The lecture from Jeffrey Ogbar on Febuary 15, 2013 was titled “Ready to Die: Critiquing Hip-Hop’s Narratives of life and Death.” I found the lecture to be really engaging, interesting, and humorous. Ogbar talked about how central role of death within the music of hip-hop. We often simply expect to find death to be a central theme of the music. It is kind of sad, but we aren’t surprised by the death narrative within hip-hop. Ogbar pointed out that the theme was absent from the music until the 1980’s. Hip-hop first came on the popular scene when “Rapper’s Delight” came out. However that national song really wasn't a true depiction of hip-hop as it was happening on a more local level.
The presence of the death narrative was introduced parallel to the rise of the illicit drug trade. As crack cocaine began to take rise, so did the violence and death narrative within hip-hop. The drug problem was essentially ignored in popular music until it was simply too large to ignore. As the conflict within the community of hip-hop rises, so does the presence of the death narrative within the music.
There comes a divide in hip-hop out of the politics that surround the community. On one hand you have the ganster rappers who embrace the hardness of being from the hip-hop community. These artists include groups like NWA and later Cypress Hill. On the other hand you have groups such as Run DMC and Public Enemy who take on the black freedom or black nationalists view. Instead of talking about killing anyone in their music, black nationalist rappers such as Public Enemy talked more about killing their oppression or oppressors. They would single out politicians and cops to point the lyrical gun out, whereas ganster rappers would talk about killing anyone that got in their way. Then there are artists such as Ice Cube who breaks away from NWA and goes out to NY and merges the black nationalist rap with ganster rap with “Death Certificate.”
In the lecture, we discussed a little about the suppression of certain lyrics by the record labels and the effect that might have had. Certain record labels had to start denouncing artists because of the violent death narratives in their lyrics. Talking about killing other black people in their music was okay, but if they started rapping about killing cops they would have to change it. One question I had was how did these death narratives, and violent notions of killing people, affect (and possible hurt) the civil rights movement. These narratives paint a violent picture, and I wonder how representative the nation and the public saw this. Did these songs come to define the African American race for some people at the time, and how did the record labels deal with that. Or rather, did the record labels even deal with that?