Note: some contents are obscene. This was necessary, to inform the reader of the true nature of gangster and in no way was meant to be offensive. Also, the attendance book reads Tony, not Anthony
In the mid 1980's, the music industry was shaken up with the birth of gangster rap. Artists such as Schoolly D and N.W.A produced hits such as "PSK What Does It Mean" and "Fuck Tha Police." This new music genre portrayed images of gangs, guns, violence, and sexism, yet it was well received and became very popular in the span of just a few years. By the early 1990's, gangster rap had a home at the top of the charts. Some of the artists responsible for this were Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, both former members of N.W.A., Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and Ice-T. While each of these rappers showcased a unique style, the underlying messages in their work depicted acts of violence, discrimination, and sex in a way that made them appear commonplace and acceptable, when in fact they are not. The nature of gangster rap influenced society in a negative fashion, yet there was nothing that could legally be done to stop this. Today, gangster rap still tends to send negative messages to its listeners, but there are individualized efforts taking place that will help the problem.
N.W.A. got the ball of gangster rap rolling with the production of "Fuck The Police" in 1988, from their album Straight Outta Compton Lyrics from this track expressed hatred and violence towards police officers and implied that they were all racists. An introduction to the song reads:
Same fucking thing with the police...
'Cause the police just like fuckin' with people, you know.
They stop you, throw you on the ground and shit.
Put a gun to your head, and shit, you know what I'm saying.
They just fuck with you for no reason...
Anyway, fuck the police.
After this kind of introduction, it is no surprise that the rest of the song lives up to its name. Lyrics go as follows:
Fuck the police coming straight from the underground.
A young nigger got it bad 'cause I'm brown...
They have the authority to kill a minority.
Fuck that shit cause I ain't the one,
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun to be beating on.
Searching my car, looking for the product.
Thinking every nigger is selling narcotas
This album and track set a precedent for the rest of the gangster rap world to follow. N.W.A. publicly attacked the police force and got away with it, making this type of subject matter within lyrics seem to be acceptable, even though it is not considered moral. Add onto this the fact that the album went platinum later that year, and there was an example that would influence fliture gangster rap.
Dr. Dre became an influential player in the gangster rap industry when he established the Death Row Records label in 1992. The first artist to sign with Dre was Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was followed by the soon-to-be Executive Producer Suge Knight, and then Tupac Shakur. These four men became giants among gangster rappers after just a short period of time.
Dr. Dre's first solo album, The Chronic, was released under the Death Row Records label later in 1992. This album featured Snoop Doggy Dogg on a few tracks, and reached the multiplatinum level of sales by 1993. The Chronic contained hits titled "Dre Day" and "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang." While each of these tracks became big hits, the subject matter in the lyrics dealt with curious situations. "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" reads:
And before me dig on a bitch I have to find a contraceptive.
You never know, she could be earn'n her man and learn'n her man
And at the same time burn'n her man
And you know I ain't wit' that shit lieutenant
Ain't no pussy good enough to get free ride on my bennett.
These lyrics portray women as dirty sex toys that have no value other than the pleasure they can provide during intercourse. In "Dre Day," lyrics discuss the hatred Dre feels towards former partner and friend, rapper Eazy-E. The track goes as follows:
The hood you grew up wit', niggas you grew up wit'
Don't even respect your ass.
That's why it's time for the Doctor to check your ass, nigga.
Used to be my homey, used to be my ace
Now I wanna slap the taste out cha' mouth, make you bow down to the Row.
Fuck with me, now I'm gonna fuck with you 'lil ho.
Don't think I forgot. Let you slide. Let me ride.
Just another homicide...
So strap on your Compton hat, your loc's and watch your back
Cause you might get smoked, loc.
And pass the bud...
You fucked with me now it's a must that I fuck with you.
The rivalry between Dre and Eazy-E made public on The Chronic and Eazy-E's counter release It's On (Dr Dre) 18714m Killa helped gangster rap's popularity continue to rise. Eazy-E's album contained a track titled "Real Muthaphukkin' G's" on which Eazy-E retaliated to some of the lyrics performed by Dr. Dre:
Motha fuck Dre. Motha fuck Snoop. Motha fuck Death Row.
Yo and here comes my left blow.
'Cause I'm the E-A-Z-Y-E and this is the season
To let the real muthaphukkin G s in...
Dre Day only met Eazy's pay day.
All of a sudden Dr. Dre is the G' Thang
But on his own album covers he was a she thing.
So nigga, please don't step to these mothaphukkin real ~
Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg are fuckin' actors,
Pranksters, studio gangsters, busta' 5
But this time ya dealin' with some real mothaphukkas..
Niggas like y'all is what I call wanna be's
And ain't shit compared to real muthaphukkin G's.
Along with these lyrics, the chorus includes a background voice saying: "yo Dre? Sup" followed by the sound of a gunshot then the voice again "boy you should have known by now." The lyrics of these tracks and the images of the albums in general promote only violence, sex, and living a "gangster life" in which no prisoners are taken and only the toughest get ahead. Yet, society was taking it in like it had value and created happiness.
Late in 1993, Snoop Doggy Dogg, another member of Death Row Records released his first solo album under the Death Row label. The album, titled "Doggystyle" went multiplatinum the next year. Snoop's unique vocal textures and use of background rhythm made his work easy to identify, yet the messages were still the same. His track "It Ain't No Fun" was one of these songs giving off these negative messages, this song dealt specifically with women. Lyrics read:
Well if corrupt gave a fuck about a bitch, I'd always be broke.
I'd never have no motherfuckin' en-do to smoke...
I have no love for hoes, that's something that I learned in the past
So how am I supposed to pay this hoe
Just the latest hoe
I know the pussy's mine, so I'm gonna fuck a couple more times.
And then I'm through wit' it.
There's nothing else to do wit' it.
Pass it to the homey, now you hit it.
'Cause she ain't nothing but a bitch to me and you all know
Bitches ain't shit to me...
You'll never be my only one, trick ass bitch.
When asked about his lyrics and the image of gangster rap, Snoop answered "sex and violence sells, ask Al Pacino" (qtd. in MTV Production). Snoop was later arrested as a suspect in the murder of Philip Woldemariam on August 25, 1993. He was not found guilty. Yet the image of violence was well documented during his trial.
The Executive Producer of Death Row Records was Suge Knight. Originally from the streets of Southern California, Knight believed that success stemmed from approval from within. Considering his home as the "ghetto," Knight stated: "The success comes from the streets. Before you can cross over and go to pop, the ghetto got to accept you first. Then you get kids in Utah saying everybody in Compton, Long Beach, and Watts is playing this and dancing to this. This is all right. So you gotta go with the ghetto first, period" (qtd. in MTV Productions). Knight's goal was to portray gangster life in the ghetto as the standard of life everywhere. He wanted to make everyone believe that the "hard-core gangsters in Southern California" have a good time listening, watching, and living this way, so we can too if we listen to the music and act like the stars in the music videos. However, music videos are not reality and the images of guns, sex, and violence that they contain, do not lead to moral lives. When actions like the ones portrayed in the music and in the videos are carried out, there are huge consequences.
Tupac Shakur was next to join Death Row Records after Executive Producer Suge Knight paid $1.4 million to bail him out of a New York prison. Immediately he got in the middle of an ongoing conflict between Death Row and the east-coast based Bad Boy record label. His track titled "Hit 'Em Up" was produced as a simple statement from Tupac and Death Row to Bad Boy. Before this release, Tupac was shot with five bullets and blamed the shooting on Bad Boy. Lyrics read:
Killing ain't fair but somebody got to do it...
You'd better back the fuck up before you get smacked the fuck up...
This is how we do it on our side.
Any of you niggas from New York that want to bring it, bring it.
But we ain't singin' we bringing drama.
Fuck you and your motherfuckin mama.
We gonna kill all you mother fucks...
Well this is how we gonna do this...
Fuck bad boy as a staff, record label, and as a motherfuckin crew.
And if you wanna be down with Bad Boy, then fuck you too.
All of you all motherfuckers fuck you, die slow motherfucker.
My "44" makes sure all your all kids don't grow
West side 'til we die...
Fuck 'em we Bad Boy killin'.
Tupac enjoyed the image that his work, along with the rest of Death Row was presenting. When commenting on Death Row as a whole he said: "Everybody out here got cases and a real brain, and real thug lives to match these thug records." (qtd. in MTV Production). Apparently, Tupac was living the life he had always wanted to and possibly was persuading others to act upon his words.
The actions of Dr. Dre and Eazy-E along with those of Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records are similar to those of rival gangs. Definite boundary lines and sides, death threats and even gunshots are all part of gangster rap. These characteristics seemed harmless to the people profiting from the sales, but the impact on society was growing rapidly. When negative actions are advertised and condoned by role models such as gangster rappers, these actions seem acceptable, especially to younger audiences.
In April 1992, Texan Ronald Howard was driving through the state in a stolen car. He was pulled over by state trooper Bill Davidson for a possible traffic violation and became uneasy about the stolen car. During the encounter, Howard removed a nine millimeter Glock pistol from his glove compartment and shot officer Davidson, killing him at the scene. At the time of the incident, Howard had a pirated copy of the tape 2Pacalypse Now playing in his automobile's cassette deck. This album, performed by Tupac Shakur, and produced by Atlantic Recordings and Interscope Records, both subsidiaries of Time Warner, Inc., also contained similar gangster rap lyrics and messages (this recording occurred before Tupac signed with Death Row Records). One specific song on the 2Pacalypse Now album titled "Crooked Ass Nigga" talks about a frightfully similar situation to the one that took place between Howard and Davidson. Some of the lyrics read:
Now I could be a crooked nigga too
When I'm rollin with my crew
Watch what crooked niggas do
I got a nine millimeter Glock pistol
I'm ready to get with you at the trip of a whistle
So make your move and act like you wanna flip
I fired 13 shots and popped another clip
My brain locks, my Glock's like a fuckin mop,
The more I shot, the more mothafucka's dropped
And even cops got shot when they rolled up.
Howard shot and killed Davidson with a nine millimeter Glock pistol, while this gangster rap, also talking about killing cops with nine millimeter Glock pistols was playing in the car. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult to think that the music in the car did not have any influence on the situation. At least, the Davidson family thought it did.
Davidson's wife, Linda, along with daughter Kimberly, and son, Trey, filed suit against Tupac Shakur, Atlantic Recordings, Interscope Records, and Time Warner. Two basic questions came about from this trial. (I) What is the span of the material protected by the First Amendment and (2) Should artists be held accountable for the possible influence of their work.
The Davidson family wanted "damages from Tupac, Interseope Records, and Time Warner, Inc. for gross negligence in writing and distributing music intended to 'incite immediate lawless action,"' (Dallas Morning News). In the past, trials like this one have always gone in favor of the defendants. Musicians Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne both were not held accountable after families sued them following the suicides of children who had recently listened to their work. Diane Zimmerman, a professor of tort and First Amendment Law at New York University stated: "It's a very tough thing to say to the public, but speech doesn't have to have high useful value to be protected. It just has to be speech. You can understand the officer's wife and family. It's a very human and very understandable response, but it just can't be one that the law gives in to" (qtd. in Dallas Morning News). The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas president Ron DeLord also felt that the music industry should be held accountable: "The music says it's OK to kill a police officer. If you accept that these songs and messages influence people - and you would be silly to say they don't - why can't you recover under a products liability argument? They had a choice not to produce this record. They put it on the market" (qtd. in Dallas Morning News). Even though the public sympathized with the Davidson family's case, the courts did not rule in favor of them. On March 28, 1997, Judge John D. Rainey concluded: "2Pacalypse Now is both disgusting and offensive. That the album has sold hundreds of thousands of copies is an indication of society's aesthetic and moral decay. However, the First Amendment became part of the Constitution because the Crown sought to suppress the Farmers' own rebellious, sometimes violent views. Thus, although the Court cannot recommend 2Facalypse Now to anyone, it will not strip Shakur's free speech rights based on the evidence presented by the Davidsons" (United States District Court), He then ruled "for these reasons, Defendants Time Warner, Inc., and Tupac Amaru Shakur's motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction should be GRANTED. Plaintiff's action is hereby DISMISSED WITH
PREJUDICE" (United States District Court).
This gangster rap was also a factor in Howard's criminal trial. His attorney, Allen Tanner presented the influence of music to reduce Howard's sentence from the death penalty to life in prison. The fact that Howard killed Davidson did not have to be debated. Tanner commented: "I think when he was pulled over down near Victoria, those songs blasting in his ears it all just stressed him out at the moment, and he did a terrible thing." Later he added, "The only people who are doing any good out of this music are the musicians and the big companies who are making millions of dollars. They're out in California enjoying all the money they've made... and Ronald Howard is facing the death penalty." Tanner also used the knowledge of Joseph Stuessy, head of the music division at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Stuessy had testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the effects of heavy metal music on behavior earlier in his career and testified again on behalf of Howard. "If you get a kid already at risk, with a matrix of problems... the music can be a triggering device."
Again in 1992, another "gangster rapper" Ice-T produced a song "CopKiller" with a black heavy-metal band named Body Count. There was one and only one clear cut message from this song: cops are unjust and they deserve to die. The song begins with the following introduction:
This next record is dedicated to some personal friends of mine.
For every cop that has ever taken advantage of somebody,
Beat 'em down or hurt 'em because they got long hair,
Listen to the wrong kind of music,
Wrong color, whatever they thought was the reason to do it
For every one of those fucking police,
I'd like to take a pig out here in this parking lot,
And shoot 'em in their muthafuckin' face.
This is before the music even starts. The rest of the song follows along these lines with a chorus repeating the phrase "cop killer" and references to getting even and not caring about any of the consequences that come with murder. This song was released by Ice-T on the album also titled Body Count. The album immediately was criticized due to the messages and lyrics in "Cop Killer." Due to the criticism, Ice-T released a new version of the album, this time without "Cop Killer" on it. However, the messages were still sent, and the idea of killing cops gained more publicity because of the music.
There have now been three different songs presented in this paper containing lyrics that discuss killing cops: N.W.A. '5 Fuck The Police, Tupac Shakur's Crooked Ass Nigga, and Ice-T's Cop Kilkr. Others discussed murder and disrespected women. Suge Khight, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Doggy Dogg, three out of the four main players within Death Row Records, all spent time in jail during the early 1990's. Snoop while being charged for murder, Knight for violation of his parole agreement, and Tupac, for sexual assault. On top of this, Bill Davidson was killed, and the gangster rap industry was under criticism from many different angles, especially from the police.
Now, an interesting situation is in place. Lives have been lost and people have suffered, yet the gangster rap industry is still flourishing. Society has noticed the negative influence this music has had, yet we still continue to make it succeed through number of record sales. Is there a way to completely solve this problem? The answer is no. Referring back to the words of Judge Rainey, gangster rap is not a commendable thing, but there is no way to get by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech, making it impossible to restrict the words and messages given off by the gangster rap genre. While it literally is still only a type of music, gangster rap has definite influence and power.
The aspect of morality can also be applied to gangster rap. It is not moral to preach and advertise some of the topics discussed in the lyrics, yet they are all present in the world. It is also not considered moral to take away the rights of the individuals to express themselves through music, as observed in the rulings of the court cases dealing with these subjects. On the other hand, it is not considered moral to degrade women, threaten to kill people, or fire vicious insults, all of which are common in gangster rap.
The negative influence and morality issues stretch beyond the scope of gangster rap. Taking into consideration the messages of sex and violence present in gangster rap, similar topics can be observed in books, television, movies, and even video games. The difference between shooting cops on a video screen and listening to it on a CD is not significant. You can hear about sex on a gangster rap album, but you can see the actions at the movie theater. You can hear about lies and deceit in music, but you can watch it in your on home on television. The First Amendment protects those involved in all of these situations. However, there exists no law that requires everyone to be exposed.
The way to effectively battle the problem of a negative influence on society is through education. This education, however, will not take place within the walls of a school. In these cases, it is more important to educate parents and adults than children, so they can then try to regulate what they will allow to be present in their environment. There are many organizations that have voiced their opposition to the nature of gangster rap. Two of these have been the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, along with other police officers nationwide, and Focus on the Family. Those who feel they are put at risk by lyrics from gangster rap must fight for their safety. Understandably so, after the killing of Officer Davidson, police feel that gangster rap threatens them. It is their responsibility not to let the issue die. They can educate the communities they protect, giving examples such as that of Officer Davidson to warn parents about what their children are exposed to. Focus on the Family is a Colorado Springs based Christian group that often monitors violent entertainment has already helped with the cause and can continue to do so. When Ice-T's "Cop killer" song was released, they were one of the major organizations fighting for it to be recalled. With their help, the song was taken off of the album. If no one would have criticized the work, nothing would have been done about it. Focus on the Family can also inform their readers with articles and advertisements in their publication. Ultimately, though, the responsibility falls on individual families and people. It is not legal to take this material off of the market, but everyone has a choice of what they choose their environment to be.
Finally, there has been resistance to violence within the gangster rap community. Recently, Master P, president of No Limit records has launched a nonviolence campaign. This campaign consists of messages played on the radio, MTV, and BET. The message urges all gangster rappers to refrain from discussing conflict in their lyrics and to bring the focus back to the art of making music. Whether or not this campaign will be effective, is yet to be seen, but all rappers under contract with No Limit must tone down the messages in their new work, Master P has also recently developed a line of shoes with Converse. They will be available on June 10, and proceeds from these shoes can go to help fight against the negative influence of gangster rap. Since Master P and Focus on the Family both oppose the nature of some gangster rap, both would enjoy seeing it improve. The two could work together hoping to do this. Master P could help fund Focus on the Family for more articles on gangster rap. Focus on the Family could, in return, help Master P advertise his new line of shoes in their publication. This would be somewhat of a culture clash, but it would help to build bridges within communities, giving them something they can relate to each other with.
The nature and influence of gangster rap have had on society are obvious. People have agreed that is not a good thing, but it also not something we can legally do much about. Ultimately, it is upon us to decide what we surround ourselves with. Education and the support of No Limit Records will help minimize the negative of gangster rap and promote the non-violence campaign.
Bowman, James. :Plain brown rappers. (impact of presidential candidate Bill Clinton's challenge to violence in rap lyrics)" National Review 44 (1992): 36-40.
Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. Nuthin' but a "G" Thang. The Chronic. Death Row Records, 1993.
Eazy-E. Real Muthaphukkin G's. It's On (Dr.Dre) 187um Killa. Ruthless Records, 1993.
Krohm, Franklin B. and Suago, Frances L. "Contemporary urban music: controversial Messages in hip-hop and rap lyrics." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 52 (1995)139-155.
Life on Death Row. MTV, New York. 5 April 1999.
Microsoft Encarta, "Rap Music." [online). Available: http://encarta.msn.com/index/Consiseindex/2F/02F2F000.htm. [1999, April 13].
Moreno, Sylvia. "Stakes high in murder by rap fan; Trial questions about 1st Amendment." The Dallas Morning News 21 June 1993 1A+.
No Limit Record Information. [online]. Available: http://thetank.fsn.net/index5.htm.
N.W.A. Fuck Tha Police. Straight Outta Compton. Priority Records, 1988.
Phillips, Chuck. "Gangsta Rappers' Arrests Spur More Static Over Genre." The Los Angeles Times 7 November 1993 Calendar page 9.
Salem, Steve S. "Rap music mirrors its environment. (commentary)." Billboard 105 (1993): 6.
Shakur, Tupac (1998). "Crooked Ass Nigga." [online). Available: http://www.rbaworld.com/Music/Rap/Artists/2pac/2pac063.shtml. [1999, April 13].
Shakur, Tupac (1998). "Hit Em Up." [online]. Available: http://www.rbaworld.Music/Rap/Artists?2Pac/2Pac016.shtml.
Snoop Doggy Dogg. It Ain't No Fun. Doggystyle. Death Row Records, 1993.
Stancell, Steven. Rap Whoz Who. New York: Schirner Books, 1996.
United States District Court For The Southern Division Of Texas, Victoria Division. Civil Action No. V-94-006. Linda Davidson, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Bill Davidson, Kimberly Dyan Davidson, and Trey Wes Davidson, Plaintiffs, v. Time Warner, Inc., Tupac Amarn Shakur, Interscope Records, East West Records America, and Atlantic Recording Corporation, Defendants. March 28, 1997.