The Ballot, the Bullet, or the Microphone

This seminar uses content analysis exercises to compare political content in Civil Rights and Racial Justice movement speeches from the 1960s and 1970s to the political content in rap music lyrics from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. We will focus on the ways in which words and language become “weaponized” by Civil Rights and Racial Justice leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Huey Newton. We will also explore how these techniques of weaponizing the microphone were adapted by inner-city youth in the early stages of rap music in the 1980s, during the golden era of rap music in the 1990s, and in the rising commercialization of rap music in the 2000s. Considerable attention will be given to: (1) the construction of rap music as a synthesis of Black Power message and Jamaican Dub Music style in the South Bronx and Harlem; (2) rap music’s early evolution in the South Bronx and five boroughs; (3) rap music’s early expansion and differentiated content in other major and mid-sized US cities; and (4) a contextualization of how rap music messages from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s compare to the rap music messages heard today. Participants will learn where to place rap music within the long history of black political thought, praxis, and protest, will be better equipped to consider ways in which rap music can be used in future struggles, and will develop additional experience in using basic content analysis practices in classroom instruction.