September 15, 2015 By Ali Ahsan

Hip-Hop: A Culture That Transcends Songs


Say Yo! Wear a hip hop cap, bling it up with diamond earrings and garland a gold chain or two around your neck, then sport a loose T-shirt that almost hugs your knees. Round it off with a collection of bright ankle length shoes for everyday of the week. And hey, there’s hip hop for you. It is one of the most identifiable attires in the world. The popularity of the hip hop brand of styling and music has reached never before seen popularity levels especially among the young adolescents almost all over the world. Where did hip hop as a form of music come from?

While hip hop is popular for many reasons, the history of hip-hop does not always hog so much limelight. Some of the best known hip hop artists of contemporary times including Ice Cube, Mos Def and Fat Joe explain the way they used music as a weapon to tell the stories of the violence they faced while growing up in the streets of L.A. and New York. According to these artists, hip hop is not just music, it is a movement.

Directed by Jim Dzuria and from the producers of Lil Wayne’s The Carter, Tupac’s Thug Angel and the Beef Series presents Number One With a Bullet, a documentary on gun violence in urban spaces and it’s relation to music and hip-hop as a movement. Number One with a Bullet is a documentary shot in five acts. The first act takes you back to the scene of a crime where they were shot at and almost lost their lives.

Obie Trice is a recording artist. He is out to frame a jacket that he was shot at. Yes, you heard it right. These artists, most of them superstars, are into hip hop quite early in their lives. ‘Money over bitches and ‘get rich or die tryin’ tattoos are a common sight. The youngsters get into gang wars or rather are inducted into it quite early too. “Defendin’ the hood and ridin’ with the gang” happen for real in this part of the world. Most of these kids are people with guns who don’t even know how to fight.

The scene shifts to the Los Angeles gun club. B Real Cypress Hill is here to practice shooting. He talks about the way he gets shot in the back during the 80’s. The streets are always a beast, he says. The B-boy battles started as an alternative to gang wars. The idea was to battle in art as opposed to a physical battle. This was a trend that was about to blow and how! Hip hop was rocking and was a sign of things to come.

The white guy always blames the blacks and gangster rap for their music which inevitably according to them, led to violence, theft and rape. One would wonder whether Compton had always been dangerous. Gangster rap tore the country club and started country projects. This was a marketable genre in the making. It had difficult messages to convey as well. In due time, 4 teenagers become the biggest names in the world. The artists do not remember many people who believed in their music until they started raking in the money. Money! Everything revolves around money in this industry. The hip hop bags and the caps were so popular that one would wonder where the movement derives inspiration from.

‘Second amendment talks about arms to defend themselves’. Guns, guns everywhere. Guns of all sizes and shapes are available in America. How did the guns and music become a part of each other. Pistol Pete thinks Cleveland and Denver is where one has to sell the music. Once it captures the imagination of the people there, it is smooth sailing from then on. NWA were the trend setters during those times. And it was the next generation of rappers who carried guns and they changed the whole perspective of rap.

Act II is set in Compton, one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles, California has seen the best and the worst of the movement. The artists, in this segment takes us around for a walk in the neighbourhood. 40 Glocc, a recording artist, animatedly explains a shootout with the police that occurred some years ago. It is a usual sight in Philadelphia, he says. Violence begets violence. Most of the Artists talk about their humble backgrounds. From being without a penny, they redeem themselves from oppression through their brand of music. After studio though, where does one go back to? The streets again. He talks about their experience of getting shot in random, at their house, legs, being in a state of limbo, almost dead. On the way to the hospital, they thought they were dead.

Act three titled, ‘Our lives are not a joke. That’s what hip-hop says’. Nikki Giovanni, an English Professor leads us through a memorial that was built for the victims of the infamous April 16 shooting that occurred in Virginia Tec. 32 people died during the shooting. Professor says the lives of the Black Americans is not a joke and that this is exactly what 2pac Shukur believed in and what the rest of us believe in. ‘Tupac is considered Black America’s son if JFK is Americas son.’ That is how highly these artists, especially Tupac is regarded as. Martin Luther king, Malcolm X, JFK, John Lennon, Tupac, Biggy, Big l, Freaky, Scottler Rock… the list goes on. The Black Americans consider the artists who lost their lives to gang wars among the greatest figures America has witnessed and lost.

The death of Tupac Shukur and Biggy was unbelievable. It was a shock for many people and they took long to accept it. It was a great loss to hip-hop and the movement. Hip-hop would never be the same without Shukur and Biggy. How does it happen? Why are there so many killings? “A normal altercation turns into a fight and the guns are out before you know it.”

Graffixdoing, as he gets his next line of coke ready speaks of wanting to break all the rules. He thinks their music is raw and on the face. He feels that going to class or living a ‘normal’ life is far from reality especially when their lifestyle, which includes drugs, alcohol etc. was forced into them even when as kids. This is the kind of lives they have seen and they are happy making more money than all their teachers put together would ever make.

Act IV, ‘What the lyrics don’t tell you’ talks about red, angry music. There are a number of people getting jumped or shot every day here. Do you think anybody can infer that the number one cause of violence is poverty? Well, that is the conclusion the UN came down to. The people who are oppressed would never accept that they are. A man getting jumped at would definitely try and keep his manhood intact by pulling out his own gun. This is how it becomes a cycle and one gang takes revenge on the other. The strong willed will survive while killing someone is sometimes like doing them a favour.

“From here to New York, it is bad in the streets, it is bad in the hood. Young kids get shot.” In Philadelphia, the officer had seen the kid’s father getting shot at and now he sees the kid shot dead 15 years later. You don’t get to hear this on hip-hop.

This is part of the hip-hop life. Bigg’s eye is another stark example of street violence. A visit to the Temple University tells the horrors of street violence in detail. It is here that four or five deaths are reported week in, week out. A campaign to create awareness among the children is a first step in that direction.

The final act, number V, ‘Young buck on life after getting shot’ in an emotional interview of Jamiel Slaw Senior tells us the kind of pain that his family undergoes after the death of their son Jamiel right outside their house, due to street violence. He says he likes rap music but wonders what good does it having a gun do. A huge nationwide protest took place after the incident including a speech in support of Jamiel and his family by President Barack Obama.

The various artists and victims are asked the reason behind them carrying guns. They say protection, some say fear while some wonder why carry guns in the first place. It might sound cool in the beginning but there is nothing to glorify about being shot at, at all. All an artist hopes is that he can do his thing which is create music and hope that the people get it. At the same time, the responsibility that an artist holds towards the younger generation also is in their minds. Music cannot be about killing somebody, can it? It is all about the movement and what the people has to know is their own history. “Slavery is comfortable, you know what is hard, freedom. That’s difficult.”





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