Click here to read “MCs and Marx: Examining Rap from a Historical Materialistic Approach,” Ryan “Mac” Keith McCann’s Thesis, completed in the spring of 2016 for the Plan II Honors Program and Religious Studies Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
Abstract: MCs & Marx: Examining Rap from a Historical Materialistic Approach
Hip-Hop culture, and especially the genre of rap music, is too often dismissed and denounced without being properly examined and understood. However, if engaged respectfully and thoughtfully, rap music can help us understand some of the complexities of American culture, especially with regards to race, economics, and consumerist religion. In this thesis, I inspect rap using Karl Marx’s historical materialism. This approach assumes that a society’s economic base, its material conditions, determines its superstructure, like culture, politics, religion, etc. Utilizing this methodological approach, in addition to studying other academic works on hip-hop, I analyzed a variety of rappers and their lyrics. After months of research, I have concluded that hip-hop is largely a reflection of its originators’ economic situations – or, in Marxist terms, hip-hop is a superstructure of its pioneers’ economic base. Because a culture’s values reflect its economic base, I believe that hip-hop and its consumerism have, in a sense, replaced the role of religion as one of the primary ways to present and define oneself.