Merle Meyer

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message

General Information

The Message (1982)
Artist: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Band Members: Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Cowboy, Kidd Creole, Mr. Ness aka Scorpio and Rahiem
Composers: Edward Fletcher, Melle Mel, Bobby Robinson
Album: The Message
Distribution: Sugar Hill Records


When people talk about hip hop and rap the first picture popping up in their heads is a masculine, dangerously looking rapper with a big car and several half-naked women by his side. But the beginnings of hip hop quite differ from the conception of rap and hip hop from what it is now in contrast to how this music genre started. This following music video excerpt will treat the music video to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message, one of the pioneers of the roots of hip hop and one of the decisive oeuvres that marks the beginning of the favorite music genre. This review will treat musical structures, the realization of the video and relations between lyrics and cinematic depiction.


Within six minutes the viewer can see the main character of the group named Grandmaster Flash and his posse named the Furious Five. “The message” is a song which is supposed to be a wakeup call for all society members. Hip hop music arouse from DJ’s, or disc jockeys, mixing black music, meaning jazz, funk, reggae and dub beats. These DJ’s presented their music on block parties where people heard the music and started to imitate it. Soon the new music style was diffused extensively. But it was not accepted as eligible music style in official society, but it got famous more and more within the ghettos and the streets. Of course Grandmaster Flash was not the only artist dedicating himself to this new kind of music, another famous group at that time named The Sugarhill Gang gained attention by the media. This was the first proof that hip hop, even though it was a new style of music can be commercialized. “Rapper’s delight” smoothed the path to mainstream and publicity for hip hop artists.

Reason and aim

Several reasons are responsible for the formation of this song, which is one of the first well-known hip hop songs in the beginning of rap and hip hop music. In its beginning, hip hop music had two major focusses: identity and location. It was used as a way of self-expression and to show all people where one grew up or how a poor life was like. Hip hop and rap music should depict “[…] rap’s ghetto stories as real life reflections that should draw attention to the burning problems of racism and economic oppression, rather than to questions of obscenity.” (Tricia Rose, “Black noise”) With entitling the song “The Message” the listener is already prepared to listen closely to the lyrics. The song treats economic problems, also in case of maintenance and circumstances, hopelessness, desperation and other problems the people living in the inner cities. The following paragraph the lyrics will be briefly explained and analyzed.

Looking at the Lyrics

The song is build up like a typical song is built: with a recurrent refrain and several strophes. The first strophe is used to describe the scenery. Within this strophe Grandmaster Flash[1] does not embellish the situation but uses more colloquial terms and clear language. In the following he parts in inverted commas are excerpts from the original lyrics of The Message[2]. (e.g. “[…] people pissin’ on the stairs[…]” or […] junkies on the alley […]”) Additionally he adds that he was not able to escape the bad situation by constituting that “[…] a man with a tow truck repossessed […]” his car.
The second strophe is built up similarly. First he describes the life of a homeless old woman and at the end adds that there was a girl asking for social security who did not get help but had to search for a ”pimp” because she was not able to “make it on her own”.
What is also remarkable about the lyrics is that the usage of colloquial terms is quite frequent. This restricts the target group the song is addressed to, because a lot of slang and colloquial terms. The third strophe describes the poor situation families are involved in. They watch too much TV and are menaced by bill collectors and costs. His job badly payed and he fears that he cannot arrive at his work because of the strike at the train station. Again he cannot think of a realistic way to escape the situation.
The fourth strophe is concerned with school education and the lack of money. He says that even the teacher treats his son like a fool and that you cannot achieve anything without the right amount of money “in this land of milk and honey.”
The fifth and last strophe describes the development from being a child to a grown member of this part of society. Children grow up innocent and have no influence over where they are born and raised. The worst part is that these children take drug dealers, panders and criminals as role models because they have at least achieved to own a few luxury things in life. So they have an early start as criminals in this surrounding. He describes the development of these children as fast-living but not long-lasting life, with “live fast – die young” notion.
When talking about GF’s message one should not forget to take a closer look to the chorus:
            Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
            I’m trying not to lose my head
            It’s like a jungle sometimes
            It  makes me wonder how I keep from going under.
This chorus incorporates the forlornness that dominates the song in which the main character tries to survive in this urban jungle. It makes him wonder how he keeps from going under meaning that he is not aware of what keeps him over water to survive in this social environment.
Closing there is to say that the subject matter picked out as central theme in the lyrics is congruent to the music video’s depiction. Several lines in the lyrics match to the moving pictures and sounds within the video itself and therefore they support each other mutually.

Visual Concept

From the beginning on the video starts with pictures of a suburban city. A lot of traffic and people can be seen. The pictures are zoomed in and out matching to the rhythm of the song. The camera work is shaky and it seems as the viewer is directly involved in the video process. This is helpful for the identification of the viewer with the artists in the video. Additionally other movements in the video are matching to the rhythm in general, for example the disappearance of images and the upcoming of a new one. In terms of music there is to say that the rhythm of the song is held very simple so that it is easier for the audience to follow the lyrics. Additionally pictures and sounds support the meaning of words.
The location of the video is not a set stage but recorded in real streets and places to guarantee authenticity and “being real”. For hip hop artists it is common to be seen with his (or her) posse. GF’s posse is omnipresent during the whole video. This phenomenon is still visible with different rappers on stage, since they have always one person or more on stage at the same time as support. Showing where one comes from was one big topic of hip hop music in the starting years. This concept is realized in this particular music video.
Another aspect of the music video is, as already mentioned before the matching images and sounds to the lyrics. While the images move fitting to the music’s sound other matching items appear. An example for this match is for example the line “[…] crazy lady, livin’ in a bag, eatin’ outta garbage pails[…]” is supported by the image of an old lady sitting on the floor.
Another example is the “broken glass everywhere” supported with a matching picture and the sound of a glass that breaks. This is part of the introduction to the scenery and highlights the dirt and waste of the city.These phenomena appear during the whole video also in form of the tow truck that takes GF’s car when he tries to escape the situation
The last minute of the music video is designed as an outro of the video. The gang meets at a street corner when a police car drives by and arrests the whole gang even though they try to make clear that they did not do anything that would justify the arrest. The outro is designed as a short film at the end of the video and gives the final proof of how seriously bad the circumstances in these ghettos and suburbs is really like.

The video is a realistic depiction of the circumstances at the beginning of the 80’s in American suburbs and ghettos with a synchronous depiction of words and moving pictures which helps people to understand the situation and the circumstances poor people, and partially foreigners and immigrants of many nationalities have to bear up against. People who are interested in hip hop, rap and the beginnings of this music genre definitely have to deal with GF as well as for example The Sugarhill Gang, DJ Kool Herc, Ice Cube and many others to understand where this music genre comes from, and how it developed itself to what it is nowadays: a successful, mainstream and famous genre.

[1] In the following Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are abbreviated with GF for better legibility

Max Stair

A Short Reflection on the Wu-Tang Clan 

and the Music Video "Gravel Pit"

1. Introduction 

People all over the world have different taste in music, in film, in books, more or less in any type and form of art and entertainment. When I was asked to choose a music video and have a closer look at it, I immediately came up with “Gravel Pit” by the Wu-Tang Clan. In my mind it has all the characteristics of an unusual and special music clip. I would even recommend it to people who are bored or just want to spend six fun and entertaining minutes. In the following I will take a closer, rather unusual look, at the video and the background of the Wu-Tang Clan. It will be an analysis of my piece of mind. 

2. “Gravel Pit” 

I choose the video to Gravel Pit because it was the first one to pop up in my mind when I heard the task to this course. I remember watching it when I was like 12 or 13 years old. It was stuck in my mind ever since. The video is mixed with so many strange images, which usually don’t fit together, that it makes a very fun and interesting combination. It combines things that every growing boy likes. 
It starts off with the Clan standing in an escalator that actually functions as a time machine. All of the sudden the viewer is confronted with this Fred Flintstone image. 
The Wu-Tang Clan starts performing their song in this Gravel Pit setting with sexy ladies dressed with only very little pieces of fur. In the background you can see dinosaurs walking around. The Clan itself also is dressed with fur from head to toes, but in a more Hip Hop style of fashion. They act in a very barbarian-manner and even hit a woman over the head with a wooden club to claim what is theirs. 
Concerning the lyrics the video is not very important and any other setting would have made the same effect on the viewers. Still it is very entertaining and shows how the Wu-Tang uses any image they fell like and are comfortable with. They make it their own. After the Clan stop performing their song and one thinks the video is over it continues and becomes even stranger, in a good, Wu-Tang style. It still takes place in the same setting, with women and dinosaurs, surrounded by an arena built out of stone, bones and fangs, but all of a sudden a pack of black Ninjas arrive and start attacking the Wu-Tang Clan. Now a wild and heavy fight between the Ninjas of the Wu-Tang Clan and the rival Ninjas escalates. And this is where the Clans fighter

mentality, which will be described later on, starts to play a role. Even though this scene is only there to entertain the viewers, and probably themselves, it is a perfected scene from any old martial arts movie, where the good fight the bad and stand up for their mind and freedom. 

3. The Clan 

The Wu-Tang say about themselves: “it’s weird but it’s good”. 
They aren’t just a common rap group where everybody just shares the name to reach fame and wealth. No, they are like a family. They call each other brothers and they see RZA as their family leader. He’s the mastermind behind all the music. He creates that unique sound that the Clan is so proud about. The members all write their own lyrics, but RZA turns it into the final piece of art. Besides RZA there are eight other original members of the Wu-Tang Clan: GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa. Together as a group they have proved to be revolutionary in the music business, the things they rap about, and also about how society sees them. 
The “brothers”, as they call themselves, are based in the Staten Island of New York City where they started forming themselves to become the later Wu-Tang Clan in the late 80’s. Staten Island and their style of living have marked them for live. They say about themselves that even if they would move away, the streets will always play a huge role in their lives, for they have learned a lot from the life on the streets and the slums they were raised in. They knew from the beginning that they would be successful. They were confident, for they had RZA to recreate their style. Even if it took long to build, they grew into being the Wu-Tang Clan. Wu-Tang is one big thing. Being from the same projects they became brothers connected through music. 
The Wu-Tang Clan is ever changing. They were a head of their time. They have a vivid imagination and make sure to create their own view of things. 
As teenage boys they lived from day to day. They didn’t see any future for themselves and so they did anything that was necessary to survive the harsh life on the streets. They used to sell drugs and hustle on the streets of Staten Island. Yet, all along they were into music and were rapping about their everyday life. And exactly this is what is, up to today, what is most important to them when making music. They

only rap about real things, about things that have happened to them in their own, actual, real life. Method Man says that even after all the success and the fortune and fame, being real is all that counts for them. They don’t want to change their mental attitude for any reason. They don’t expect everybody to like what they are doing, but at the same time they don’t care if society doesn’t like it. 
The Clan wants people to understand the lyrics and where they are coming from. They want their audience and critics to get a clearer picture. GZA says: “It’s like reading a book versus watching a movie. If you read a book you can get a closer and deeper meaning of the message”. They don’t expect everybody to like what they are doing, but the people that do listen and have been to the same struggle see them as street narrators. They want every message to be positive and supposed to be taken as such. They try to teach. They speak for the people that can’t be heard and try to spread knowledge. And that’s all it’s about! 
Next to being and keeping it “real” the Clan is concerned about the message and meaning in their songs. While the fans like exactly that about the Clan and are crazy for every new song the Wu-Tang bring out, the authorities and people that think that rap is a bad influence on the youth are of the opposite opinion. With the song CREAM, which made their success perfect, society started becoming skeptical. The Wu-Tang Clan wanted to teach the truth to the young, black youth, living the same lifestyle as them. Truth is one theme that the whole Clan cares about in a great way. Method Man says about the Clan that they don’t want to keep the people blind. “Hip Hop is the greatest form of expression. It is art.” It is supposed to show how life really is and make society understand them without judging them and their lifestyle. “What is real? You can’t hide pain. Pain is real.” 
So in general the Clan is about entertaining and being real. They want to express themselves and let the world be part in their lives. In an interview they said: “The response that they get from the crowd is what makes them keep going. It is the greatest thing they get through performing.” 
Even though they are “real” they tried to escape reality through the magic of movies. Especially martial arts movies are what influenced them in a major way. Even their group name comes from a martial arts movie that they used to watch over and over again. They are impressed by the martial arts and they say it is part of who

they are. They even went as far as calling Staten Island Shaolin. They relate to martial arts even more than only taking names from movies, but they adapt to the mentality of the warriors and the fighters. The way they are shown with brutal force going against their enemies. They applied the morals of the stories to their everyday life basis: BROTHERHOOD; HONOR, RESPECT, DISCIPLINE, TRUST. 
The Shaolin style of fighting is the basis for many other styles of fighting. GZA says that: “Shaolin is the birth place of all the styles. And we are masters”. 
They wanted to create a new thing. The Wu-Tang is all about representing themselves and their family and friends. They don’t want to be compared to the commercialized music. They want to be unique. They don’t have only one style, but they combine different styles, which is what makes them the Wu-Tang Clan. They wanted to give people “a lot of food for thought”. They knew that many people couldn’t understand the deeper meanings of their songs and lyrics and so they liked to keep things simple. They gave people a chance to identify with them by giving their fans clear images in their music. They say about themselves. “Wu-Tang is a mentally strong style. It is a sword style of rhyming.” They are lyrical assassin. They use their tongues like a sword. “It can produce words that can be powerful and painful to others.” 
The Wu-Tang Clan likes to think that they are better than others. They aren’t only good rappers but also act as role models for teenagers. They weren’t only trouble makers in their times on the street. They would always stand for what they say and do. And this again, made the Clan reachable for others and gives the kids a chance to go after what they want and like. The Wu-Tang Clan started off with absolutely nothing. They had no record label standing behind them and doing promotion work for them. They had to fight for everything they wanted to achieve. They started by selling their first album Protect ya neck out of the trunk of their cars. Method Man said about their way to the top: “NY is the place to make it happen. If you can make it in NY you can make it anywhere”. They were very ambitious and they knew, with their business mind, that the “brothers” had enough potential to shine. 
Next to all the symbols and mentality that combines the 9 brothers, the logo of the Wu-Tang Clan is present all the time and shown on every single album they are part in.

4. Conclusion 

I’ll keep this part down to the very basic and so this won’t need much explanation. The Wu-Tang Clan are one big happy family and life from each other. It’s all about staying together and being successful as a family. They make “Real Hip Hop with real lyrics and fat tracks.” 
Protect ya neck! CREAM! 


Home of the Wu-Tang Clan and Killerbees. The Wu-Tang Corp. 
http:.// last access 27.10.2014 

Youtube.Wu-Tang Clan-Gravel Pit. access 27.10.2014 

Youtube. Wu-Tang Clan Promo Documentary 1997. last access 27.10.2014 

Youtube. Enter The Wu-Tang Documentary 1994. last access 27.10.2014 

Youtube. Wu-Nation Documentary. last access 27.10.2014 

Video Collage: Keep Ya Head Up, Hip Hop Hooray & Nuthin But 'G' Thang (1993 Hip Hop Videos) from videocollage on Vimeo.

Keeping Those Heads Up Or Getting Dragged Down? –
Ruptures between Female Life and Street Life in Three Rap Videos of 1993
 by Jakob Weber

1.     Introduction
The impulse for this post was given by the task to comment on the music video for Keep Ya Head Up by the late rapper 2pac through a video collage.[1] The resulting footage (embedded above) contrasts images of women and rappers’ hoods from three rap videos on air in 1993 – namely Keep Ya Head Up, Hip Hop Hooray (Naughty By Nature) and Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang (Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg). Among others, the video points to the fact that ruptures between a male-dominated street life and female life spheres are present in the three rap videos. This text shows that in Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang these ruptures are underlined and even enforced. For Hip Hop Hooray it arrives at the conclusion that while the lyrics point to a similar direction as those of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, the images partially contradict this message. It is found that some ironic depictions within the video partially resolve these contradictions. Finally, it is shown that in Keep Ya Head Up lyrics and images put both areas – the male-dominated urban spheres and female life domains – next to each other, problematise their contradictive nature and show chances as well as problems of struggling for an improvement of the status quo.[2] In the following, representations of male power in (rap) music videos are discussed from a more theoretical point of view. After that each of the videos is regarded in light of these findings before the final chapter concludes.

2.     Factors of Male Dominance in Hip Hop Street Culture
Rap music is one of the art forms associated with the Bronx’s Hip Hop culture in the 1970s. It mirrors the “pleasures and problems of black urban life” (Rose 1994: 3) and emphasizes the subject of street life for political reasons, as the young African-Americans were (amongst other adversities) confronted with “ethnic dislocations spurred by the construction of the South Bronx highway, and a rapid decline in municipal services induced by severe cuts in federal funding at the end of the Great Society era” (Phillips et al. 2005). In spite of the catastrophic urban planning in the Bronx, rappers established a sense of “identity and location” (Rose 1994: 6) and managed to raise the hope that “’the street’ is a site where the sensibilities of black lower class people prevail” (Phillips et al. 2005: 259). However, inside and outside the Bronx, street life also gained significance as a subject of rap music due to other factors. One might be the fact that energetic block parties made the early Hip Hop-culture bloom (Czerwenka-Wenkstetten 2009). Another important point is that youth culture seeks spaces of liberation from domestic constraints. Naturally, street life is such a “retreat[s] from parental surveillance and domestic constrictions” (Lewis 1990). As such, it represents a perfect possibility for young people to experiment with roles in their peer group and society as a whole. Therefore it is frequently associated with “aggressive leisure practices and [...] pursuit of sexual experiences” (ibd.). In the outgoing 1980s, some rap acts found a new and provocative approach to these frowned upon practices, infamously summarized by rapper and producer Dr. Dre as a rap style intended “to make people go: ‘Oh shit, I can’t believe he’s saying that shit.’” (Dr. Dre in Parker 2014: 10).” Scholars of Hip Hop raised the concern that rap music was turned into a “modern minstrel” (Henderson 1996: 332), no matter if confronted with the still partially politicised textbook of 2pac or the turning down of uplifting African-American street life-images by N.W.A. in favour of “black badassness”-stereotypes (Reeves 2008: 94). Other scholars, such as Rose, criticized sexist elements of rap in which “elaborate and creative stories about the abuse and domination of young black women” (Rose 1994: 16) were narrated. In this hindsight, transferring findings on the 1990s white US-music culture to rap music productions may broaden the beholder’s perspective considerably: Lewis claims that in the then music videos the street signifies boys’ “privileged access to public space and patriarchal prerogatives” (Lewis 1990) while equal access-rights are denied to girls. Entering the street, they “become objects of the male gaze” and live in “fear of harassment and rape” (ibd.). Lewis claims make clear that apart from the racial aspect also sexual stereotypes should be of concern when regarding music videos of a youth/music culture so strongly entangled with street life as Hip Hop is. Such a gender perspective is cast on the rap lyrics and videos at hand from three perspectives: Firstly it is regarded whether street life is marked as a masculine territory through representations of male aggression, crime (Neumann et al. 2006: 5), threatening poses, gambling or footage of men establishing their domination of the road as they cruise in luxurious limousines, jumpcars or the like (Richard 2003: 82). Secondly it is regarded whether women’s bodies appear objectified within the video in images or lyrics. A phenomenon frequently discussed under the label of the male gaze – the catering to a lusty, voyeuristic male audience (Neumann et al. 2006: 10). Birgit Richard claims that women frequently even appear as male property with a value equal to that of fancy cars or other luxury items (Richard 2003: 83).[3] Finally it shall be of concern whether predominant sexual scripts of the US-American Hip Hop culture are solidified or rejected. The insights of Stephens and Phillips (2003) will be taken into account. They claim that sexuality is scripted because it is “learned and acted out within a social context, and different social contexts have different social scripts” (ibd. 5). Observing developments from the advent of European colonization until today, they can show that the sexual scripts available to “African American adolescent women […] rely on negative stereotypes that have changed little over the past century” (ibd.). Summarizing how these scripts appear in (rap) music videos according to the authors is not intended here. However, where instances in the regarded music videos show parallels to their findings, the reader will be confronted with them in the following chapters.

3. Male Dominance and Female Life Spheres: Ruptures in Three Rap videos of 1993
3.1 G vs. She - Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang
Even though Dr. Dre was in his late and Snoop Dogg in his early 20s during the shooting of the above footage, it is fair to say that in the Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang-video, street life is presented as a male-dominated juvenile experimentation space away from domestic parental control. The liberation from limitations at home comes just as archetypical as the preceding chapter suggests: As soon as the protagonists enter the party scene in Compton, they find a leisurely world abundant with symbols of male domination: Men cruise in limousines and jump cars, gaze at lightly dressed women and smoke marihuana - suggested by the hastily hidden long papers (02:34) and Dr. Dre’s line “take a toke but don’t choke” (02:27) - while a gun is held at the ready even during the preparation of a barbecue (01:54).[4] Also the images of parental control are not withheld from the beholder as Snoop Dogg’s home is dominated by a matriarch figure gaining momentum through the sheer size of the family she has given birth to and her comparably active and productive posture.[5] There is also a father figure urging Dr. Dre to find his friend Snoop Dogg a job (00:36). Interestingly, we later on see the younger generation at Compton's party scene passing on a very different vision of a good life to the children they meet: A youngster is shown how to dance (02:30) and has apparently already learnt how to direct the male gaze at women passing by (01:59). As the partying men in the video have established their confident masculine role, women are forced into a subordinate position: One party-goer is so confident that he even dares to expose the breasts of a woman by removing her bikini against her will (02:26). Throughout the song, the lyrics emphasise the image of men dominating Compton's street and party scene. Snoop Dogg, for instance, casually raps about putting on a condom and ‘digging out a bitch’ (01:30) and adds verses about extensive pimping activities, which lets the image arise that women easily fall prey to masculine sexual allures. The beat adds to this message since it features an exhalation sample of a sexually aroused female.

 The later shots at a house party make clear that the masculine party-goers so firmly stick to the idea of females’ permanent sexual accessibility that any other female life concepts are unacceptable to them: An attractively (yet not over the top) dressed woman with long curly hair and light-dark skin enters the scene (03:16), by her disgust for a soiled handrail she shows a posh nature. Later on, she refuses to be touched by a male party-goer (03:30). Finally, she is sprayed with malt liquor by two men, seemingly because her attitude needs to be sanctioned. Sexual scripts go a long way to explain why this is so: The character of the posh woman coincides in both, attire and attitude with the Diva-script. The 'Diva' is described by Stephens (2003) as a medially enforced image of a woman longing for worship and adornment, cultivating the image of being of higher upbringing and selecting her boyfriends "based on how their achievements can enhance what she already has" (ibd. 17). Her "image of being attractive but unattainable" (ibd. 16) and her self-confident choosiness with men stand at odds with the masculine longing for sexual omnipotence presented as the backbone of Compton’s street life throughout the video. Hence, the situation escalates into the malt liquor incident.

3.2 Male Gaze but Ladies in the Place - Hip Hop Hooray
Embed here
It was shown that the lyrics and images of Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang harmoniously point to the message that street- and party life is a manly domain in which women may only appear if they stick to strict masculine rules. In this hindsight, the lyrics and images of Hip Hop Hooray seem to point into contradictory directions. At first glance, the street- and party-scenes (shot in East Orange) convey the impression that women may enter on equal terms as men: They join in the dancing (00:42), waving of the hands to the hook-line (01:54) or posing (02:58) (carried out by the featured rapper Queen Latifah). Furthermore, a scene of a water pistol shooting on the street may be understood as an ironic allusion to the rap video cliché of male dominated, violent street life (cf. Richard 2003: 82). However, Treach contradicts this impression by threatening to impose curfews with his “problem solver” (03:02). Moreover, it stands to reason that DJ Kay Gee does not hold a baseball bat in his hands while introducing his crew in a crowded club because he plans to practice his sport skills (00:03).[6] Apart from the street violence aspect, some lyrics suggest that women are only granted access to masculine life spheres if they are of physical interest to men: Vinnie raps about “licking down” (00:33) another rapper’s girlfriend (illustrating this action with the appropriate gestures). Treach later on asks his girlfriend to be thankful as he did not leave her after he had “hit it” (01:37) and explains that his sleeping with another girl was in no way meant disrespectfully. These statements are frequently underlined with narrative video sequences in which sexual scripts are acted upon. Treach’s girlfriend, for instance, is shown ringing him up in simple but stylish black attire, accompanied by a necklace. She is sitting on a leather couch next to an expensive looking vase lamp on a glass table. It is doubtful whether these hints at a certain classy chic are sufficient to classify her as a sanctioned representation of the Diva script. Whatsoever, it is certain that (classy) women are depicted as potential victims of Treach who (ab)uses them to still his sexual appetite. The lyrics also call on Treach’s girlfriend to hold herself ready to “start a family today” (01:59) as she obviously is his property with his name written on her “kitten” (01:54). With this message at hand, one is driven to agree with Stephens who finds that rap videos frequently reinforce the idea that men have the right to have “brief sexual relationships with other women” (Stephens 2003: 33) while a pregnant woman has to act out the sexual script of taking “on the good and (more often) the bad of her man” (ibd.). In another narrative sequences we see a promiscuously smiling black woman clad in high heels, gold jewellery and a kinky red dress watching Naughty By Nature perform on TV. This arouses her so much that she has to help herself by flushing out her wet slip in a washbasin. From Stephen’s perspective such a depiction caters to the female sexual script of the insatiable freak, a woman available for “all comer and takers” (2003: 21).[7] The freak scene again underlines a longing for unlimited male access to women and is a clear instance of the male gaze in a rap video. However, at least in the narrative sequences concerning Treach’s girlfriend, male power is again shown with a certain ironic touch as Treach wakes up next to a giant soft toy (01:29) undermining his masculine image. In conclusion, one can say that the viewer of the video has to come to terms with the outlined frictions between the lyrics and some of the images even though it is partially resolved through ironic undertones.

3.3 ‘A Holla to my Sisters’ - Keep Ya Head Up
In the last video under regard, potential clashes of street life and female life spheres are presented in a very straight-forward manner: A woman is molested by men cruising by in a convertible (00:30), men roll the dice on the street (01:55) while a single-mother cannot even provide her child with enough food to eat (02:14) and the lyrics for the images at 00:57 suggest that a man leaving his pregnant girlfriend tells her that she “ain’t nuthin”. Throughout the video, 2pac embodies an African-American man trying to come to terms with these issues. He, for instance, tells his cruising homies to stop their teasing (00:33) and thoughtfully looks at a child watching him gambling (02:08). However, it also occurs to the viewer that street men hold friends in high esteem even though they are disrespectful towards women as the reckless father-to-be reappears in 2pac’s posse (00:57/04:20). Then again, the men around 2pac do not act like aggressive defenders of a male domain: Violent postures are abandoned in favour of uplifting gestures coming with the soulful hookline encouraging women to ‘keep their head up’ (01:28). In addition to that, children are integrated into the street scenes, e.g. a girl being carried by 2pac (01:34) or two youngsters dancing along to the song (02:55). The dancing with children – contrary to its implications in Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang – is given the ambience of a respectful and responsible inclusions since 2pac addresses the stressful life of the “ladies havin’ babies on they own” (03:25), the grief of a child learning that his father “don’t love him no mo’” (03:45) and the responsibility of African-Americans for their “race of babies” (01:12). An inclusion of females into the posse, however, seems to be not so probable or just at its beginning as women rarely appear and are just shown for brief moments (04:20). It is suggested that male street life may be immoral as 2pac claims that he tries “to make a dollar out of fifteen cent” (02:18) – i.e. earning money from fifteen dollars worth of drugs (cf. onlineslangdictionary 2014) - while women try “to be legit” (02:21) and therefore struggle financially. However, the common reproach that rap videos present women either as saints or whores (cf. Neumann-Braun/Mikos 2006: 2) is not applicable here since the negative side of 2pac’s mother is shown as he claims that she has turned his brother into a “crack baby” (02:56).

Concerning the issues of the male gaze, one can say that the presentation of female bodies comes without hints at male sexual longing as obvious as in Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang or some sequences of Hip Hop Hooray.[8] Moreover, the video casts doubt on some commonplace sexual scripts in rap videos: Firstly, the before mentioned sequence of a fight between a pregnant lady and her boyfriend is presented with the lyrics "if he can't learn to love you, you should leave him" (00:40) contradicting the notion that a man should “always have sexual access to his Baby Mama” (Stephens/Phillips 2003: 33). The right to reject sexual contact with men is extended to all women as 2pac raps with regard to babies: "since a man can't make one, he has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one" (01:16).[9] Implicit in his claim that young mothers left “to be a pappy” (00:53) make him unhappy and his call on all “real men” to “get up” (01:24) is the statement that it is unjust of men to leave a pregnant woman behind. Although Stephens and Phillips find that the respect of a male Hip Hopper for his mother is not always extended to his own child’s mother” (Stephens/Phillips 2003: 34) it is fair to say that this is exactly what happens in the video at hand. The enumerated lyrics and images gain a special relationship to Tupac Shakur’s mother as she stars as a single-mother in the video (e.g. 02:19). The video also opposes the stereotype of the Welfare Mother that “lazily collects government checks (Stephens/Phillips 2003: 9) by giving “a holla to [...] sisters on welfare” (00:20) and associating them with the struggle to survive and raise children. Finally, it is also fair to say that the video puts women in a political context by identifying them both, as victims of the US-society – shown by the reference to Latasha Harlin’s murder and the ensuing lenient sentence (00:01) – and as political activists such as Tupac Shakur’s mother who “nearly gave her life” (02:09) to raise her son.

Summing up the findings on the video, one may say that African-American women are addressed in a favourable tone. It is underlined that they suffer from inappropriate behaviour of the males in their community. While they are encouraged to stand firm and act confidently in spite of all adversities, African-American men are called on to act responsibly, for instance, rejecting rape/molestations or caring for the children they father. While some symbols of male domination – such as aggressive postures or the cruising in a car - are willingly torn down in the video, some ruptures and differences between male street life and female life are presented and held up: Drug dealing appears as a male activity that might be necessary financially, 2pac shows cordial contact with men in his posse acting disrespectfully towards women and gambles on the street corner (yet, he realises the absurdity of this action when facing a poor child). In this way, the video points to an important problem in the African-American community, points out a way to approach it and yet underlines the difficulties of bringing about changes in every day-life.

4.     Conclusion
In the opening lyrics to Keep Ya Head Up, 2pac states that he cares for African-American women “if don’t nobody else care” (00:24). Obviously, however, he was not the only one artistically digesting views on the place of women in Hip Hop-street culture or African-American street culture respectively. This post shows that there was a variety of approaches to the issue in 1993: Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang deliberately emphasises male domination in lyrics and images and sends out the message that women do not have the right to serve as more than objects of sexual enjoyment outside of domestic life. Hip Hop Hooray shows urban images suggesting equal rights of men and women in street and party life and ridicules some symbols of male domination, however, the lyrics and narrative video sequences contradict this impression and leave it to the beholder to make sense of this contradiction. Keep Ya Head Up presents male domination in the before mentioned domains as the norm. However, it is problematised how this status quo encroaches on female freedoms. To confront this problem, women are called on to remain confident while men are asked to improve the situation of the African-American women and children through responsible action. Light hints at the integration of women into street life are present and children are part of the images throughout the video. However, ruptures between female life and male street life remain evident which underlines that there are obstacles on the way to a solution of the problem.

The author personally regards the approach of the 2pac-video as the most complex and forward-pointing contribution to the discussed issue. However, it is up to each beholder to decide if the videos at hand, the ideas presented above and his/her personal taste lead him/her to another conclusion.


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[1] Notably, not using footage to comment videos seems to come with at least two disadvantages: Firstly the risk that beholders might learn more about secondary literature than about the video under scrutiny. Secondly it might be ignored that music videos are a tightly interwoven and interactive fabric of lyrics, music and images. The author hopes to avoid these traps by firstly making the videos his prime frame of reference and secondly by taking into account that lyrics and images can either be divided from each other through “gaps in meaning needing to be broached by the viewer” (Vernallis 2002: 15) or add meaning to each other.
[2] Interestingly, the endurance of contradictions seems to have been an outstanding feature of 2pac’s artistic life. He gained the reputation of being an embodiment of features as contradictory as nihilism, consciousness for concerns of Black nationalism, the representation of Afro-American every day concerns and the “status as a proverbial black success story” (Quinn 2000: 207).

[3] Since this post discusses a very simple version of the male gaze-theory, it is pointed out to the reader that there is an abundance of more complex approaches to this matter (cf. Neumann et al. 2006: 4-12). Furthermore, it shall be noted that the Aphex Twin-video Windowlicker – also discussed in this blog – is frequently seen as an outstanding ironic response to the phenomenon (cf. Richard 2003: 91).
[4] As the video was shot in the city of Compton (Los Angeles), party and street scenes have a particularly sunny and friendly flair. However, according to Richard, the presented neighbourhoods are “no less dangerous” (Richard 2003: 84, translation by J.W.) than other potential areas for rap videos on the West Coast.
[5] This may also be interpreted in light of a sexual script, namely that of the matriarch established through a US-government report in the 1960s. It put forward the conviction that African-American women have family structures “under [...] sexual control” (Stephens 2003: 10) and therefore produce passive and unproductive male family members. However, this cliché is not played out archetypically as the men at home at least seem capable of working out, finding jobs and (in the case of Snoop Dogg) ironing their own clothes.
[6] A baseball bat is also part of the group’s logo.
[7] Stephens puts this sexual script in the colonial context as she notes that it had its precursor in the ‘Jezebel’, a script suggesting that certain black women can only find “both sexual gratification and personal satisfaction” (Stephens 2003: 8) which, according to her, served as a justification of rape by slave-owners.
[8] This is not the case for many other video productions for 2pac-songs, especially not for the video for How Do You Want It? featuring porn-celebrities of the 1990s and being discussed as a contribution to the pornification of rap-videos (Miller-Young 2007).
[9] Iwamoto interprets this notion as a pro-abortion statement (Iwamoto 2003: 47).