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Musical History: From The Plantation To The White House Pt.2

CHANGE-MAKERS: Former US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC

AUTHOR, ESL (English as a second language) trainer and educational scientist Pascal Archimède has used that initial encounter as the starting point of a study, The Young African-American and the Rap Phenomenon.

We continue taking a look at Archimède's research, which goes behind the scenes of black American history:

Recognition of African-American culture thanks to jazz

According to experts, jazz would be born at the beginning of the 20th century. However, they admit that it derives from more ancient music genres and African oral traditions enriched by the Euro-American trend.

Once discovered, this cosmopolitan music allowed to break down barriers between whites and blacks. This music managed to merge several cultures in one - jazz culture.

Soul music, funk and the awakening of black consciousness

The African-American civil rights movement arose in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. It aimed to give equal rights and justice to blacks.

Partly influenced by both rhythm and blues and gospel, soul music appeared around the end of the 1950s.

It enhanced the culture and pride of the African-American community and was used as a means of expression in that quest for equality.

The end of the 1960s was marked by the assassination of two black leaders; Malcolm X (1965) and Martin Luther King in 1968. The tension was palpable in the United States, that were embroiled in a war in Vietnam at the time and many witnessed a significant degradation of black citizens’ social and economic situation.

Created in the 1950s, it is in this context of racial tension that funk music emerged. This festive music, embodied by artists such as James Brown, then appeared as a contesting cry of freedom.

Rap: from the ghetto to the White House

At the end of the 1970s, inspired by Jamaican sound systems, 'block parties' were arranged in New York black ghettos with a DJ on the decks and a master of ceremonies (MC) in charge of entertaining - it was against this backdrop that rap music was born.

In 1979, the Sugarhill Gang released Rappers’ Delight, the first worldwide rap hit which put this musical genre on the map.

This music, which originally told anecdotes with bragging festive and materialistic punchlines would turn into a genuine denunciation of the decaying of the ghettos under the Reagan administration in the 1980s. The song Fight the Power by Public Enemy is a perfect illustration of this.

In 1988, gangster rap from Los Angeles emerged, ushered in by group NWA (Niggas With Attitude). This rap style describes the gloomy everyday street life.

Doctor Dre, one of the founding members of NWA would later work with artists like Snoop Dogg and Tupac, all of whom (Tupac posthumously) hold significant cultural value today, in the world of music, media, culture and even politics.

The 1990s saw the booming of rap within the United States but also all over the world.

For some, this music genre has become an opportunity to escape poverty and to live the easy life described by numerous rappers, whilst for others, it has symbolised the cultural expression of the oppressed.

For the last forty years, this contesting and uprising music has been gentrified but still remains a bearer of hope; contextualised by Barack Obama, an African-American, becoming President of the United States; who received visiting rappers (many of whom campaigned on his behalf) with full honours into the White House.

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