Race Relations

Race Relations

Hip-hop was created off the heels of the Black Nationalist regime and the Civil Rights Movement as a lifestyle of self expression. It gave inner city youth a voice that would have otherwise remained unheard. Over the past 30 years, some artists have taken a grassroots approach to their music and paid homage to activists who came before them by continuing to discuss issues of race and class in their honor. The covers of these albums have both raised awareness and caused controversy, but overall, they’ve served their purpose as the conscience of hip-hop.

Little Brother – The Minstrel Show
Depicting a portrait of Little Brother in mid minstrel show performance, the cover of Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show is about as controversial as its name. The dark background accentuates their ecstatic expression, making them appear ridiculous. Minstrel shows date back to the 17th century and were a form of entertainment for many Whites across America. White actors would wear Black painted face and accentuate their mouths with excessive white and red paint to portray the stereotype of a Black male at the time. The stereotype depicted a dumbfounded, clumsy and excessively happy man who would dance and sing. The minstrel shows became an instant success and some Black actors chose to take part due to financial troubles. Today no formal minstrel shows exist however, hip-hop culture, and rap music in particular is often coined “the minstrel show” because many feel that the majority of rappers still portray negative stereotypes.

The Roots – Phrenology
Phrenology is the pseudoscience theory that the brain is divided into several parts, each dictating a specific personality trait, and is dependent on the shape of one’s head. The theory was often used to justify racism against Blacks, so The Roots reinvented the concept. The cover shows the inner workings of a Black man’s brain, each section corresponding to different aspects that influence the Black male psyche. These aspects include images of the Ku Klux Klan, Malcolm X, turntables, a minstrel, and Rosa Parks. When examined, the cover art reveals a powerful history within the Black community.

Common – Like Water For Chocolate
From 1876 to 1965, “Jim Crow” laws were in effect throughout the South creating separate but unequal facilities for Blacks and Whites that ranged from separate schools, to restrooms and seating. The racist laws were the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement which led to the Black Nationalism movement and eventually hip-hop. The cover of Like Water For Chocolate is a picture of a Black woman drinking from a “colored only” water fountain during the Jim Crow era. Common uses the cover to pay homage to the activists that came before him and paved the way for minorities today.

Various Artists – No More Prisons
America has the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Within the prison population lies a disproportionate ratio of Blacks to all other races. Much speculation has been made as to whether the court system and prisons are institutionally racist. The cover art of No More Prisons depicts a cleverly rotated American flag where the stars are filled with Black power fists and the stripes serve as prison cell bars. Behind the bars is an antiqued African mask enclosed by cement brick walls. The cover art is very controversial and parallels the content of the album by artists such as Dead Prez, The Emperors, and The Coup.

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz – Put Yo Hood Up
The Confederate flag has long represented racism and slavery in the south during the civil war and only the bold and old fashioned have dared to sport it today. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz use the cover of Put Yo Hood Up to mock those who choose to hold onto a racist past by dressing up as stereotypical southern bigots draped in the Confederate flag. In the background are two additional flags set aflame to signify Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz’ opposition. The cover art suggests their takeover of the south.

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The concept behind The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is based on the Carter G. Woodson book, The Miseducation of the Negro, which explores the impact of slavery and the quality of education for Black Americans. Lauryn plays off the book’s themes by etching her portrait into an old fashioned wooden desk to represent education. The racial themes resonate past her cover art and throughout her music.

Kendra Desrosiers

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  1. great article. i will probably use it as a source for my thesis. it’s good to know that format is getting a bit more conscious. i wonder if that means you’ll start including more women artists…….. me parece que no pero vamos a ver.

  2. Speaking of mo’ female artistes, how ’bout Faith47 @ Spraycan Stories (I know, shameless plug).

    Speaking of ye ol’ racializm, howza ’bout KMD’s Black Bastards? The cover, fyi, featured KMD’s trademark sambo caricature hanged. KMD meant that this signalled the end of the sambo era — and they label Elektra dropped ‘em for it (this wuz the censorious “Cop Killer/Ice-T & Body Count” era).

    We can safely assume that the controversy and bullshit wuz at least partly responsible for KMD member Zev Love X becoming the person(s) we know today as MF Doom/King Gheedorah/Viktor Vaughn/etc.

  3. “America has the highest imprisonment rate in the world.”

    Is this true? I mean, isn’t it more likely that America’s prison statistics are infinitely more transparent then say…China or Russia? China has state-run prisons that double as factories and turn huge profits (slave labour, check your local dollar store for results), so I doubt they want anyone to know how many people they actually lock up.

  4. Yeah, but America has black people… That don’t mean black folks are more likely to commit crime — just that since America hates black people, imprisoning them is just one of they answers to a “problem” they created.

    Seriously, though, China’s prisons may be state-built, but America has a whole industry devoted to creating bigger and “better” super-prisons for their home-grown ever-increasing prison population.

    Also — criminals in China and Russia don’t get locked up — they’re too busy running the government/businesses… not to mention that both countries are grossly corrupt from top to bottom…

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