John Ford, Gary Cooper and TuPac:
Gangsta Rap and the Wild Wild West

created by Keonna Carter, June 2002

Howdy West Was Born

On July 12, 1893, the way Americans traditionally conceived of the West, particularly the frontier was called into question. In his paper, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Frederick Jackson Turner revolutionized the way Americans thought about The West because he declared that the frontier, which had not only become the embodiment of American values, but also established and defined a national identity, no longer existed. According to him, the closing of the frontier signified an end to the first period of American history, in addition to the influence of the frontier upon the development of American identity. Because the idea of the West is still widely recognized by and deeply embedded into the consciousness of modern-day Americans, Turner obviously underestimated the power of America's mythological memory of a place and time that seems so real, but never was.
Frederick Jackson Turner
The reason why Turner's thesis was incorrect is because when the frontier began to disappear, a new genre called the Western emerged, which continued, albeit in a purely mythic way, to shape American character. Westerns came in the form of whatever medium was most popular in America at any given time. There were Western dime novels, books, comics, and eventually wildly popular movies and television shows all of which transported the West through time. More than likely, today's generation was first introduced to the mythical existence of the West from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series in grade school and playing "Cowboys and Indians" at recess. However, it is the big screen and actors like Clint Eastwood in Bronco Billy (1980) or Will Smith in Wild Wild West (1999), that makes the legend of the West live on.

If the media by which the myth is kept alive is primarily television and movies, then there is little wonder that the primary indoctrinator of these shows is Hollywood. In his book, The American West: The Invention of a Myth , David Murdoch declares the following:

The myth of the West was not some organic growth, mysteriously arising from the depths of the collective American consciousness (though indeed ended there). It was deliberately invented by a relatively small number of mostly identifiable people with specific purposes in mind. It was they who focussed attention on the last phase of the conquest of the wilderness and they who made the cowboy a mythic hero. Their invention was then marketed with all the resources available in a market-oriented society. It succeeded beyond the inventor's hopes, for they struck a cord which immediately reverberated in the national psyche and which has continued to resonate down the years (xii).

As Murdoch suggests, the longevity of the idea of the West owes its existence to its adaptability and appearance in different media, while keeping most of the traditional conventional forms that make it recognizable as a Western. This site will explore how West-coast rap is the newest medium for the reappearance and thereby continuation of the ideas of the American West.

Introduction | Howdy West Was Born | History of Rap | Death as a Theme | Violence as a Theme | The Moral Fiber of the West | Rapping It Up | References