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Daudi Abe - 6 'N The Morning ("Enter the Mainstream") lyrics

Enter the Mainstream

By 1986, the door between hip-hop and the mainstream had been cracked open by the Beastie Boys. Mike D, King Ad-Rock, and MCA were White rappers who had credibility in early hip-hop culture. This was due in large part to their a**ociation with hip-hop management pioneer/record mogul Russell Simmons and the fact that The Beastie Boys debut album, License to Ill, was released on Def Jam, hip-hop's first great record label. The group also toured and performed with the biggest acts of the time such as Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Slick Rick, Whodini, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. The Beastie Boys' close a**ociation with the premier names in hip-hop allowed White kids to see someone who looked like them ‘catching wreck' and getting ‘props' within hip-hop culture.

If the Beastie Boys opened that door, then Run-DMC kicked that sh** in. Their album, Raising Hell, contained a remake of the cla**ic Aerosmith song “Walk this Way.” Rick Rubin, who co-founded Def Jam with Russell Simmons, developed an MTV-friendly angle to the project by not only having Run-DMC cover the song, but including the participation of Aerosmith. In the book Life and Def, Simmons explained:

At that time Aerosmith was at a low ebb in their career while Run-DMC was on the rise. So Steve Tyler and the band were very cooperative and we all had a good time together. But did any of us think that this would be a landmark record? No. Much talked about? Yes. A ma**ive hit? Only in our dreams. But it went on to become the biggest single on the album and the song that would resurrect Aerosmith's career.

Aside from the boost that this collaboration gave to Aerosmith, there was another significant aspect to the song. In the book Rap Attack, David Toop argued “Walk this Way” became “one of the breakthrough records of rap, its metal guitar riffs, rock chorus, hard beats and raps fusing into an ultimate in rebel music that MTV and radio programmers, along with a lot of White rock fans, found impossible to resist.” This exposure to the mainstream led more and more curious youngsters of various colors and backgrounds to explore and investigate this new, rebellious culture known as hip-hop. On the universal nature of youth experience, Simmons noted, “Even though rap was born in the ghetto, it addresses issues a lot of kids across America are dealing with – anger, alienation, hypocrisy, s**, d**. All the basics.”

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The natural dynamic of youth rebelliousness certainly played a role in hip-hop's broad appeal, but there was something else at work as well. As an example, in my time teaching college level courses based around cultural issues, I have frequently a**igned a paper that is essentially a cultural autobiography, requiring the students to think and reflect on their own cultural makeup and heritage. More times than I can count, I have had White students come up to me with puzzled looks on their faces saying something to the effect, “I don't really have a culture.” Of course everyone is a cultural being; it's just that some people have been led to think that culture is something exotic and ethnic that only people of color have. In a sense, these young people felt culturally disenfranchised. Even though they may descend from the power structure that brought about the creation of hip-hop in the first place, millions of White kids identified with hip-hop culture in spite of this. Hip-hop's inclusive nature, evidenced by the success of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith, served as proof that everyone was welcome to this party.

While there was an excited buzz among young people around hip-hop culture, there was an equally uncomfortable buzz among adults. Many adult opinions of hip-hop were informed by mainstream media coverage, such as an incident at a Run-DMC concert held at the Long Beach (California) Arena in front of an estimated 14,500 fans as part of their Raising Hell tour in August, 1986. An article about the incident in the September 1, 1986 edition of Time magazine began, “Its driving beat and chanted lyrics echo the pulse and pitch of inner-city streets. But rap music also draws out a meaner side of ghetto life: Gang violence.” The story said that over 300 Black and Hispanic gang members “swarmed through the crowd, attacking everyone around them. Audience members struck back with metal chairs and whatever else came to hand, until police armed with batons broke up the concert.” There were forty-five reported injuries, including a man who was stabbed. The article noted that this was the fourth “major outbreak of violence” on the tour, with earlier incidents in Pittsburgh, New York City, and St. Louis, leaving a total of 39 injured.

The Time piece also stated that the day after the Long Beach incident officials at the Hollywood Palladium canceled an upcoming Run-DMC show, “fearing another bloody melee.” DMC was quoted defending the group, blaming lax security and saying, “Rap music has nothing to do with crack and crime… Check my lyrics, I'm a role model for kids, and I go out of my way to give them a positive message.” While noting that some “rappers have produced songs that urge kids to stay in school and avoid crime and d**,” the article was dismissive, stating:

The majority of rap lyrics are concerned with nothing more volatile than partying and macho boasting. Since rap became popular several years ago, many performances have been marred by brutality. Says Public Safety Commissioner John Norton of Pittsburgh, where teenagers went on a window smashing rampage after a Run-DMC concert in June: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that rap music spurs violence.”

The piece ended with a quote from Harvard University psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint. Poussaint, who is Black, rejected the notion that rap is inherently violent, saying, “Rap music really comes from inner-city street kids, some of whom are gang members immersed in antisocial behavior.”

Even though the article explained that when security guards were trained to identify gang colors and keep potential troublemakers out of the venue rap concerts remained trouble free, the mainstream had seemingly made up its mind. Negative quotes from a Public Safety Commissioner combined with the general public's growing street gang hysteria, fueled by sensational media descriptors like “bloody melee” and “marred by brutality,” convinced many that hip-hop was not to be trusted.

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