Music has always been a manifestation of social change and as such it has shaped new mindsets, echoing the reality of its era. Especially punk music and hip hop music have both emerged as social and cultural trends in the mid 70s, expressing the despair of an aggressive, anti-conformist audience in the conservative UK and the despair of African Americans in the shifting urban civilization of the United States respectively. Both punk and hip hop have created stereotypes and role models and have fiercely resisted against social injustice. Moreover, they have both been related to the expression of extreme social phenomena including unemployment, criminality, even racism.
The Birth of Punk Movement in the UK
After the flower-power rock of the early 70s, punk emerged as a hurricane to sweep away the conservatism of the UK society. Resisting to the political systems and expressing controversy to the British monarchy, the punk music soon transformed into a huge cultural movement. Mainly represented by Sex Pistols, The Clash, Crass and Conflict, UK punk groups converted anarchy and chaos to genuine political philosophy.
Young people could express themselves with the DIY ethic (do-it-yourself) that was articulated in distinctive clothing, hairstyle and artwork. A new, absolutely radical philosophy was born with the birth of the punk movement and the punk music became much more than aggressive sounds with minimum instrumentation, military tempo and chaotic lyrics: it became a brand new culture.
British punk emerged in a very particular social context, a time of old-fashioned political reaction and economic crisis, and in a way of life driven by style and class-based groupings. Showing strong contempt to the political engagement of the previous generation, but also to their way of living, young punks shaved their heads and opposed to the traditional working class community. Through their music and through the promotion of the DIY as the cornerstone of the evolving punk ideology, UK punk groups symbolized the anti-political anarchism of punk, emphasizing on isolation, opposition, aggression, but mostly the creation of a new working class.
The Birth of Hip Hop in the U.S.
Emerging from the New York ghettos in the early 70s, hip hop traces its roots in African American and Latino customs of the city’s poor neighborhoods. Protesting for the association of the Black Civil Rights to unemployment, poverty, criminality and police brutality, hip hop expressed political speech, resistance and controversy serving as a way out of the distress of African Americans.
Soon, hip hop created role models and stereotypes and became a massive phenomenon that infused popular culture. Black youth could express itself through distinct communication patterns such as speech, gestures, and body language. Gradually, hip hop spread out its influence beyond verbal communication, gender, economic class and even race. Managing to integrate black and white audiences, hip hop’s crossover power brought together diverse people.
How Punk and Hip Hop Are Related
In the U.S., punk emerged as opposition to “Black Power”. Especially in its early phase, hip hop emerged as a means to express political speech, rooting in older cultural traditions. White kids in the suburbs listening to black music on local radio stations have contributed to racial integration, but, at the same time, have created the grounds for the emergence of White Power. Gradually, the American Civil Rights and White Power movements have been associated as the U.S. political system in the 70s was rather hostile toward the African Americans of the urban America.
In this climate of Black Nationalism, punk emerged as an alternative to popular Black culture. U.S. punk groups created minimalist catchy punk sounds introducing speed, song brevity and brilliantly simplistic, yet powerful lyrics. Gradually, their music became a form of cultural expression that also played an important political role showing that the boundaries between culture and politics are not that blur when it comes to music.
Also, both hip hop and punk music carry memories. Hip hop describes the real stories of the lives of Black people in the ghettos of New York or Los Angeles (East- and West-Coast hip hop). Similarly, punk music carries power and a sense of belonging to something higher and stronger than the individual describing the sense of belonging to a group. Again, their relation is more than clear when it comes to expressing social change.
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