Hip Hop and La Bella Figura: How Music Reveals the Unknowns of Italy
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Within Italian culture is the presence of a social ideology called la bella figura, which is the tendency for Italians to present their best selves while trying not to create the impression of a brutta figura, which would be a social gaffe or a presentation of one’s self that is considered uncouth. This tendency to project a bella figura is present in the social nature of Italians, but also their politics and economics, with a history of corruption and income inequality that has long been present but rarely addressed by Italians. In the early 1990s, in the midst of a corruption scandal and an economic recession in Italy, hip hop began to make its way from the United States, where it was rooted, across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. Hip hop and rap became especially popular with the youth of Italy, as they used the scene to escape life on the streets and counteract la bella figura. With their provocative language, samples, and music videos, the early rap and hip hop of Italy criticized la bella figura and exposed parts of Italy that were seldom discussed in a public setting. However, as the hip hop scene became more commercialized, the rappers abandoned their tendency to criticize la bella figura and instead embraced the philosophy, creating their own hip hop version of a bella figura. This thesis will provide a definition of la bella figura as it is seen in Italian culture, describe the roots of hip hop and rap in Italy, and explain how as the Italian hip hop scene became more mainstream, it adopted la bella figura. Overall, I intend for this thesis to provide a background on Italian hip hop, and on a broader level discuss how smaller countercultures are affected when they become commercialized.