Monday, March 1st, 2010...7:00 pm

African American Identity within Subculture (Bebop and Hip-Hop)

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As a result of racial tensions and discrimination within American society, African American musicians had little choice but to resort to subculture musical forms as a means of getting their voices heard and acquiring a distinctive identity. Both the formation of Bebop in the 1940’s and Hip Hop in as early as 1974 provided an “anti-assimilationist” movement towards white America, which expressed the frustrations of African Americans in the music industry and society. Both subcultures provide their own unique elements and ideas, which in turn united to express a cohesive transformed African American identity.
The formation of Bebop came about as a means of breaking the restrictive musical barriers of Blues and Jazz. Bebop was about freedom of expression through improvisation, dissonant chords and rapid tempos. It attempted to prove the notion that African Americans were more than just simple, primitive blues players but a complex layering of intellect and masculine assertion. Their use of subculture capital helped to distinguish their identity, as African American “Bebopers” took on a “personae of intellectuals, goatees berets and horned rimmed glasses” (430). In a sense, this movement was revisited with the formation of Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop became a subculture for youth in search of an alternative identity that displayed status and prestige. The formation of subculture capital through fashion statements and street names, helped create this distinctive identity. The use of clothing and jewelry often created a sense of class distinction, while street names like L.L. Cool J and Ice-T gave a personal distinction to each individual who participated in the subculture scene.
Hip-Hop also demonstrated a means of masculine assertion with its use of aggression in music. The use of flow, layering and break of rhythm were quite prevalent through the various element of Hip-Hop, which include graffiti, break dancing and rapping. Graffiti was seen as aggressive public display of voice and identity for African American youth through the use of symbols and words. It also provided a means of social resistance. Break dancing displayed a musical rupture or break in rhythm. While rapping battles/duels became a form of improvisational performance of language, spoken with power and a sense of authority at fast rhythmic speeds.
All in all, Hip-Hop became the modern day Bebop, displaying freedom of expression and a breaking of musical barriers. Both were cohesive movement’s, which “mirrored transformations in black life” (423) and “refused to accept racism, poverty or economic exploitation” (426). Kenny Clarke said it best when he stated, “we just played our music….the music proclaimed our identity” (426).

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1 Comment

  • Jason,
    We made similar comparisons in our posts this week. I, also, compared bebop to hip hop. I focused on the negative connation that it popularly receives. I refrained from describing the similarities between the two types of music styles for fear that I was going off on a tangent. One similarity that immediately came to my mind (and apparently yours also) was the art of the “freestyle” which you refer to as “rapping battles/duels,” also known as a modern day form of improvising. I was excited to see to the you and I shared the same ideas after reading the article, and even more pleased that you went into greater depth about some of the things I wanted to mention. Good job!

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