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From Rock to Rap: Historically Racial Parallels in Today’s Music




If someone gave me a dollar every time an old person told me that hip hop isn’t real music, Bill Gates and I could possibly have the same net worth. Your grandma may cringe every time you mention a rapper’s name, which most likely fills you with utter frustration. I feel you in this situation. But, if it gives you any more comfort, just remember that your grandma probably experienced the same thing when she hung up a Mick Jagger poster in front of her parents. Rap music and Rock n’ Roll are a lot more alike than you probably imagined, and racial politics has something to do with it.

Although Elvis Presley was coined “The King of Rock n’ Roll”, and bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are considered some of the greatest of the genre, Rock n’ Roll began years before their arrival to the scene. In fact, white people were not even part of it. Rock n’ roll in the 1950s’ was practically synonymous with the term “black music”. The earliest rock n’ roll acts include Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Rock n’ roll derived from American blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Watters; another predominantly black genre. Another nickname for rock n’ roll music (and jazz)  was “The Devil’s Music”, mostly because of a strange legend associated with Johnson, and the use of electric guitars that wasn’t prominent in mainstream music at the time. People were outraged by the sound of the guitars, disgusted by how “noisy” and “loud” they were. A few years after Berry and Richard, white artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley began to flourish commercially and critically in rock n’ roll. They also brought in a white audience that wasn’t around before. In the early 1960s’, American rock n’ roll floated across the pond and inspired four teenage boys from Liverpool to create their own band. They called themselves The Beatles. A year or two later came The Rolling Stones, a so-called “grittier” version of the band, also immersed in rock n’ roll. Both groups ignited the “British Invasion”, bringing their rendition of American music around the world.

Older people were still not on board with the rock music phenomenon until much later on, but it did eventually gain a larger fan base throughout the 1960s’ and 70s’. And then as time passed, the 21st century arrived. That meant the kids who spent hours begging their parents to buy them a Jimi Hendrix LP in 1969 were now adults. That meant the teenager who attempted to persuade his or her father into believing that rock music had meaning was now probably starting a family of their own. And most of those kids and teenagers who praised rock n’ roll for unique instrumentation, long guitar solos and strong vocals are now probably the same adults bashing rap music without truly listening to it.

It’s also worthy to note that rock music hadn’t received full commercial success until white people began to play it, which unfortunately makes sense when looking back into the era in which lies the origins of rock n’ roll: the 50s’, where segregation still was vivid in many areas of the United States. “White only” bathrooms, schools and swimming pools existed the same time Chuck Berry created iconic guitar riffs that would have an endless impact on music.
It’s a shame to confess that systematic racism has not yet vanished and an immense amount of progression has to be made, which can explain why rap music, despite its astounding contributions to the music industry (both financially and artistically) is still not accepted by mass audiences. Yes, much of hip hop music includes misogynistic lyrics that objectify women and even romanticize rape, but that cannot be said for all. Rolling Stone named Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as the best album of 2015. The record addresses a vast amount of topics from police brutality to Lamar’s personal struggles and battles, with an intelligent, quick and poetic tone. From Jay Z’s streaming platform Tidal to Dr. Dre’s entrepreneurship with Beats Electronics, the people who dismiss hip hop’s importance and vitality in our culture display nothing but ignorance. Just like rock n’ roll in the 1950’s, rap music pushes boundaries with innovative ideas and passionate artists, despite the fact that people underestimate the ultimate power and impact contained in each beat.

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Rachel Riddell
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Rachel Riddell is an aspiring writer and high school student based in Toronto, Ontario. Interests include intersectional feminism, roasting Donald Trump and watching an excessive amount of conspiracy theory documentaries.

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