Photo By Jamel Shabazz | Words By John Morrison
How About Some Hardcore? Gender Performance and Hardness Meet Culture and Industry
By mid 1980’s, acts like Run DMC, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee and others emerged presenting a style of Rap that was characterized by heavier, more direct lyrics and aggressive, and sometimes hard rock influenced beats with loud 808 drums that reflected the energy of the streets more accurately than the more sing-songy, Disco influenced Rap of older groups like The Sugar Hill Gang. The new groups emphasized the “hardness” of their rhymes and personal personas. In Performing Gender: The Construction of Black Males in the Hip-Hop Industry Nayo Sasaki-Picou identifies “hardness” as an essential component of performance amongst Black Male Rappers.
“African Americans in the hip-hop industry, artists have come to understand masculinity as a natural aspect of their performance. Artists regard their performance of gender as having an essence of “hardness” that is inherent to all male rappers. However,the construction of black masculinity in hip-hop has been culturally, psychologically, and historically informed.”
This new direction amounted to a “rebellion” of sorts, an intentional subversion of Rap music’s earlier, Disco influenced sound. Unsurprisingly, this rebellion was not limited to the realm of musical aesthetic. Along with the rejection of Rap’s earlier musical trends, the 80’s found most (if not all) Rap acts completely rejecting the more flamboyant fashion styles favored by earlier groups like The Sugar Hill Gang and Bambaataa’s Soul Sonic Force. The fashion styles of Rap music’s most popular groups began to more closely reflect tastes and aesthetic of it’s mostly Black & Latinx, male, poor and working class audience. Despite the fact that during this time, Hip Hop culture in general and Rap music specifically was blossoming and diversifying creatively while also expanding to regions outside of New York, in regards to gender expression and the ways in which masculinity was performed within the culture, Hip Hop was becoming more and more conservative