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Providing context for hip hop tends to be difficult because the tradition tends to vary from nation to nation. However, one aspect of hip hop that tends to be universal is its ability to be recognizable based upon the socio-economic statuses of the individuals who purvey and consume hip hop. Generally, there is a history of hip hop being used by the individuals who have the lowest socio-economic means as a way of speaking out against the inability to positively affect their situation or to call for justice while being impoverished. Through this lens, it is possible to explore hip hop in various areas of African.
One example of the way that hip hop tends to be viewed in Africa is that it is the cause of poverty and bad behavior rather than a result of living in such conditions. The article “Hooligans and Heroes” takes a look at this phenomenon in the nation of Tanzania. A useful statistic for examining the problems in the nation was revealed that one “city of 3.5 million people, unemployment figures among the general population are estimated to be from 13 to 40”[i]. These people are consistently faced with conditions that cause them to resort to crime and anger out of the utter despair that occurs in their everyday lives. However, when they attempt to listen to hip hop or engage in rapping with one another, they are grouped into the idea of the hooligan, a person that is going to cause trouble for the other people that accept the plight of their situation.
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This concept of hip hop being used as a cultural means of reaching out to talk about corrupt political systems and the poverty they cause can be seen in the music that is produced in Tanzania as well. It is not just the subscription to the hip hop culture or the appreciation of the music that colors the perspectives of the individuals, it is the way that they internalize and convey it as well. One artist whose music video has been circulated as an example of the youth feeling disenfranchised is X Plastaz. His song, “Nini dhambi kwa mwenye dhiki?”[ii], describes the systems that have kept the people in Tanzania from feeling empowered. It is important to note that this song was written about Tanzania, and mentions many issues such as poverty, corruption, and being unable to get a job- factors that have increased the distaste that people have towards their government. Lines from the song ask “What’s the offense of the poor?”, insisting that they are no different from the people that are in power and have a great deal of wealth, but are looked down upon and labeled unfairly. In other words, the singer is asking what the poor have done to deserve such unfair treatment; they are the most vulnerable individuals in society and are still treated as a threat.
The concepts that were outlined in both of these resources are crucial to grounding the view of hip hop as being a political act against socio-economic conditions that are invariably stacked against certain members of the community. While hip hop is a useful means of starting a conversation about the nature of power, who is able to direct it and who it is directed at, it is often used as a way of classifying people as potential troublemakers. The article “Heroes and Hooligans” shows that people in Africa are more than willing to accept the fact that people who are engaged in rapping have poor character qualities and do not deserve to be taken seriously. In their minds, it is merely the youth acting out and using hip hop as a means of displaying their anger towards other people. This view of hip hop is unfortunate, since it is one of the key ways of conveying the thoughts and frustrations of the poor in an approachable manner. Yet, the slang that is used in the songs, the perceived threats of violence, and impoverished conditions lead to these individuals being discounted as individuals that want to evoke change. Too often, they are seen as Hooligans, people looking to cause trouble rather than achieve effective discourse.
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Understanding the link between the socio-economic realities of people in impoverished regions and hip hop is crucial to garnering an effective view of the popular culture in Africa. The fact that so many people have their views dismissed because of the means that they use to convey this dissatisfaction with the system demonstrates why it is necessary to understand how this aspect of popular culture is grounded in a socio-economic system. By recognizing these attributes, a more effective and understanding view of African popular culture and its goals can be realized.
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