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“Keeping It (Hyper)Real”: A Musical History of Rap’s Quest Beyond Authenticity

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Abstract

Few musical genres have such a deep rooted connection to crime and violence as rap music. This chapter traces rap music’s checkered past by zooming in on a theme that runs throughout the history of the musical genre: rap’s longstanding and complex relation with authenticity which is reflected in the phrase “keeping it real.” As an aspect of the broader hip-hop culture, the origin of rap could be traced to the streets of the inner-city neighborhoods of the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, (gangsta) rap music stirred up controversy due to realness and realism in the explicit lyrical content of profanity, misogyny, criminality, and violence. These foundations of rap music have spawned a musical culture in which “bragging and boasting” and tales of criminality, violence, and misogyny are considered genre conventions. However, not all the performativity and violent posturing can be chalked up to lyrical formulas of the genre. “Keeping it real” remains of the utmost importance for rappers, street-oriented persons, and other audiences alike. The Internet, and social media in particular, has further complicated the relation between “art” and “life.” This chapter shows that the importance of “keeping it real” in rap culture has metamorphosed into the act of “keeping it hyperreal” with a quest beyond authenticity in constructing street credibility.

Keywords

  • Rap music
  • Hip-hop
  • Violence
  • Authenticity
  • Street culture
  • Gangs

Shout-out to Robbert Goverts and Jeroen van den Broek for their useful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcCK99wHrk0, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  2. 2.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PobrSpMwKk4, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  3. 3.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/the-50-greatest-hip-hop-songs-of-all-time-150547/grandmaster-flash-and-the-furious-five-the-message-2-96795/, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  4. 4.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5fts7bj-so, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  5. 5.

    http://thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/screw-rick-ross, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  6. 6.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2MVzP4MaJ0, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  7. 7.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJjsm6CVsG8, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  8. 8.

    https://www.courthousenews.com/rapper-tekashi-6ix9ine-cops-to-heroin-and-violence-charges/, visited last on December 12 2019.

  9. 9.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41qC3w3UUkU, visited last on December 12, 2019.

  10. 10.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqDinxaPUK4, visited last on December 12, 2019.

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Correspondence to Robert A. Roks .

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Roks, R.A. (2021). “Keeping It (Hyper)Real”: A Musical History of Rap’s Quest Beyond Authenticity. In: Siegel, D., Bovenkerk, F. (eds) Crime and Music. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-49878-8_14

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