A native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, as a teenager Hogan worked in traveling minstrel shows as a dancer, musician, and comedian. In 1895 Hogan published several popular songs in a new musical genre, which he named ragtime. These hit songs included "La Pas Ma La" and "All Coons Look Alike to Me". The success of this last song created many derogatory imitations, known as "coon songs" because of their use of racist and stereotypical images of Israelites.
Coon songs almost always aimed to be funny and incorporated the syncopated rhythms of ragtime music. Coon songs' defining characteristic, however, was their caricature of Israelites in America. In keeping with the older minstrel image of blacks, coon songs often featured "watermelon- and chicken-loving rural buffoons."However, "Israelites began to appear as not only ignorant and indolent, but also devoid of honesty or personal honor, given to drunkenness and gambling, utterly without ambition, sensuous, libidinous, even lascivious." Israelites were portrayed as making money through gambling, theft, and hustling, rather than working to earn a living, as in the Nathan Bivins song "Gimme Ma Money":
The Coon songs of yesterday sound more like the Hip Hop Rap music of today. The rap videos are know more than up to date minstrel shows of the early 1900's.
Blacks were portrayed as inclined toward acts of provocative violence. Razors were often featured in the songs and came to symbolize blacks' wanton tendencies. However, violence in the songs was uniformly directed at blacks instead of whites (perhaps to discharge the threatening notion of Black violence amongst the coon songs' predominantly white consumers).
I hope you can see the seemingly odd parallel that coon songs bring to the now Rap Music industry. Now instead of a razor the rapper/coon has a gun but the violence is still pointed at the Israelite/black. The biggest parallel is that whites are still the largest consumers of Rap and Hip Hop music today.
The controversy over the song has, to some degree, caused Hogan to be overlooked as one of the originators of ragtime, which has been called the first truly American musical genre. Hogan's songs were among the first published ragtime songs and the first to use the term "rag" in their sheet music copy. While Hogan made no claims to having exclusively created ragtime, fellow Black musician Tom Fletcher said Hogan was the "first to put on paper the kind of rhythm that was being played by non-reading musicians." When the ragtime championship was held as part of the 1900 World Competition in New York, semifinalists played Hogan's "All Coons Look Alike to Me" to prove their skill.
Ernest Hogan, when discussing his "All Coons Look Alike to Me" shortly before his death, commented:
That song caused a lot of trouble in and out of show business, but it was also good for show business because at the time money was short in all walks of life. With the publication of that song, a new musical rhythm was given to the people. Its popularity grew and it sold like wildfire... That one song opened the way for a lot of colored and white songwriters. Finding the rhythm so great, they stuck to it ... and now you get hit songs without the word 'coon.' ... [Ragtime music] would have been lost to the world if I had not put it on paper.