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October 30, 1989 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-10-30
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- 14 U . H NA-. A -- LLEGE NE SPPE - -- --COER-ie n r




OCTOBER & Life and Art


Rap makes cormerc

By Sam Ewen
The Daily Cardinal
U. of Wisconsin, Madison
and Monica Kitchen
. The Pioneer
C.W. Post
Call it rap, call it hip-hop, it's here.
In 1988 and'89, rap music has emerged strong
and large. Overwhelming record sales, sell-out
concerts,music video hysteria and negative pub-
licity have transformed rap, a once-small form
of street communication, into a multi-million
dollar business.
The commercial success of groups like Run-
DMC, Salt-n'-Pepa, Tone Loc, and Jazzy Jeff and
the Fresh Prince has made record executives
take notice, and the political militancy of outfits
like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions
has garnered mass headlines. The music form
has advanced to where at one point in 1988, rap-
pers held six ofthe top 50 positions on Billboard's
pop charts.
Rap emerged in the late '70s with the Sugar
Hill Gang, who spurred its evolution into a black
subculture. Today, many critics view rap as the
most innovative form of music around. Artists
such as De La Soul, L.L. CoolJand Public Enemy
have inspired countless others with their combi-
nations of drum beats, rhymes, and samples of
music from sources as diverse as James Brown,
Yes, Slayer and Steely Dan.

"The way I see it, rap is like the British.inva-
sion, except the artists are black and they're from
America,"says BillAdler, director ofpublicity for
Rush Productions, which produces Public
Enemy, De La Soul, and others. "Collectively,
these artists represent the single mostvitalinfu-
sion and explosion of talent in rock n' roll and
popular music anywhere in the world today."
From the start, rap was an expression of inner-
city youth culture as opposed to the Cosby-style,
middle class version of African-American life.
Groups such as Public Enemy, Boogie Down
Productions, andKool MoeDee arephilosophers
of the growing pride among black Americans.
Their lyrics address issues such as racism, drug
abuse, and black-on-black crime.
Public Enemy, for instance, note angrily in
"Night of the Living Baseheads" that drug deal-
ers are destroying the black community: "You're
selling to the brother man/Instead of the other
And gang violence within the black communi-
ty, raps Kool Moe Dee, is having a similar effect:
"Back in the '60s our brothers and sisters were
hanged/How could you gangbang?II never ran
home from the Ku Klux Klan/And I shouldn't
have to run home from a black man."
Other rappers who have achieved widespread
mainstream success have been accused of dilut-
ing both the medium's message and its musical
intensity. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, for
instance, have reached the top with teen

lal strides
anthems and a. compromisingly wholesome
image. Before that, Run-DMC received criticism
for collaborating with Aerosmith on a re-make
of the rock group's '70s hit "Walk This Way."
Although the re-make ended up becoming one of
rap's most significant crossover hits, some blast-
ed the group for selling out to commercial rock
and MTV.
The group defends its moves, however, as a
way to open up rap's commercial potential while
maintaining its integrity. "I got a chance," says
Run-DMC's Run."I'm always willing to stand up
for a new problem that young black, white,
Asian, whatever are facing because I faced the
same things, and they can see that they can grab
what I grabbed. They can use me as a stepping
stone. I've opened up doors for all these new
One way or the other, rap continues to make
significant inroads. MTV now devotes an entire
show, "Yo! MTV Raps," to the music form. Even
the Grammy Awardshave latched onto the trend
by establishing a separate rap award, a move
which actually caused several artists to boycott
last year's ceremony, accusing the organizers of
ghettoizing their music.
Several recent rap singles have burned up the
charts. Tone Loc's gritty single "Wild Thing," for
example, sold more copies than the smash hit
"We Are the World."
Once labelled a fad, rap is now well-established
as a lasting musical and cultural movement. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy

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