Monday, March 24, 2008

Hip Hop & CIty Planning Series

Reaganomics and Hip Hop

Through the 1950’s into the 1970’s the Federal Government had given out hundreds of millions of dollars to cities though Urban Renewal acts to revitalize downtowns and remove blight. By the end of the 1970’s Federal funding began to dry up leaving many social services agencies and programs, which were vital to the redevelopment of inner-city neighborhoods, scrambling to find new funding or substantially cutting back services.

By 1980, a new change in America’s presidential administration ushered in a new philosophy of government spending and monetary distribution. Ronald Reagan, who had ran a campaign to reduce government spending and therefore the tax burden on the average American citizen, brought forth a new economic policy of Supply Side Economics, which was eventually dubbed “Reaganomics.”

Reaganomics which was also known as the “Trickle Down Theory” sought to deregulate federal policy that hampered businesses to create a more free wide open economic market that would allow American businesses and corporations to generate more profit and larger investments which would in turn be funneled back down to the average worker. Unfortunately for the average worker and the poor, they only saw a trickle of the large amounts of wealth that American corporations generated and largely kept to themselves.

In this post I will show how Reaganomics shaped Hip Hop by exploring the impacts of the reduction of social service agencies and the effects of Hip Hop’s imitation of the lifestyles of the rich.

Though social service agencies had began to see reduced funding in the 1970’s, many government programs saw almost their entire budget taken away under the Reagan Administration forcing many agencies to shut down. Programs providing services such as job training for unemployed city youth, college loans for struggling working class families, day care assistance for single parent homes were cut off from funding leaving many inner-city residents without a prop to help them out of blighted neighborhoods which often times provided inferior education, inferior housing and a lack of available jobs.

The impacts of the lack of services that many had previously benefited from had a particularly hard hit to inner city youth. With out jobs or access to jobs, many cities faced record levels of crimes as gangs began to flourish and taken over neighborhoods garnering national attention from Boston to Los Angeles. In New York City, many boroughs were plagues with youth gangs including the South Bronx, the birthplace of Hip Hop. One of the fore fathers of Hip Hop, Africa Bambaataa, who was a gang leader of the Black Spades gang in the Bronx River Projects decided to use his leadership for something positive after making a trip to Africa. Instead of having rival gangs battle each other through violence he organized parties that had rival gangs battle each other through b-boying (break-dancing), dj’ing and emceeing (rapping). These battles through the use of Hip Hop music helped provide a deterrent to gang violence and these battles though Hip Hop are still prevalent in the culture today.

While Hip Hop started on the loftiest of goals of providing an outlet to inner-city kids to end gang violence, the rampant materialism of the overall larger culture would soon penetrate though to Hip Hop culture and pervert its original intentions as those who rose up through Hip Hop tried to justify their value and importance through material possessions. Reaganomics had a huge fundamental shift in economic distribution as supply side economics soon began to be viewed as a zero sum gain for the poor. While the poverty rate for minorities grew every single year in the 1980’s, many corporate employees and upper management white collar workers saw unprecedented wealth and their lifestyles were documented on such shows as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

While undoubtedly many of those in Hip Hop who boasted about material wealth took their cues from an increasing number of rich inner-city drug dealers, all of them were imitating the lives they saw on shows like the just mentioned Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. While no one imagined the trickle down theory would lead to inner-city kids to obtain expensive cars, clothes and jewelry of the rich, what did trickle down to the inner-city was drugs and guns. Jobs, better schooling and economic opportunity did not trickle down to these neighborhoods. In fact, the impending drug epidemic of the mid 1980’s would soon almost sever any connection the inner-city had with investment coming from the mainstream. By the early 1990’s the illegal drug market had become almost the only market that survived and thrived in the inner-city. This would soon have an effect on Hip Hop which no longer just boasted about materialism but soon began speaking on taking others material possessions by any means necessary to survive.

The next installment of this series will focus on Hip Hop and the Crack Cocaine Era.

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