly in the midst of it. Nonetheless, Tupac Shakur met his brutal demise in a drive-by shooting connected to the ‘East Coast-West Coast’ rap war in 1996, six months later his rival in the rap war, rapper Notorious B.I.G. was also killed in the same manner. This creates an argument for how the gangsterism perpetrated in the music and can be viewed as propaganda for lawlessness, that eventually manifests in death.
In the United Kingdom, a sub-genre of Hip-Hop referred to as Drill Music is on the rise. The office of national statistics depicts how there were 90 fatal stabbings in London in 2019, and across the UK there was a 7% rise of offences involving knives or sharp instruments between September 2018 and September 2019. The dark theme centred around drill instrumentals sets the tone for lyrics that lead to criminal activity. Andre Montgomery-Johnson, a grassroots journalist who covered Drill music made an interesting argument for the sub-genre stating: "You can record a song on your phone and within 24 hours, that could potentially have a million views, which would change your whole destiny.” Creating a song immersed in the topics of knife crime and murder can lead to a successful career in music. This can then lead to accumulation of wealth through record sales and shows, eventually resulting in the artist leaving the treacherous community that their music represents. The propaganda of gang culture exploited through Drill music can bring various rewards, and the war aspect behind the aggressive sounds of Drill instrumentals can be seen to lure listeners into becoming Drill artist, utilising the sub-genre for wealth and glory.
Successful British Rap artist Konan refers to this idea in his article for the Guardian: “Watching other artists make it out of “the ends” and on to our TV sets was a huge inspiration to me. They didn’t rap about butterflies and happy days; they rapped about a life that was like mine. But hearing their lyrics didn’t make me want to go out and hurt people, sell drugs and go back to jail. It made me even more empowered to make my life successful in a positive, legal, creative way.” He further states: “I don’t think the police understand that criminals don’t make music. You make music to leave the criminal life behind, so focusing your efforts on the musicians is pointless. The problem isn’t with the music, it’s with the issues that the music is expressing. It’s like looking at the symptom while totally ignoring the cause.” Rapper Konan alludes to Drill artists possessing the role of a journalist within their communities, the propaganda in this sense can be seen to dwell around the aspect of becoming a successful star, accumulating views on YouTube, and becoming famous, rather than becoming a successful criminal.
In Conclusion, the propaganda of Rap music can have various effects on the masses. The initial effect is the listener identifying with something specific within the music, this could be the sound, lyrics, or the visual. Once this relationship has been established, listeners develop a strong affinity with their favourite Rap artist, making repeat purchases and streams, further incorporating the ideas of the artist into their subconscious mind. Social issues such as racism and police brutality contribute to the effectiveness of the propaganda of Rap music by combining cultural familiarity with musical familiarity. This collective level of influence then gives Rap artists the power to shape the perspectives of listeners, and possibly create a powerful movement. Each listener may respond to the music differently, for some, it may inspire them to act on their negative emotions and commit a crime, whereas for others it may speak to their pain, or encourage a way out of their crime-ridden communities, inspiring them to become an artist.
The perception of the genre as the cause of violence can be considered to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, alluding Rap artists to thoroughly live the life they are describing. Nonetheless, propaganda combined with Rap music is effective as the relationship established with each listener is personal, this personal relationship once brought together with all the various other listeners who may subscribe to certain artist’s work can possess the ability to generate a collective following who have the potential to act on the propaganda presented within the music.
Peace & Love.