Does hip hop unite and empower or divide people? To answer this question and look at hip hop and empowerment from different perspectives, let’s first look at the history of hip hop.
Hip hop developed from blues and jazz, and the first artists of the 1970s looked up to Miles Davis and other classic performers. In the US, rap and hip hop were part of the social movements of the time. They were the voice of black people, which had gone unheard for so long.
This tendency continued throughout the 80s and 90s, with NWA, Tupac, and the B.I.G. being what some would call a powerful voice of African Americans. Hip hop was the voice of social dissatisfaction and discontent. It was also a way to express and effectively validate African-American experiences in that period of history.
Gradually, hip hop started becoming more commercial, and with that, the facets of empowerment changed. Legendary hip hop artist and current multimillionaire Dr. Dre discovered Eminem in the mid-90s. The latter remains among the most dynamic, unique figures in hip hop to this day. He was loved by some and loathed by others.
On one hand, some people said he took black empowerment away, being white. He was the first internationally known and acclaimed white rap artist, a novelty to the genre. On the other hand, he empowered the disenfranchised and the rejected – “white trash”. Poor white males who felt their voices weren’t being heard made up a big part of his fan base. France is the country with the second-biggest hip hop market after the US. However, modern French rap is decidedly different from modern American rap. While the latter has been commercialized to the extent of being disempowering, the former has served as the soundtrack of the recent yellow vest and other protests in France, assuming the function American rap had a few decades ago – a voice of protest and of social discontent.