The Rapper's Double Consciousness

Youth Media Project

This is a short excerpt of a paper I have written, Entitled "The Rapper's Double Consciousness."

The notion of a double consciousness in the African American experience derives as an aesthetic from W. E.B. Du Bois, the iconic African-American intellectual whose work has impacted black life since 1895. It appeared first in an article entitled "Strivings of the Negro People"(Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994.), published in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY. The term was intended by Du Bois to explain an internal conflict within the outlooks of African American people. He discussed it in terms of "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity" ("Of Our Spiritual Strivings," p. 2.)"(Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994.).

Rappers, like most African Americans, struggle with this issue of a dual identity in their aesthetic outlooks. Rappers, as entertainers, have both public and private lives, stage presence and off-stage persona. Many rappers seem to reflect true double consciousness in Du Bois' terms that arises in rapper experience from the conflict of "keeping it real" and reality:
"The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face." (The Souls of Black Folk. p.5)(Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994.).

It would be hard to describe the moment when I fell in love with Hip-Hop, for it would be like trying to explain when I fell in love with my people. Hip-Hop has indirectly been a part of me before birth. It is a present that was predestined for me. Hip-Hop is a culture and an intricate part of my heritage. It has influenced many aspects of my life. Hip-Hop, with its intoxicating lyrics, has started a movement, developed material culture, and charismas that have produced a generation of people. This hip-hop generation has been a voice for the youth, and me.

What is "keeping it real?" It's the "authentic fake (Asante, Molefi K., 1981)," like the struggle experienced between his African self and his American self. "Keeping it real" is an ideology or philosophy that was coined by the hip-hop culture where the layman often praises the rawness of "keeping it real" because it ideally personifies life for some just as it is: neither romanticized nor sugarcoated.

The conflict is clearer "when keeping it real goes wrong," and moves into the context of feeling "being cursed and spit upon."(Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994.). Rappers will share their thoughts about the ills of their lives or the lives of others, in which everything is "kept real." Somewhere between the mindset of saying nothing is wrong with the neighborhood and the mindset that saying the hood is the worst, "keeping it real" blazed a trail. This trail now glorifies double homicides, drug dealing, and the mistreatment of women. It is articulated in a manner, which is alluring because the rapper is about "keeping it real."

This is not done as plainly as stated. In analogy, it is like two soldiers sharing stories about combat who sub-consciously exaggerate their perspectives for competitive reasons. Do they personally condone or enjoy violence or wish to go back to war? No, but they tell stories that praise themselves for having done things at great levels that made a difference for the success of the war efforts. Rappers do this all the time, and when they purposely do things not attractive in nature for their reputations or write as if they did so in the name of "keeping it real", it becomes a problem.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment