This thesis will use the “structured action theory” as a theoretical basis for its findings. Therefore, the concept of masculinity, though expressed differently, has been constant for Messerschmidt describes this theory by stating that “gender grows out social practices in specific social structural settings and serves to inform such practices in reciprocal relation” (6). Structured action theory also theorizes men “in different social positions achieve masculinity in different ways,” depending on the “resources available to them” (Reilly 13). In addition, it is my opinion that many conditions that effect Black males have evolved, but have largely gone unchanged. According to Winant, “all the social practices that influenced racial dualism in 1903 continue today: the segregation of the minority (and particularly black) communities, the discriminatory and regressive allocation of underemployment, undereducation, and other forms of substantive inequality to members of these communities”(8). These systems of domination have been constant for generations of Black men, from the 1940s to the present hip hop generation. Moreover, Messerschmidt characterizes gender as something one can “do” (6). I choose to use the word perform. Performance theorist Judith Butler asserts “the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts” (Butler 272). Acting out one’s gender can be a slightly individual decision but in most cases they “specify pre-existing cultural relations; they are rarely, if ever, radically original” (277). Gender is not a static concept. According to the structured action theory, we show that “we are male or female by means of concocted behaviors that may by interpreted accordingly” (7). In other words, the way one acts in a hip hop setting
such as a nightclub or bar to demonstrate that they are one gender or another is often different than the way they perform gender at work. For this reason, I will recount some of the cultural and gender norms of hip hop spaces in this document. As gender is linked with behavior, I attempt to show that one who exhibits strong behavior can be seen as more of a man than others.
Many scholars have lumped all hip hop together into one essentialist brown mass. I acknowledge that hip hop differs from east to west, north and south, independent and commercial, hardcore, crunk, conscious, hyphy, gangsta, screwed, and backpack. Many of the artists that I interviewed avoided labels and viewed them as limiting. However, the crowds that they associate themselves with, market their music to, and perform for, determine the way they perform their masculinity in their lyrics and demeanor when they are in hip hop spaces. Each of these hip hop categories and identities, however, have their own performance of what is real, which is affected by the same basic principles of Black masculinities. Masculine performance in hip hop alters depending on the social structures that surround the culture.
There are other scholars who have done work on masculinity and hip hop. Robin D.G. Kelley has written two books that were useful to my own work. However, this thesis is original because in place of just using the words of popular artists, it includes primary interviews with artists that represent the thousands of rappers who have not yet made it in front the MTV cameras and cannot afford bling. Kelley and others have not done ethnographic research and certainly not with ‘underground’ rappers.
When I speak about a theatrical performance of the real, it is not to take away from the legitimacy of some of the claims that 50 Cent and others are making. Black
males are indeed being shot, jailed, and forgotten, disproportionately more than other races and genders in the United States (Madhubuti 69). It is my claim that a performance of a particular masculinity seems to prevail in hip hop above others, and it is rooted in the urban struggle. I characterize it as a performance because many rappers say something similar. Some of the rappers I interviewed thought of their rap persona as an “exaggeration.” Ice Cube, the self proclaimed “nigga ya love to hate,” said that rap music is performed in a “theatrical way” (Saddik 110). Project Pat, a well-known rapper from Memphis, Tennessee stated the following about the reality of the claims made with in his rap music:
Well, it’s just a job. It’s just like Al Pacino can play Carlito
in Carlito’s Way. It’s a job. Al Pacino’s not a gangster.
He’s an actor. You gotta look at it like this, I can tell y’all
rap tales and hood tales and some of the tales be similarly
true and a lot of the tales guys can relate to. Some of the
things I’ve done, somebody else did, or I know about, but
all in all anything on me it had to have been the past. I’m
not out here doing it now. You can’t be out here selling
crack on the corners and rappin’. (Diva)
It is also my belief that alternate forms of Black masculinity arise in hip hop during short stints of American economic prosperity. The Clinton era budget surplus and job growth in the United States ushered in the bling-bling period, where gangsta emcees in the 50 Cent vain took a back seat to flashy metrosexual rappers such as Ma$e and Puff
Daddy. This form of masculinity has seen a recent reemergence with the rise to stardom of Kanye West. Some in the academy have attributed hip hop’s version of Black masculinity (the assumption is that it is one, uniform expression) to a rearticulation of the Black power patriarchy (hooks 150).