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N.Y. Hip Hop

It was back in the early eighties when my father and I used to live in the South Bronx, one of the not-so-nice neighborhoods located in New York City. I had an older cousin living with us that first introduced me to the emerging world of hip-hop. He gave me a tape with graffiti type writing on the front and I immediately recognized it from being the same "tag" as the ones written on the walls of our building and even on the side of some subway cars. It was the tag of a local crew, of which my cousin was a member, that used to hang out in the park. Now these guys would have "sessions" where they would blast music from their boom boxes and then get a separate beat and freestyle with each other. Back to the tape which my cousin gave me. I took my hip-hop tape back to my grammar school, in my mom's neighborhood. Now, I went to school in a "nicer" neighborhood than the South Bronx. I had a Walkman and was listening to my tape when some of my classmates asked to listen to it. I gave them the headphones and about five minutes later, they looked dumbfounded and then started giggling. They told me I was listening to "ghetto music" and asked if I had any "real" tapes to listen to. I wondered if I was listening to a fake or imaginary tape.

Well, I kept on listening to hip-hop and throughout the eighties , hip-hop began to become more socially accepted, especially with the development of some hip-hop songs becoming crossovers into the pop charts. I remember MTV started out with a show called "Yo, MTV Raps!" hosted by Fab 5 Freddy. I used to love this show, not only because it focused on hip-hop and played the few rap videos that were around at the time, but they also taped a couple of episodes in my neighborhood. But, with the emergence of the crossover songs, MTV started to play certain hip-hop videos regularly. All of the sudden, hip-hop started to become "cool" with the pop culture, and the next thing I know, I see Young MC promoting Pepsi and MC Hammer in his own Saturday morning cartoon. Yet, this wasn't the hip-hop I mainly listened to. I was always listening to the underground radio programs, late at night, when the young and aspiring DJ's would spin and scratch until the early hours of the morning. An example of one of the show's I used to listen to, and is still around today is "The Stretch Armstrong Show," which is broadcast on the Columbia University's student run radio station.

Well, by the nineties, hip-hop had grown out of its earlier stages and began to expand and diversify. The hip-hop industry was a money making production for the record labels which discovered a new source of revenue. Hip-hops many faces included jazz rap, southern bass, west coast, freestyle, hard-core, and gangster rap to name a few. I remember one day walking into the local music store and all of sudden there was a whole new section which was just dedicated to hip-hop, instead of the little rack space that was allotted in the beginning. Also, my local stationary store started to carry a variety of magazines focused on the hip-hop culture and industry. Examples of these magazines are Vibe and The Source. They contained articles covering artists, fashions, concerts, music reviews, and specialized advertisements aimed at the readers. I found myself reading these magazines intensively, cover-to-cover. To this day, when I walk around campus, there's always one of these magazines in my school bag for taking a glance in between classes or during very boring and large lectures.

It's 1997 and hip-hop is a global culture with a multi-million dollar music industry behind it. But, lately the images that rap artists are trying to produce to sell more albums, for example the gangster rap phenomenon, have been blurred with reality. Rappers have been trying to present themselves as untouchable outlaws that started off as your local pharmaceutical brokers in the projects, but now live the "good life" with all their money from record sales and illegal activities. There also appeared a war between the east coast rappers and the west coast rappers, where different rappers taunted each other on their songs, as well as in public appearances or interviews. This so called war was actually a marketing scheme by the record labels to sell more albums and promote various rappers. Unfortunately, the line between fiction and reality was crossed when two of the industry's leading rappers were murdered recently, Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG, apparently in the name of this rap rivalry. I remembered when Tupac was murdered, MTV and BET had these long debates and special programs on this emerging and ongoing issue, rappers blurring the line of reality. I was studying in Madrid when I heard the news of BIG's cold blooded murder. I thought it was pretty ironic that a "ghetto industry" is enough to make headlines across the ocean, as I paged through the Spanish newspaper.

To me, this whole gangster image was taken to far, especially with the death of these two rappers. This is because some of these rappers were preppy school kids or dancers a couple years ago, and all of sudden they are living a wild and illegal life. It's all just an image being pushed and portrayed that gives the rest of the diverse hi-hop community a bad name.

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