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Gangster Boogie: Los Angeles and the Rise of Gangsta Rap, 1965-1992


"Gangster Boogie" details the early development of hip-hop music in Los Angeles, a city that, in the 1980s, the international press labeled the "murder capital of the U.S." The rap music most associated with the region, coined "gangsta rap," has been regarded by scholars, cultural critics, and audiences alike as a tabloid distortion of East Coast hip-hop. The dissertation shows that this uniquely provocative genre of hip-hop was forged by Los Angeles area youth as a tool for challenging civic authorities, asserting regional pride, and exploiting the nation's growing fascination with the ghetto underworld. Those who fashioned themselves "gangsta rappers" harnessed what was markedly difficult about life in black Los Angeles from the early 1970s through the Reagan Era--rising unemployment, project living, crime, violence, drugs, gangs, and the ever-increasing problem of police harassment--to create what would become the benchmark for contemporary hip-hop music.

My central argument is that this music, because of the social, political, and economic circumstances from which it emerged, became a vehicle for underclass empowerment during the Reagan Era. It concurrently presented civic authorities, community organizations, the press, and, eventually, the nation's top political leaders with a basis for the charge that hip-hop and violence were directly linked. The aim of this project is, primarily, to provide a lens for viewing events leading up to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and, secondarily, to address the oft ignored connections between the ascendency of hip-hop and modern conservatism. I also intend for it to help bridge the gap between African-American cultural history and the historiography of the American West by reimagining the modern urban frontier, with all its temptations and contradictions, from the perspective of black inner-city youth.

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