Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rapper's Delight: First Rap Song

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.


  1. Super interesting post Alexa! I thought your comparison of a classic track like "Rapper's Delight" to Ludacris' "What's Your Fantasy?" provides a stark contrast between these strikingly different styles. It's incredible to think that forty years ago the term "bump" was considered vulgar and distasteful, whereas today, Ludacris can sell a million records with a track describing licking someone from their head to their toes. It makes me realize how much the music industry and society has been desensitized in response to the change in song content. Again, great post. I look forward to reading more of your work!


  2. This song is still one of the best rap songs I've ever heard since it's just straight up just rap for a full seven plus minutes! It's definitely true that the content of rap has gotten more explicit, for sure. Children and teenagers these days have gotten a lot more exposure to a lot of the things as opposed to yesteryear. But I mean, it's all about the movement of culture. Culture moves in unforeseeable directions, and sometimes people have to roll with the punches. Nevertheless, it's always true that Hip Hop will never be boring.

  3. It is definitely very interesting to read through the lyrics of "Rapper's Delight" and compare it to some of the popular songs today. To today's generation, "Rapper's Delight" seems rather mild and would definitely never be considered a vulgar song. There are very few curse words in the song, and the words that used to be considered offensive (such as "spank" and "bump") would now be considered fairly clean. It is hard to imagine that this song was once considered controversial when there are songs today that have to be completely altered in order to make them appropriate enough for the radio. I definitely agree that this song is the perfect example of how society has been desensitized to sex, violence, and profanity.

  4. I do agree with most of what's been said already and I'd hate to reiterate too much of that. While the nature of the lyrics sparked debate in 1979 and the years shortly after, I thought the feel of the video indicated that this is clearly a feel-good, "get up and groove" type of tune. Furthermore, there is an aspect of the song and video that could have interesting implications: the performance itself.

    At about 4:33 into the video I noticed something interesting about the performance. The members of the Sugar Hill Gang are standing among the crowd and vibing as hard as anyone else at the club. In this case, music has brought the performer and listener together rather than the other way around, which is the impression you get at a modern-day concert when Lil Wayne is rapping braggadociously at you from his pedestal (read: stage). One performer is telling you that he is better than you, while the other is inviting you to jam with him for the night.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.