Wednesday, March 9, 2011

African Americans and Gang Culture

The video I chose is the rap/hip hop song 'Gangster's Paradise' by rap artist Coolio. It was originally released in August, 1995, and got to number one in the music charts in at least 15 countries including noteably the USA.

The video relates to the film 'Dangerous Minds' in which African American and Hispanic teenagers are living in a run down district in the US, (a ghetto) implying that most concerned individuals do not / cannot remove themselves from this lifestyle. It reinforced the common stigma of that time that in this case, namely Black Americans did not succeed easily due to their socioeconomic position. During the sane period in which the song was released/first recognised occurrences such as the beating of Rodney King (prior to the song's release in 1991), and the OJ Simpson murder, 1994-1995 were happening which undoubtedly contributed to this racial group's then tainted image.

It is also significant how the first line of the song is a quoted from the Bible (Psalm 23, verse 4), 'As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..'. It shows that this racial group has absorbed the Christian teachings that were most likely imposed onto them when their forefathers previously entered the USA. However was is noteworthy is the differing ways in which Christianity is related to by African Americans and White individuals: for example the latter predominantly focus on the bright, positive parts of the Bible whereas the former, as seen in the above video, relate to the darker, more sinister parts of Christian teachings. This is likely in direct relatiionship with the suffering that their people endured prior to this time, and how in 1995 they still felt as if they were tolerating injusticies.

Furthermore it seems that when living in this environment, religion is one of their only solaces, hence lyrics at the end of the first verse '...on my knees in the night, sayin prayers in the street light ...'. Here it is implied that they do not have a comfortable, sheltered prayer area, but rather that they are products of the street so only have the streets to pray on - no comfortable and/or welcoming house is available.

Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays a teacher in the flim the soundtrack is related to, is also shown in the video as listening to Coolio and his anecdotes. It portrays the White person's naivety and seperation to gang culture, as well as their higher social class which is represented by her clothes in the video (pristine black coat), and is also eveident in the film Dangerous Minds in which she is portayed as a stranger coming into the gangster environment. Strong emphasis is thus put on the differences and division of races.

Violence is also touched upon, '...As they grew I see myself in the pistol smoke...', as well as the fact that gang culture is wrong, '...I'm an educated fool with money on my mind, got my ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye ...', but addictive as it serves as an immediate source of income that most are simply desperate for and therefore once they get involved in such a slife find it hard to subsequently escape. This is unfortunately despite the risks and their unfavourable fate which is usually and ultimately death.

'...Power and the money, money and the power
Minute after minute, hour after hour
Everybody's runnin, but half of them ain't lookin
What's goin on in the kitchen, but I dont know what's cookin ...'

Moreover the narrating gangster believes that those that say they will help, for example the government, in actual fact do not really care, and do little to help them.

'...They say I got ta learn, but nobody's here to teach me,
If they cant understand it, how can they reach me?
I guess they can't; I guess they won't
I guess they front; that's why I know my life is outta luck, fool!'

According they believe they are just an unlucky people and consequently the '...Too much television watchin' got me chasin' dreams...' becomes just a day-dream that passes the time - these ethnic minority groups have lost faith in the government, and faith in the 'American Dream' of which they are excluded from.

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