Ever since the beginning of humankind, people have been evolving. Societies have been built, torn down, and built once more. Attitudes towards certain topics, the ways that we act, and the way humans communicate have all changed. One of the key methods of communication has been music, which has developed alongside society. I regard music is an integral part of my life, and I’m an avid fan of all types of music. That being said, I am also interested in people. I am interested in seeing how humanity has morphed and evolved into what it is today. Those topics also fascinate others, so I am not alone in my passions. I seek to find connections between music and society, which leads me to the question: how does music reflect the progression of society, if at all?
Hip-hop is a genre that is composed of many different art styles such as breakdancing, graffiti, deejaying, and rap. Hip-hop culture originated in the South Bronx section of New York City in the late 1970s and rose to prevalence in the 80s and 90s. DJs would invest minimally in their equipment, only utilizing two record players, a sound mixer, and their record collection to make endless loops of music. Rappers would rap about their struggles, deeds, and misdeeds, and portray these experiences as art. Audiences would use hip-hop as a distraction from their difficult living conditions. The development of hip-hop reflected the poor economic status of Bronx at the time. Famous hip-hop songs that have been released include “F*** Tha Police” by N.W.A., “She’s A B**ch” by Missy Elliott, and “XXX” by Kendrick Lamar. The lyrics of “F*** Tha Police” are meant to imitate a white police officer apprehending a black man for no apparent reason. While a song like that could have been written today, it was impactful because it was released in 1988. 1986 was when crack cocaine was introduced to the public, and it became popular in low-income, urban, and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Police focussed their efforts mostly in the inner city, leading to the skyrocketing of the number of black people getting arrested for crack cocaine related offenses. “She’s A B**ch” is a rousing anthem for female empowerment, and it was released in 1999, which was when the third wave of feminism occurred. Lastly, “XXX” discusses a variety of subjects, ranging from gun violence to peaceful protest to the portrayal of black men in the media. The song reflects the sociopolitical environment of 2017, in which racism, mass shootings, and protests were a staple of daily life. From June of 2016 to October of 2017, 521 mass shootings occurred in America.
Country music, which is currently regarded as one genre, was originally split into two types: country music, which originated in the Southeast, and western music, which originated in the West and Southwest. The two combined in 1920s, due to the availability of recorded materials in rural areas. Lyrics of country music would depict the emotions of poor, urban white people, and their experiences of love, crime, and prison. These lyrics also acted as a mirror to the climate of the 1920s. The country was reeling after the conclusion of WWI, and a great amount of changes were sweeping the country. Ideologies were different from person to person- one’s neighbor could be a communist, while a coworker could be a radicalist. Women were diverging from the expectation of being chaste and sweet, and things like gambling and premarital sex became the norm. Country musicians sang about all of these things, aided by high pitched vocals and the twang of a banjo. Johnny Cash, an established legend in the country world, released the albums “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” in 1968 and 1969 (respectively). Both of these albums were meant to draw attention to the living conditions of American prisoners, and Cash became an avid supporter of prison reform. The 1960s were the years that gave rise to protest culture. Teenagers and young adults would protest things like segregation, the Vietnam War, gender inequality, and the right to vote. Many of Cash’s other songs were protest songs, such as “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “White Girl”. The rise of protests culture lead to the rise of protest lyrics, and Cash is a prime example of that.