Because I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood for most of my childhood, I grew up listening to pop and alternative music. Of course, those weren’t the only two genres I listened to — I was aware of rap/hip-hop and I even liked it. However, my rap/hip-hop musical knowledge only expanded as far as songs made by Flo Rida (ew) and Lil Wayne (literally the only song I knew by him was “Lollipop,” which an 8-year-old shouldn’t even be listening to).
When I moved from the rural town I spent most of my childhood in, I was exposed to a bunch of different cultures and people. I moved to an urban area, so finally I was able to live amongst people who looked like me. It was shocking and amazing at the same time. I found myself being welcomed into a community I knew nothing about: the Black community. Soon, I started assimilating into the culture (how else was I going to get them to stop making fun of me for my “white girl” voice and terrible dance skills?).
With my assimilation came a knowledge of Black music (not even just rap/hip-hop, but dancehall, reggae, afrobeat, etc). Suddenly, it was like my Black spirit was awakened. I couldn’t understand why I had spent so much time jumping up and down (that’s the only dance move they knew in my hometown) to Katy Perry sing-crying over annoying, repetitive beats when I could’ve been bruking to dancehall. I developed an obsession with all the new styles of music I was exposed to, but my favorite above all was American rap/hip-hop.
It’s a little peculiar that I’ve lived in America my whole life, but I didn’t start listening to a genre of music developed here until I was a tween. When I started listening to it more, I found out that I really liked it. When I say really, I mean really. It was mainly the only thing I listened to. I listened to current mainstream artists. I even took it back and listened to old-school artists like Tupac, Nas, and Eazy-E. I listened to rap so much, but I truly don’t think I ever actually listened to what they were saying.
I don’t think most people do, or none of us would be wanting to sing along and dance to the new rap/hip-hop that is out right now. Rap started out in the '70s, first as a fun pastime at parties (DJs would spin beats and then local citizens would rap over them), but then it developed into a genre of music that highlighted personal struggles and oppression. Rap musicians wrote about their broken communities and the rigged system we live in. It was raw, emotional, and unfiltered. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here. Rap has (for the most part) always been raunchy, vulgar, and littered with themes of drug use and violence. So my issue with today’s rap/hip-hop is not that it is raunchy, vulgar, and littered with themes of drug use and violence, my issue is that's all that there is within it.
Tupac could write a song where he talks about smoking weed, having sex with some random groupie, police brutality, and the perverse nature of the mainstream media all within the same verse. 21 Savage writes songs where he talks about shooting and robbing people and having sex with random women… Throughout the whole song… Where he typically repeats the same lines.
Today’s rap/hip-hop (mainstream artists only, this does not pertain to underground or lesser known artists that have a message, or even popular artists like Logic and Joey Badass that still speak about important topics) is so lazy and ignorant. It is not thought-provoking, nor does it do anything to inspire, challenge, or empower the youth. To be fair, there’s a lot of old-school rap with much of the same tired, uninspiring format:
But what separates old-school and new-school rap/hip-hop is that there were still songs with substance to be found back then. The way that old-school rappers talked about their struggles was not in a bragging manner; they made clear that they were products of a cruel system and that ultimately their decisions and the decisions of those around them were made out of a need to survive.
New-school rappers (who usually are posers — Drake was a child actor who never had to struggle, Rick Ross attended college and was a corrections officer for a little while) take pride in their nefarious activities without any condemnation of the system. They don’t even think their actions are wrong.
They don’t say “hey, I did all of these terrible things and I’m essentially a very violent person due to this country’s deep history or racism, which has established an institution of oppression that is sustained by keeping minorities in a state of poverty and disenfranchisement.”
They say something more along the lines of “hey, I did all of these terrible things and I’m essentially a very violent person, but I’m rich now, biaaaaaaatch.”
There is almost always nothing of value to be found in these songs, just mindless drivel about drugs, sex, money, and gang affiliation (not to mention the abundant amount of misogyny within their lyrics). It’s trash. Plain and simple.
I know I can’t generalize and say that current mainstream artists never talk about important issues, they may once or twice, but it is not their sole message. They don’t think about the negative effects their lyrics have on the youth. And for this exact reason, I am sick and tired of my community continuing to promote and listen to this garbage. By celebrating people who identify as gang-bangers and f*ck boys, we tell our young men and women that type of person is who they should aspire to be, or who they should aspire to be with. There is nothing attractive about being in a gang, but yet here we are, a community riddled with gang-violence (violence that oftentimes leads to the death of innocent young men, women, and children), celebrating those that participate in gang violence. It’s disgusting. It’s foolish.
There is nothing attractive about having random (usually unprotected, they never advocate for condom use) sex with all different types of people. But here we are, a community riddled with teen pregnancies, unwed mothers, and children abandoned by their fathers, celebrating those who promote behavior that leads to these types of problems.
There is nothing attractive about selling drugs. Drugs kill people and damage lives. But here we are, a community riddled with drug abuse, high incarceration rates due to drug possession, and young children having to fend for themselves because their parents are strung out on crack, celebrating people who promote behavior that keeps this cycle going.
Mainstream rappers are rapping for themselves, not for the community. Look at how far away we’ve strayed from the original meaning of rap: what once started as an outlet to share the struggles that people in impoverished communities face and to highlight how the system destroys the innocence and optimism of these impoverished people, has now turned into a degenerate form of music where people brag about their fancy cars and clothes, how many people they can bang without strings attached, and how no one should challenge them because they’re dangerous and quick to end the lives of others.
How does what they're saying positively affect the community at all?
It’s disgusting. It’s foolish.
I hate that my community, after so much progress, still has to continue rehashing the same narrative. I am sick of the negativity and the celebration of pain. Can we rap about something positive for once? Can we rap about something that’s beneficial?
I am sick of this mainstream foolishness and the poison it seeps into the brains of our children. When we take a second to actually think about rap/hip-hop in its current state, how is it helping us other than giving us a catchy beat to dance to? It doesn’t inspire or challenge, it brainwashes and promotes ignorance.
I know I may sound hopeless, like I’ve given up on rap/hip-hop altogether, but that’s actually the furthest thing from the truth. I still love this genre of music — the love is dented and worn, but it’s still there. My problem is not with rap/hip-hop. When used to talk about personal struggles, societal issues, or to spread positivity, it’s amazing. It is unique and unlike any other style of music. I’m just sick of all the trash that is burying the good music within the genre. The music and artists we are making popular today are doing nothing but spewing hate in an unsophisticated and low-quality manner. Why do we like listening to them?
I have hope that one day we can reconnect with the true purpose of rap/hip-hip. I hope that we can promote artists with a message and vision, not artists that mumble or think that rhyming a word with the same word is actual talent. We only have a few popular rappers out that actually talk about anything worth mentioning (like Chance The Rapper). I hope that one day, all rap/hip-hop artists will be as talented as Chance The Rapper. In case we all forgot, becoming a famous musician is SUPPOSED TO BE HARD. They are supposed to have lyrical and vocal talent. When people like Danielle Bregoli can become a rapper (and actually have people listen to her, like wtf), then I know that rap/hip-hop listeners are lowering their standards. We need to stop elevating low-class, untalented, uninspiring artists.
One day, I hope that all of the rap that blasts through our speakers provokes us not to exhibit self-defeating behaviors, but instead causes us to think about the world around us. I hope that it will fill us with a sense of strength and dignity, that it will connect us with one another, not that it will promote isolation and distrust among the community.
For those of you in the Black community who claim to be aware of and care about the issues we face, how can you listen to music that contributes to the problems we are trying to solve?
I’ve deleted almost all of the mainstream rap/hip-hop I have on my phone.