Third Eyes Wide Shut: The Spectrum of Consciousness in Rap Lyrics
Erinn NeShae Ransom
Thesis DT 3.5 2004 R367
viii, 112 leaves; 29cm
Third Eyes Wide Shut is a project about consciousness. Using Rap lyrics as text, it addresses the conflicting narratives of Hip Hop music and the ideological as well as institutional factors that cause the “third eyes” of contemporary Black youth to appear either open “wide” or closed “shut”.
In assessing the current state and future direction of the Black community, it is important that we re-evaluate the consciousness of African Americans with each new generation. For insight, this re-examination must look to the primary sources of influence on Black youth consciousness and analyze both the ideological and institutional power relations behind them. As the single most influential and reflective expression of contemporary Black youth consciousness, Rap music provides an informative window into the values and worldviews of the Hip Hop Generation. The expressions of consciousness demonstrated in Rap lyrics illustrates the various ways young African Americans negotiate the ideological tensions of being poor and Black in the capitalist, racialized American society, as well as their many responses to the reality of oppression, exploitation, hegemony. As a textual analysis of selected literatures, this thesis gives some attention to the biographical and background information on the artists under analysis. However the focus of the project is on the artists, lyrical content, which I read as representations of the states of consciousness, worldviews, political outlooks and ideologies assumed by the Hip Hop Generation.
Outlining a triple paradigm of consciousness, this thesis argues that Rap lyrics illustrate the positions of assimilation, integration and self-determination that result from conflicting knowledge-bases rooted in either the Afrocentric or Eurocentric values which inform the consciousness of African American youth. These varying responses to the economic and social inequalities that continue to pervade U.S. society are manipulated by the power-holders who market Rap music by employing strategies to unevenly promote and disseminate lyrics that are centered in mainstream American values of capitalism, racial stereotype and patriarchy. At the same time, record industry decision-makers substantially marginalize lyrics that express the social awareness of Black youth, male respect for women, and the Hip Hop community’s political activism.
This project further argues that as a product and a commodity, Rap music reveals the legacy of cultural imperialism over Black music whereby rappers are exploited as cheap laborers, and the conglomerate corporations of the American record industry along with its affiliated network of distributors are reaping the lions’ share of profits made from the sale of Black cultural production. Not only do the power relations within the music industry misrepresent the whole of the Hip Hop generation by disproportionate marketing of antisocial, stereotypical, and violent content, it also exploits the African American community by monopolizing the cultural capital created by Hip Hop musicians from those communities.