Harlem Renaissance and Contemporary Art Genres
Both Harlem Renaissance and contemporary rap eras play a fundamental role in expressing the feelings of African Americans. The poems during the Harlem Renaissance period sought to end blacks’ economic exploitation and violent racism. For example, “If we Must Die” by Claude McKay is a poetic response to violence perpetrated by the whites against the African American communities. The contemporary rap era, on the other hand, is well-orchestrated through Hip-hop genre to reflect the political, economic and social realities of the African Americans living in the low-income areas. For example, “All Amerikkkan Bada” by Joey Bada presents the theme of black identity, white supremacy and police brutality on African American communities. Harlem Renaissance and contemporary rap movements are poetic genres in two different periods, which calls for the political, economic and social liberation of African American people. The pursuance of black people freedom in contemporary hip-hop music depicts the continuity of black people’s artistic traditions. Styles found that there is always a connection between contemporary rap and poetry. The issues that were voiced by the black communities during the Harlem Renaissance are well-illustrated in modern rap music. The two genres represent Gates view on the motivation behind the early African American poets. Gates noted that poets from African American communities in their poems expressed the themes of suffering experiences and hope. Despite the mistreatment, the Harlem Renaissance writers had a vision that one day they will gain their freedom. Gates’ sentiment and comments on the early African American artists’ fight for their respect and dignity can be identified in the modern Hip-hop, and particularly in the “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” by Joey Bada$$. Bada$$ speaks about the mistreatment of the blacks, especially through police brutality and racism spearheaded by the white supremacy.
Harlem Renaissance gets its name in the 20th century in New York City from the development of the Harlem neighborhood which was mainly characterized by artistic explosion among African Americans. The Harlem era lasted from the 1910s to mid-1930s, and the entire period was referred to a golden age for the African American culture since in manifested their art, stage performance, music, and art. During this period, the African American artists including writers and poets started to emerge in the new, intellectually-characterized environment. From the beginning of the 1920s, many of the African Americans’ work was popular within the mainstream literary circles including receiving appreciation from both the white and black audiences. Majority of the African American artists preferred traditional English writing styles while the rest opted for the literary work that could be identified in the African American masses. The themes of Harlem literature, art and poetry primary focused on boosting racial pride and expressing the feelings of the minority groups towards racism and alienation that was common in the American society. The ideals and politics born during the Harlem time were an inspiration in shaping the directions of the African American movements in the later years.
Just like the Harlem Renaissance, rap trend started in New York in 1970s. Today, rap is viewed as the civil right movement. It is argued that contemporary rap is a black art movement that was born to address the issues of drug abuse, sexism, education, racism, and spiritual uplift. The concerns of modern rap are the same as those of the Harlem Rebirth as steered by McKay in his work “If We Must Die.” McKay advocates for dignified dying instead of living in cowardice, yet the results will be death. “If We Must Die” offers the spiritual uplift for the African Americans to fight honorably and with the courage to win the battle. The rap genre today is showcased by the graffiti artists, break dancers and by DJs in clubs and parties. Despite the rap genre contribution to the cultural development of the African American people, it has continued to receive a lot of criticisms, especially due to its negative anti-social aspects. The critics say rap music represents anger that has always dominated the African American movements. However, the dissenters of the rap music appear misinformed because it seeks to address the African American issues which are openly known to affect them, but the society is doing nothing to address them. Like as it was the case with Harlem era, today rap music has become a political language that uses neither weapon nor violence, but a language to provoke people to make them think.
“All Amerikkkan Bada$$” shares information to the American society on the issues affecting the black communities that nobody is bothered to address rather than the African Americans themselves. As it was witnessed with the past African American artists’ literature and poetry that expressed their political experiences, Bada’s album is also politically-charged. For example, he talks of the bird in the sky that resembles a plane but calls it a young black god that is out to pursue its dreams. He goes further to note that, the society does not want to see the bird continue flying, and as a result, it shoots its wings. Perhaps, Bada$$ ridicules the American society, and particularly the police brutality that has resulted to the death of many young African Americans who are innocent and dedicated to pursuing their dreams, but their desires are always shattered when they are shot dead.
The white supremacy was a dominant trait during the Harlem Renaissance, and it is still reflected in the “All Amerikkkan Bada” For example, McKay was driven by the white supremacy entitlement to write “If We Must Die.” The whites felt that they were superior, and as such, they were not supposed to interact with the black communities as illustrated by the Jim Crow Segregation era. Bada$$ portrays the white supremacy in the song “Land of the Free” to show how white Americans feels justified to misuse blacks for their gains. Besides, the whites have made it hard for blacks to unite and live as a family. In the song, Bada narrates how whites treat blacks as donors. The singer goes ahead to tell how the white supremacy has affected African American families. Historically, the enslavement divided African American societies and now illegal incarceration have kept them away from their families.Bada$$ talks of racism by revisiting the words of a nine-year girl in North Carolina who in 2016 addressed a council meeting by saying she did not like how the black people are treated just because of their color. The young girl address showed that murder of Keith Lamont by police was racially-charged. In this song, Bada$$ reflects many racial killings that have happened in the past as perceived through the lens of (McKay). For example, “If We Must Die” was a response to the racial violence that was carried out by the whites towards the blacks after World War 1. In 1919 alone, over 300 black men and 25 women were killed in urban race riots.
The African Americans opportunities to grow have always been blocked by the whites as illustrated by Bada$$ in the “Babylon” song. For example, rappers are seen as trash musicians whom their money is used in gang-banging, drugs, and women. The whites do not see the power of rap music in shaping positive behavior among the young audience, and as such the rap artists should not be promoted because they contribute to social challenges like high imprisonment of black men. Bada’s view conforms to the Harlem Renaissance, specifically with Jim Crow era when the whites preached against watermelons which were economic empowerment for the blacks.
The comparison between “If We Must Die” and “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” is vital since it shows the evolution of the artistic genre that is used to express opinions and feelings from one period to the next. The two texts show that art is almost the same only that it undergoes through a cultural evolution to suit the current environment. The same things that were addressed by the Harlem movement are still evident in the rap art movement, an indication that culture can only take a new face value, but internally remains the same.
Cultural traditions are preserved through different artistic objects in society. The African American movements both in the Harlem Rebirth era and during the contemporary rap are always based on the same theme, liberation, despite the time period differences. As such, it can be argued that the cultural evolution is only meant to present the message in the most appropriate way that the target audience will understand.