Big Brother’s Music: How Global Surveillance Found Its Reflection in Rap Culture

Remember we somehow told about tracks by Radiohead, Muse, “Aquarium” and “GO”, and then another about the Chinese boyband and other big brother music? We transferred these materials to our “World of Hi-Fi”, and today we decided to discuss the attitude of rap artists to surveillance and conspiracy theories.

Photo: Anastase Maragos.  Source:
Photo: Anastase Maragos. Source:

Rap game under the hood

Not many people know, but the secret services and law enforcement agencies of the United States have been monitoring the activities of rappers almost from the moment there was minimal public interest in this genre. If you do not dig into history, in the mid-2000s, this state of affairs was confirmed by the authors of the documentary “Black and Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop“. They found out that even those performers who were not “in development” were “under the hood”, but, on the contrary, were at the peak of popularity and became laureates of numerous music awards.

Personal data, information about transactions and tax deductions, social circle and life circumstances of such stars as Jay-Z, 50 Cent and their “rap game” colleagues became the subject of interest of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and a number of special services. The musicians themselves shared their suspicions of such an attentive attitude on the part of the law enforcement structures, and another documentary gave a new impetus to the scandal “Rap Sheet: Hip-Hop and the Cops“, Almost immediately the ensuing for the first. Don Sikorski built his painting on a 500-page document he was able to obtain from the NYPD upon request based on freedom of information law, plus – another series of interviews with direct participants in the events.

Cases with unobtrusive observation and violations of privacy rights were known before these films. They are reflected in numerous tracks from the 80s, starting with the classic “Somebody’s watching me“Rockwell and to the more radical”Louder than a bomb“From Public Enemy. By the way, in honor of the last song named the world’s largest poetry slam held annually in Chicago.

The lyrics of the most prominent representatives of the genre from the 90s were saturated with an atmosphere of mistrust and cruelty in which they grew up and lived. Street gangs were not unusual back then, but mass riots 1992 in Los Angeles, which will remind many of the recent events provoked by the death of George Floyd, led to a wave of even more aggressive creativity.

Photo: Valentin Petkov.  Source:
Photo: Valentin Petkov. Source:

After “Ghetto bird“Ice Cube and”Temperature’s rising“From Mobb Deep, rap artists have returned to the topic of control. So, clip on “Phone Tap” legendary hip hop supergroup The Firm was completely filmed in the spirit of an action movie with numerous scenes of external surveillance and wiretapping.

Do it fine, it will be fine

Many would argue that the focus on how rappers do and what they do is justified by the content of their verses. Others will notice that not only musicians, but all citizens should have the right to freedom of speech and creativity. Still others will emphasize that it was hip-hip performers who were the first to publicly declare the uncontrolled work of surveillance programs and departments in the United States, became the topic of a global scandal decades after the release of their tracks.

Today almost everyone can feel like a “popular rap musician”. The activities of the US National Security Agency, the development of the regulation of the Internet industry and the local requirements of individual countries for monitoring and storing web traffic, set the atmosphere of a true spy thriller, contributing to the emergence of a growing number of conspiracy theories and new music on the topic.

But this time, the lyrics get softer and rappers talk about surveillance in a more entertaining way. So, in the track 2 Chainz and Pharrell, released a year Snowden Gate, chorus includes from just one repeated line: “I’ma be fresh as hell if the Feds watching“.

Photo: Gordon Cowie.  Source:
Photo: Gordon Cowie. Source:

Other performers no longer consider it necessary to “tease the system” with harsh accusations. A similar approach was chosen by Meek Mill, who in 2014 lost the opportunity to serve a suspended sentence due to aggressive behavior, was transferred to house arrest and stated that his mixtape DC4 will no longer contain provocative vocabulary. TI found itself in a similar situation earlier, having resorted to self-censorship on the No Mercy album, and Lil Wayne did find it necessary to release rock albumto show the public their “vegetarian” intentions.

The future is under supervision

The development of surveillance rap in recent years has yet to be studied in detail, but one thing is certain – the musical “opposition” to the changing reality on the one hand degraded, and on the other hand, it was replaced by a struggle with an atmosphere of helplessness, isolation and “digital” loneliness.

Here representatives of the hip-hop industry and pop culture have joined forces, and what came of it, we will try to tell you in one of the following materials on our blog on Habré.

Additional reading in our Hi-Fi World:

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