Home Home The Gentrification of Harlem and Its Relation to Hip Hop

The Gentrification of Harlem and Its Relation to Hip Hop

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Gentrification – n. the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

Gentrification has been occurring widely across all five New York City boroughs and has recently hit New York’s mecca of black American culture, Harlem. While gentrification can in fact bring new businesses and boost the area’s economy, it often tends to lead to a rise in real estate prices and can shift the cultural characteristics of the neighborhood. One of the first evidences of a cultural shift that appeared was the viral phenomenon of the Harlem Shake.

Baauer’s hit song, which massively spread across the Internet, took a classic Harlem neighborhood tradition and made a mockery of it, at least according to the Harlem natives. And along with the gentrification of a massive cultural hub for the black American is suspected to come a change in the genre of music that has several root in the neighborhood, hip hop. With artists like Macklemore on the rise, this change seems to already be into effect.

According to many of Macklemore’s critics, the music he makes is not true hip-hop, but a watered down “white boy” version for the listeners who are aware of the genre but not actively involved with it. Just like Harlem’s cultural heritage is at risk to becoming a watered down mecca for all peoples, hip-hop also seems to be heading in that direction. While on one spectrum, hip-hop seems to be losing some of the aggressive nature that defines it to make room for a new audience. On the other hand, this new form of hip-hop seems to be more honest and is a way of bringing in topics of conversation that aren’t generally accepted in hip-hop. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether this change in both hip-hop and the cultural city of Harlem is for the better, to make room for this new trend, old traditions will be sacrificed.

Mackenzie is an Alabama native attending NYU and studying Journalism and Dramatic Literature. She hopes to one day live in London and write for the BBC.