The West Coast, ‘Gangsta’ Rap, & Rodney King
The Rodney King trial and verdict was a reflection of the injustices that African Americans of the West Coast had not ceased to face. However, this was the first instance in which such an incident was captured on video and captivated nationwide attention. Police brutality was a reality for black people on the West Coast, and a major focus of ‘gangsta’ rap was this issue.
Gangsta rap was different from the hip-hop music that had risen in the Bronx of New York a few decades earlier in several ways. For one, it was entirely about rap, and break-dancing and graffiti were no longer associated with the subculture. Also, crime, drugs, vulgarity and violence were embraced and the main topic of gangsta rap music. Much of gangsta rap also called out government authority, especially the police force, as unfair and brutal. The Rodney King trial and verdict proved to the rest of America that this new genre of music was not merely rebelling against authority, but were making a statement about the discrimination they still faced. The general tone against injustice against black people in America only increased in West Coast hip-hop as the audience for this topic grew.
As oppose to the rising West Coast hip-hop music, East Coast was not nearly as vulgar, however both were very powerful. Young children found refuge in the music, especially those who were oppressed and/or in poverty. Both were revolutionary in this sense, but both were also looked down upon, especially before they were popular. However, East Coast hip-hop was not nearly as both political and crude as on the West Coast. West Coast Gangsta Rap glorified the “gangsta” image, including violence and illegal activity. While hip-hop on the East Coast was an alternative type of music, gangsta rap presented controversial messages and also controversial behavior.
Many African Americans and people in poverty of the West Coast could relate to the street culture that was highlighted in gangsta rap music. Issues such as race and class were an inspiration and topic in gangsta rap, and it also attracted an audience. In a congressional hearing, Maxine Waters mentioned that, “For decades, many of us have talked about the lives and the hopes of our people-the pain and the hopelessness, the deprivation and destruction. Rap music if communicating that reality in a way we never have.” (Caught up in the Gangsta Rapture, Mayo). Additionally, oppression of females was also a topic in gangsta rap.
One major attractive factor of gangsta rap, which attracted primarily young people, was the rebellious aspect of it. The trail and verdict of Rodney King was a major factor in the popularity of gangsta rap. After the incident was shared with all of America, a wider audience understood what gangsta rap was about. Before the incident, any minority that had such an experience could relate and was attracted to West Coast hip-hop. Even people who previously looked down upon the ‘hardcore’ tone of gangsta rap had to agree with its’ political messages.