‘6 ’N The Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture’
by Daudi Abe
Over the Edge, 473 pp., $12.99
Seattle writer and Seattle Central Community College instructor Daudi Abe has dedicated almost 500 pages to five years of West Coast hip-hop with his book (warning, long title) “6 ’N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture.”
That five-year window might seem narrow. And if you aren’t already a fan, you might recall the music seeming mean: Everyone’s name was Ice or Dogg; looming in lyrics was the pimp literature of Iceberg Slim. But with a string of essays, first-person accounts and lengthy quotations from lyrics and other books about rap, Abe argues the span was historically rich, and the music had great depth and positivity. His thesis, from the forward:
“West Coast hip-hop in the late 1980s and early 1990s reduced social divisions within American society by providing a common point of cultural interest for millions of young people. Perhaps more than any other era, it helped diminish artificial social barriers like race and class which had defined United States history until that point.”
That feels right, although he never exactly proves it. Still, he picked a fascinating era to examine.
Abe takes pains to put everything in context, which is crucial. This was the time of the crack epidemic and gangs, back when “Blood” and “Crip” first became household terms. To some it seemed that America was falling apart. And rap music was seen as an epidemic, especially the violent, sexual, curse word-laden type that suddenly rose to be more popular than rock ’n’ roll among young suburban whites.
It created a generational schism, and paranoia in self-appointed watchdogs like Tipper Gore, who made the Parental Advisory sticker (for albums) to indicate “bad” lyrics. It’s hard to understand now, when parents and their kids both listen to hip-hop. But if West Coast rap was differentiated at all in the public view, it was viewed as a monolith.
If you have YouTube handy, it’s a lot of fun to follow Abe dismantle this notion, detailing the morphology of California hip-hop through dance-oriented Los Angeles electro (Egyptian Lover, JJ Fad, World Class Wreckin’ Cru), into hard East/West fusion (NWA, Ice Cube), and finally the elegant men’s club of “G-funk” (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik). Variety and innovation of styles is what the West Coast was all about.
It feels important that Abe constantly brings up the social aspect of the music, and how the (mostly) black West Coast rap artists — who had Black Panthers for parents — heightened white America’s consciousness about “taboo” topics of gang life, police brutality and misogyny. That awareness was polarizing. It made the music more than just music.
But did it transform mainstream culture?
If it did, then why has mainstream hip-hop today failed to address the racial implications of Trayvon Martin’s killing, when Rodney King was a major hip-hop flashpoint back then? All the major emcees rapped about it.
That could be a topic for Abe’s next work.