Theories of The Underground

How does the genre of underground music continue to remain underground when the power of this genre alone has the power to uplift the notion of social reformation from the grave within American society?
As a student attending St. Lawrence University, I have explored many outlets of creativity; but an outlet that I find universally binding on campus has always been music. Many students here have, in part, shared their histories, backgrounds, and experiences with me through melodies. Melodies that, in today’s age of modernity, can be accessed virtually anywhere. Music has transformed into something mobile, and in effect has spread onto a global level. Almost anyone anywhere can experience it. It is an entity that is not only universal but also very cultural, in that there are so many genres to be explored. Music is an outlet which is capable of promoting any sentiment, and is also socially accessible on a large scale. These traits make music one of the most politically social weapons there is within a society where the ruling class controls many of the ideas that are socially reproduced. The power of music that I find most interesting is that music is an entity whose success is determined by the masses; and it is this power which leaves room for music to inspire social reform on a scale that is unparalleled to other forms of artistic expression, such as painting, which sometimes calls for a deeper contextual understanding. The genre of music that I find to hold this type of power is ironically titled “underground”.

The model that best describes where the underground genre lies within theory, exemplifies that underground is a “genuine fake” in society, where an alternate culture does not seek to overthrow the dominant culture but it exist because of class difference between the elite and working class. In effect, this music culture accepts subjugation in society, creating a form of cultural representation through the reproduction of music that opposes conditions of the elite. Underground is an alternative culture which does this informally, but in an efficient manner; it produces powerful ideals for social reproduction.
Walter Benjamin describes cultural and political transitions that also reflect how the current process of music production has evolved within American society. If Benjamin was alive today, he would most likely agree that the genre of “pop”, or popular music, which is arguably the most prominent genre in the U.S., has been reproduced in a manner that decays the music’s “aura”. This act of decaying takes something that could be extraordinary and revolutionary, and instead capitalizes on the elitist ideals which ensure the dominant class remains in place. Benjamin is an optimist, in that he believes this mode of production for pop music can be altered through changes on a “base level.” Eventually, people will realize that the music being mass produced has little to no value to them, because the ideals portrayed are not part of their reality, but of the reality constructed by a dominant force.
When people realize that pop music can be a space for social reformation, as in the underground genre, social reformation will be a stronger agenda in the minds of Americans. Underground music has the ability to challenge the ideals of the dominant class and produce change. Its raw and unadulterated nature enables the ability for the oppressed to “subvert and reorganize around the fringes of the colonial and growth of industrial modernity” (Sardar, 661). Like any genre of music, both pop and underground exemplify the use of “recycled” material; which is transformed, then reproduced. In this, I argue that within the culture of pop music, the ideas that are reproduced are recycled more in comparison to the underground music scene. This essentially takes away from the music’s “aura”. The blend of elitist ideas, a modern beat, and ability to permeate the masses is what produces the “trendy” pop hit. As Kuala Lampur in India is the site of a “political economy of the fake”, I would debate America is the site of what I would call a “music culture of the fake”. This label symbolizes that the social, economic, and cultural activities surrounding the production of music is constructed and reproduced, surrounding a hierarchy of ideological dominance, where only the ideals of the elite are mass produced.
One of my favorite underground artists, the rapper Immortal Technique, demonstrates why underground music should gain momentum in production in American society. Immortal Technique raps about inequality, poverty, violence, and other issues affecting the minority populous. His lyrics are bold and innovative; this song alone I feel if heard by the masses could inspire political change or at least provide others with different perspectives that are non- elitist.

Immortal Technique – Dance with the Devil

“Dance With The Devil”
[Verse 1]
I once knew a nigga whose real name was William
His primary concern, was making a million
Being the illest hustler, that the world ever seen
He used to fuck movie stars and sniff coke in his dreams
A corrupted young mind, at the age of thirteen
Nigga never had a father and his mom was a fiend
She put the pipe down, but every year she was sober
Her son’s heart simultaneously grew colder
He started hanging out selling bags in the projects
Checking the young chicks, looking for hit and run prospects
He was fascinated by material objects
But he understood money never bought respect
He built a reputation ’cause he could hustle and steal
But got locked once and didn’t hesitate to squeal
So criminals he chilled with didn’t think he was real
You see me and niggas like this have never been equal
I don’t project my insecurities on other people
He fiended for props like addicts with pipes and needles
So he felt he had to prove to everyone he was evil
A feeble-minded young man with infinite potential
The product of a ghetto breed capitalistic mental
Coincidentally dropped out of school to sell weed
Dancing with the devil, smoked until his eyes would bleed
But he was sick of selling trees and gave in to his greed

Everyone trying to be trife never face the consequences
You probably only did a month for minor offences
Ask a nigga doing life if he had another chance
But then again there’s always the wicked that knew in advance
Dance forever with the devil on a cold cell block
But that’s what happens when you rape, murder and sell rock
Devils used to be gods, angels that fell from the top
There’s no diversity because we’re burning in the melting pot

[Verse 2]
So Billy started robbing niggas, anything he could do
To get his respect back, in the eyes of his crew
Starting fights over little shit, up on the block
Stepped up to selling mothers and brothers the crack rock
Working overtime for making money for the crack spot
Hit the jackpot and wanted to move up to cocaine
fulfilling the scarface fantasy stuck in his brain
Tired of the block niggas treating him the same
He wanted to be major like the cut throats and the thugs
But when he tried to step to ’em, niggas showed him no love
They told him any motherfucking coward can sell drugs
Any bitch nigga with a gun, can bust slugs
Any nigga with a red shirt can front like a blood
Even Puffy smoked a motherfucker up in a club
But only a real thug can stab someone till they die
Standing in front of them, staring straight into their eyes
Billy realized that these men were well guarded
And they wanted to test him, before business started
Suggested raping a bitch to prove he was cold hearted
So now he had a choice between going back to his life
Or making money with made men, up in the cife
His dreams about cars and ice, made him agree
A hardcore nigga is all he ever wanted to be
And so he met them Friday night at a quarter to three


[Verse 3]
They drove around the projects slow while it was raining
Smoking blunts, drinking and joking for entertainment
Until they saw a woman on the street walking alone
Three in the morning, coming back from work, on her way home
And so they quietly got out the car and followed her
Walking through the projects, the darkness swallowed her
They wrapped her shirt around her head and knocked her onto the floor
This is it kid now you got your chance to be raw
So Billy yoked her up and grabbed the chick by the hair
And dragged her into a lobby that had nobody there
She struggled hard but they forced her to go up the stairs
They got to the roof and then held her down on the ground
Screaming, “Shut the fuck up and stop moving around!”
The shirt covered her face, but she screamed and clawed
So Billy stomped on the bitch, until he had broken her jaw
The dirty bastards knew exactly what they were doing
They kicked her until they cracked her ribs and she stopped moving
Blood leaking through the cloth, she cried silently
And then they all proceeded to rape her violently
Billy was made to go first, but each of them took a turn
Ripping her up, and choking her until her throat burned
A broken jaw mumbled for guards but they weren’t concerned
When they were done and she was lying bloody, broken and bruised
One of them niggas pulled out a brand new twenty-two
They told him that she was a witness of what she’d gone through
And if he killed her he was guaranteed a spot in the crew
He thought about it for a minute, she was practically dead
And so he leaned over and put the gun right to her head

[Sample from “Survival of the Fittest” by Mobb Deep]
I’m falling and I can’t turn back
I’m falling and I can’t turn back

[Verse 4]
Right before he pulled the trigger, and ended her life
He thought about the cocaine with the platinum and ice
And he felt strong standing along with his new brothers
Cocked the gat to her head, and pulled back the shirt cover
But what he saw made him start to cringe and stutter
Cause he was staring into the eyes of his own mother
She looked back at him and cried, cause he had forsaken her
She cried more painfully, than when they were raping her
His whole world stopped, he couldn’t even contemplate
His corruption had successfully changed his fate
And he remembered how his mom used to come home late
Working hard for nothing, cause now what was he worth
He turned away from the woman that had once given him birth
And crying out to the sky cause he was lonely and scared
But only the devil responded, cause god wasn’t there
And right then he knew what it was to be empty and cold
And so he jumped off the roof and died with no soul
They say death takes you to a better place but I doubt it
After that they killed his mother, and never spoke about it
And listen cause the story that I’m telling is true
Cause I was there with Billy Jacobs and I raped his mom too
And now the devil follows me everywhere that I go
In fact I’m sure he’s standing among one of you at my shows
And every street cypher listening to little thugs flow
He could be standing right next to you, and you wouldn’t know
The devil grows inside the hearts of the selfish and wicked
White, brown, yellow and black color is not restricted
You have a self destructive destiny when you’re inflicted
And you’ll be one of god’s children that fell from the top
There’s no diversity because we’re burning in the melting pot
So when the devil wants to dance with you, you better say never
Because the dance with the devil might last you forever

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