After looking at a wide variety of rap music, some of the same themes tend to come up reoccuringly- violence, sex, drugs, race. And, this has been the case for over 30 years. In fact, Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," which came out in 1979, references many of the same themes we see in rap today. But, in a completely different way. To a modern day hip-hop enthusiast, the lyrics of this song seem benevolent, but at the time, they were considered extremely controversial. Yet, the music of today is significantly more violent, sexual, and offensive.
When referencing race, Sugar Hill Gang raps, "I like to say hello to the black, to the white, the red, and the brown, the purple and yellow" (Rapper's Delight). While this definitely touches upon the concept of racial divisions, it doesn't imply anything beyond the fact that they exist. In fact, by using colors that don't actually exist, the narrator suggests that these racial divisions are insignificant. This line conveys the idea of inter-racial friendliness, through a seemingly harmless manner. In comparison, Kanye and Jay-Z's "Niggas in Paris,"attempt a similar affect in a completely more offensive way. Like Sugar Hill Gang they touch upon the race issue, without suggesting anything beyond the fact that it exists. But, they do so by using an extremely offensive racist term, "Niggas," when referring to themselves. Compared to Kanye and Jay-Z, the language of Sugar Hill Gang when referencing race issues seems harmless.In term's of sexual references and discussions of women, these original rappers created the lines, "and when you come inside, into the front you do the freak, spank, and do the bump," which were highly controversial when they came out. While terms such as freak, spank, and bump, definitely connote sexual meanings, they are significantly more reserved than some of the lyrics we hear in rap music today. For instance, Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy,"features lyrics such as "Lick up your thigh then call me the Pac Man" and "I wanna get you in the back seat windows up /That's the way you like to fuck, clogged up fog alert/ rip the pants and rip the shirt, rough sex make it hurt" (What's Your Fantasy). In comparison, Sugar Hill Gang's lyrics seem almost non-sexual.
So what changed in the past 30 years that makes us seemingly immune to racism, violence, sexual references, and offensive language? It could be routed in our culture of violent video games, movies, and music. It could be routed in the changing methods of communication and the ever-expanding access to information we've had throughout childhood. But, for some reason our tolerance for these themes so much higher than it was for the generation before us.