Since its inception, hip-hop has given a voice to the racially oppressed minorities of America. The popularity and overwhelming success of N.W.A turned five penniless, angry teenagers into megastars. They came from Compton, California, an area notoriously known for the Bloods and Crips gangs, who were responsible for much of the violence in the area. N.W.A released their second album Straight Outta Compton in 1988 to responses of praise, and for others, anger and fear. Their songs caused a rift in the American public, notably the track ‘Fuck the Police’ which got them a letter of disapproval from the FBI, as well as bans being issued to prevent the group playing venues. On the surface, the song seems like a harsh critique, but it becomes clear why N.W.A expressed such discontent with authority.
The song was an attack on the Police’s habit of racial profiling, which N.W.A individually and as a group had experienced much of in the past. Since the rise of N.W.A, hip-hop has been renowned for giving a voice to racial minorities and a platform to express themselves.
In today’s world, hip-hop is an unavoidable phenomenon. Dr Dre, one of the leading minds behind N.W.A. is the second richest figure in the hip-hop industry, boasting a net worth of a staggering $550 million. Dre’s protégé, Eminem, began to slowly prove the universality of rap with his soaring popularity, bringing in a huge number of new artists with his influence, from Kendrick Lamar, to Meek Mill, to Drake. They were not necessarily black, or criminals, or from Compton, or even a dangerous neighbourhood, but they began to tell their stories, and their realities, and the message of hip-hop began to change. We are at a point now where the once male-dominated genre now welcomes and praises female rappers, such as Lauryn Hill, Tink, and Nicki Minaj. Hip-hop seems no longer exclusively about race, encompassing a broad list of ideas and themes. Some artists became narcissistic, and began to make music and write lyrics seemingly only to boast about their extravagant lifestyles, while others chose political and ethical consciousness over bravado and strived to continue N.W.A’s ideas and influence through their generation.
However, as much as hip-hop became a mismatched breeding ground for outcasts and minorities to band together and creatively express themselves, there seems to be a group that are not a part of this scene. People with disabilities do not really have much of a presence in any media industry, and I wanted that to change.
As a man with cerebral palsy, there was so much that I wanted to do that I felt I could not. And making hip-hop and rap music was certainly on that list. For a long time, I held back on expressing myself in fear of condemnation and disapproval. I have a speech impediment, which I knew would not help with my rapping skills and make it more difficult to improve. However, in the past few months with the help of friends and peers, I am well on my way to completing a full length album.
Clearly, my disability had to be a large part of my persona as an artist from the offset, so the stage name I chose ‘Spazztik’ was developed as almost an advertisement of that. Like N.W.A (short for Niggas With Attitude), Spazztik serves as a direct representation of myself in a straightforward, brash manner. The lyrics for some of the songs I have written deal with self-confidence and similar issues resulting from my disability, which I feel adds a different element to the music and the genre as a whole.
I am hoping that hip-hop IS indeed a voice for the underdog. A scene championed by the oppressed peoples of the world, regardless of race, gender, ability, age, or otherwise. If it is, maybe my music will be welcomed and enjoyed by the community that has now been built from this music of outcasts.
Only time will tell.
Video and words: James Moore (third year Photographic Art student)