Recently, Michel’le Toussaint, the one-time girlfriend of rap mogul Andre “Dr. Dre” Young and mother of his son Marcel, premiered her Lifetime biopic, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel’le. This movie brings to the forefront, Dre’s history of violence against women, which is quite ironic due to the fact that story was not included in his own biopic, Straight Outta Compton.
Some critics were of the opinion that Straight Outta Compton glorified N****s Wit Attitudes (N.W.A.) — a highly aggressive, violent and sexist gangsta rap group that had Dr. Dre as its producer. In addition to the lack of screen time for Michel’le, Straight Outta Compton also received backlash for not documenting Dr. Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes and rapper-turned-rocker Tairrie B.
Once again, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel’le shone a spotlight on Dr. Dre’s past and the violence, misogyny and sexism enshrined in rap music—especially gangsta rap—as produced by N.W.A. To have an understanding of where rap music is at this very moment, it is important we review the origin of rap music.
The Birth of Hip-hop and The Origin of Rap Music
In her work Rap Music and Street Consciousness, author Cheryl L. Keyes traces the origin of rap music to hip-hop. Hip-hop is a youth art movement which evolved in the South Bronx, New York, during the early 1970s and was comprised of four elements: Disk-jockeys (DJs/turntablists), emcees (MCs), break-dancers and graffiti writers.
The style delivery of the DJ and the rhythm of the MC gave birth to a musical form that makes use of rhyme, rhythmic speech and street vernacular loosely chanted over a musical soundtrack. This musical form became known as rap, and is one of the most vital forms of popular music.
By the late 1970s, rap music had begun to attract the attention and as rap progressed, sub-genres began to emerge such as political rap, commercial rap and gangsta rap.
The earliest hip-hop pioneers and moguls such as Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were known as socially and politically conscious rappers. They articulated their ideas on social-political issues such as poverty, drugs, police brutality and other racial and class inequalities in their music.
Based on the history above, rap music can be seen as part of a larger ideological process of persuading the population that heterosexual male supremacy is natural and normal. Rouen Collins in his work Hegemonic Masculinity Rethinking the Concept, considers rap to be one of the contemporary “controlling images” used to subordinate black women. Consequently, William Oliver argues that rap’s sexist lyrics “provide justifications for engaging in acts of violence against black women.” During this time, groups like Eric B. and Rakim and Public Enemy, and songs like “Fight the Power” came into prominence with heavy radio play and rotations on shows like Video Music Box.
However, with political rap came the introduction of gangsta rap which depicted and promoted a lifestyle of sex, drugs and violence within inner-city America.