Sound of a Generation – pt.4 July 18, 2008Posted by Matt in Sound of a Generation.
Tags: Generation X, NWA, public enemy, rap music
As we have seen over the past few weeks, the (mostly) white youth of generation X in the early 90’s faced the world about them with disillusion and discontent, struggling to find some sense of identity in a world that no longer made sense. It was a time of angst and anger that was reflected deeply in the music that we listened to.
Meanwhile, other musical movements were rising from the black community.
While rap music had been around for some time by the early 90’s, it really came to prominence during that time period – beginning on the East Coast. While white suburban youth longed for something more, some bit of metaphysical meaning in a plastic, disposable existence, black Americans were still standing face-to-face with the same problems they had been dealing with for generations – poverty, injustice, inequity, and the fulfillment of basic needs. Leaders had risen and fallen, but change was slow and laborious. The ghettos of the most prosperous nation on the earth were still filled with those who had been forced into their situation for no reason other than the color of their skin. So, with this sense of frustration in mind, many in the black community turned to music as a catalyst for change and nobody represented this more in the that time period than Public Enemy.
Around that same time, though, another force was brewing on the West Coast, in the ghettos of Compton, but this one would take a different track to infamy. Where Public Enemy and other socially active groups looked at the situation and demanded action, those from the other coast looked upon their circumstances with hopelessness, denying that change was even possible within the current paradigm. Eschewing any call to action as a failure, they instead adopted a nihilistic worldview, in which hedonistic gain became the greatest good and violence was not to be avoided, but rather embraced. In the wake of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved (along with decades of inequity in the justice system), policemen and figures of authority became the utmost of enemies. It was from this environment of brutality and disorder that a new genre of rap music arose into the mainstream and it was led by four men from the streets of Compton who identified themselves as NWA. With a style that was brash and profane, Ice Cube (before he was doing kids’ movies), Dr. Dre, Easy-E, and MC Ren took the nation by storm for a few short years. I wanted to use the song Straight Outta Compton for this, but decided against it due to the language (this is a family blog!), so instead here is their rather tame video for Express Yourself. Go to YouTube and search for the aforementioned song if you really want to get an idea of what they were all about.