Nowadays, Hip-Hop being so effortlessly woven into the fabric of everyday culture is the norm. Snoop and Lil Wayne are unofficial ESPN employees. The President name drops Young Jeezy and looks comfortable doing so. Nas performs at the X-Games. Rap is still shunned upon and stereotyped, no doubt. But in comparison to 20 years ago, America’s acceptance is almost night and day. Knowing all this is the exact reason this 1993 NBC report is so chilling to watch.
Gangsta rap, by all accounts, was the black eye to this country in the early to mid ’90’s. The rise in drug use, rape, violence against police and the rebellion of Middle America was credited to the genre which found itself in the news for all the wrong reasons. It was a vicious cycle of multi-million dollar corporations profiting off the lifestyles of young black men and women who were falling victim to pitfalls at every corner. The darker the lyrics, the brighter the attention and the heftier the bank account. In said clip, NBC cut no corners while all but labeling artists like Eazy E, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and Flavor Flav Public Enemies 1-4 (pun intended) for their respective criminal records.
Unintentional, for sure, but the lesson to take away isn’t rap’s influence on the youth. Instead, it’s the media influence on the perception. From the outside looking in, “gangsta rap” was the virus infiltrating neighborhoods across the country regardless of trust funds. Rap had no redeeming qualities and it wasn’t a race issue either. Calvin Butts – you’ll notice his now iconic comments immortalized by Bone Thugs – hated it, so it had to be okay, right? For all the shade tossed Jesse Jackson’s direction over the years, he does deserve some credit for helping diagnose the issue. Rappers glorified violence in their rhymes because it was all they were accustomed to. The popular mistake then, and even today, was to blame the reaction instead of the precursors causing it.
Those who were of age to experience the backlash against the ’90s most popular movement will view the clip and instantly have flashbacks. Those, like me, who remember, but were too young to truly grasp the significance can use it as a tool of reinforcement. And for the select few under the assumption rap was birthed by the invention of Napster, pull up a seat. This one’s for you. History class is now in session.