Race, Rap and the performance of Black Masculinity

It is impossible to ignore that rap, as a defining feature of American culture and contemporary British culture, has also embodied the sheer imagination of black people, but how has the performance and anger behind rap infiltrated the subconscious of black men worldwide?

Words by Mikai McDermott

I won’t bother exploring the origins of rap as a performative genre, as the rap we’re all familiar with grew in the USA during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. Rap was a form of musical language which articulated oppression that young black people were feeling in their home lives and within large institutions. In essence, African-Americans used music to vocalise their frustrations with the government, in even plainer words, “Fuck Tha Police” (N.W.A ) as a political message was relevant upon its 1988 release and is still, sadly, relevant now. I suppose the real question here is, how has the performance and anger behind rap infiltrated the subconscious of black men worldwide?

“Rap music, despite its’ complexity, allows for external audiences to view black men through the very basic lens of “angry black men”


It is impossible to ignore that rap, as a defining feature of American culture and contemporary British culture, has also embodied the sheer imagination of black people, rap is innovative, dynamic and seems to survive oppression, censoring and has still managed to stay one of the leading genres of the world. Yet in all this, it is almost impossible to ignore its importance in defining white imaginations of black male bodies. We can’t simply start and stop at “rap makes young black men commit crime” as that’s easy and doesn’t really attack the root issue. In rap doing so much to shape black culture, it also massively reveals ways in which black male rage manifests itself in rap lyrics and how this has been glorified as a device in the demonisation of black men. I don’t think Rap is determinative in black males expectations of themselves, but it is important in designing situations that they feel are impossible to escape other than with crime/violence. As outsiders looking in (yes, black women are also outsiders to the black male experience) it is worth making an effort not to draw a conclusion on one factor determining issues for black male underachievement educationally or hyperactivity in criminal instances. Even more so, it’s important that we encourage black thought to dominate the figurations of black male bodies.

We should decide how we want to be seen.


In talking about the ways black men are viewed, the main originator of this is mainstream culture, it controls the arrangement of consciousness; when this is put in relation to how black men are viewed in rap music, it simply means that rap music, despite its’ complexity, allows for external audiences to view black men through the very basic lens of “angry black men” and if we are to view this as the prelude to how rap cements the world view of the black male body, only then can we acknowledge s the performative nature of black hyper masculinity as just that. It becomes more and more apparent that black men need safe spaces where they are not seen as inherently dangerous. These spaces are necessary because black male bodies have become inherent sites of political resistance whilst also being a symbol of rebellion.

There needs to be spaces for black men to exist without the burden or expectation of committing crime or partaking in violent acts, more importantly, a space that is separate from white voyeurism and the dangers that stem from it.

Is there a way to begin doing so? Have you seen organisations that have tried to become a space to nurture black men?

Mikai

Check out our playlist on Apple Music and Spotify for good vibes and be sure to comment your thoughts below.

Cover and featured image from Nathan Miller's documentary "LDN" which you can watch here. Be sure to check out the trailer for our film GASH.
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