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The Harlem Renaissance’s Effect on Modern Culture
The black culture that we see around us today is made up of many layers. There are many factors to the way blacks go about their life today. The Civil Rights movement, popular music, and a sense of wanting complete freedom, all contribute to modern black society. The Harlem Renaissance is the source of the black culture that we see today.
The Harlem Renaissance starts when millions of blacks move north due to poor conditions in the South. This movement is called the Great Migration (Grossman.np). When the blacks move north, they move into neighborhoods where other blacks already are. New York and Chicago are where most blacks move. These close-knit communities are a breeding ground for art and literature because blacks are not being oppressed in any way, and have the freedom to do anything they want to do for a living. Harlem soon becomes one of these havens for culture, thus the Harlem Renaissance begins.
Because of the Harlem Renaissance, almost anybody with any money what so ever, can become an artist. Massive amounts of literature and art are now being produced by the everyday person. Artists such as Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Claude McKay, and Louis Armstrong are becoming internationally recognizable due to their masterpieces (Wintz.np). The United States now sees the black community as a serious source of literature, art, and especially music. Before now, whites had a virtual monopoly on the arts.
The next layer to black culture today is the Civil Rights movement. The 1960’s are troubled times in history. White oppression of blacks is at its peak. Whites are desperately trying to keep the blacks from gaining equal rights. In the face of opposition, black artists make literature and art to reflect their feelings of sought freedom. Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry described the harsh injustices that blacks went through on an everyday basis. Probably the most famous work of the Civil Rights era, A Raisin in the Sun, describes a black family trying to assimilate into the white culture and create a better life for themselves by moving into a white neighborhood. These works and others reflect the troubles that a regular black family has to go through in the 1960’s (Civil Rights Literature.np).
With the civil rights movement over, the black culture has gone from one extreme to another. Going from totally oppression to complete freedom in a time span of about 5 years can change how a people thinks entirely. Now that blacks are absolutely free, they start to rejoice. New literature, music, art, and poetry echo the hope and freedom of the black demographic. The black community begins to gain its self esteem at last in an enormous wave of solitude and stability (African American literature.np). This is the main event that causes the black culture to be so free and open in today’s culture. The attitude of freedom is the reason rap and hip hop lyrics say whatever they want to say. Freedom to blacks after the civil rights movement means no consequences for words.
The next layer to the black onion is the 1970s and 1980s. The 1970s are a time of prosperity for the black population. New artists are pumping out soul music and literature like hotcakes. At this time, black music finally morphs into the mainstream of entertainment. Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and The Jackson 5 all make music about happiness and love.
Even with all the love, there is also a dark side to the music of the 70s. Much of the music is about love making and illicit activities that have been under expressed until now. Many parents restricted their children from listening to soul in the 1970s because of its uncensored and crude nature. The reason for this stems from blacks having more freedom of speech without consequences after the 1960s. Even though soul music is not terrible music, blacks still push the envelope as to what young people are allowed to listen to, without repercussions.
There is a big leap from the popular art of the 1970s to the 1980s. There is much more freedom in the words that blacks can express on albums because of explicit lyric labeling. Another part of the leap is that instead of soul and R+B, rap and hip-hop are now the popular music produced by blacks.
The art of rap started when DJ’s such as Grandmaster Flash, Doug E. Fresh, and DJ Kool make mixes of previously produced songs using a turntable (flash.np). The artists take the records and literally scratched them with the needle of the record player while the song was playing to a crowd so that it creates an effect that is excellent for somebody, usually not the DJ, to make up new lyrics on the spot (Rhodes.np). Much of the time rappers would make fun of other rappers in “Rap Battles”. The rapper with the most support from the crowd wins the battle. Foul language, that is common in rap, has its roots here. Rap turns into a commercial business in the early 1980s when DJ’s record discs themselves and sell them at concerts. The type of music that the DJ’s create is the newest type of poetry to tickle our eardrums. It is becoming more and more popular every day too. The pioneers of gangster rap are on the west coast of the United States. Gangster rap becomes popular in the 1990s thanks to Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog. Their first album, “The Chronic”, is the first real gangster rap album on the market.
Today’s black culture is the direct descendant of the Harlem Renaissance. Black culture will continue to grow with no constraints on what you can or can not say. The main idea of being free and open about everything regarding life has been passed down through the ages of black culture to the music and poetry that we see today. Every new album released by a rapper is a new piece of poetry waiting to be heard.
"African American literature." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 19 Mar. 2008
"Civil Rights Literature." Civil Rights Literature. 20 Mar. 2008
flash, Grandmaster. "Grandmaster flash Bio." Grandmaster flash. 2008. 20 Mar. 2008
Grossman, James. "Great Migration." Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. 20 Mar. 2008 < http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/545.html>.
Rhodes, Henry A. "Evolution of Rap in the United States." Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. 2008. Yale U. 20 Mar. 2008
"The Literature of the Civil Rights." African American Literature. 2004. 20 Mar. 2008
Wintz, Cary C. "Harlem Renaissance." MSN Encarta. 2007. Texas U. 20 Mar. 2008 http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566483/harlem_renaissance.html