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

created by Keonna Carter, June 2002

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

In September 1985, the Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) led by Tipper Gore (wife of then Senator Al Gore of Tennessee) and Susan Baker (wife of then Treasury Secretary James Baker) testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about the current state of music lyrics. The PMRC and its expert witnesses testified that such music filled youthful ears with pornography and violence, and glorified behaviors ranging from murder and drug use to anti-patriotic activities. According to PMRC, this music did not seem to reflect the core values of America and thus, was somehow un-American.

On the contrary, nothing seems to be more "American" than the idea of the West, the treasured national heirloom, passed down from one generation to the next by way of Westerns, particularly movies. America loves the myth of the West because it represents qualities that are thought to be uniquely American: bravery, individualism, self-reliance and an instinctive commitment to democracy. But in Westerns, how are the aforementioned qualities achieved? The answer is quite simple; it is achieved through violence, murder, drug use (liquor being the drug of choice) and pornography, just like the highly criticized lyrics of rap music.

Rap music, particularly West-coast gangsta rap (primarily confined to the state of California) is the medium by which present-day Black youth are transporting the ideas of the West for yet another generation. But what disguises the world of the West found in the lyrics from rap's loudest critics is not variant themes and behavior, but having it delivered from an angry black youth on a microphone, instead of middle-aged white man on a movie screen. So while others like the PMRC would have America believe that the lyrics of rap are aberrant, this site will illustrate how rap music contains the same underlying themes of "the West" and is just as American as apple pie.

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