The Secret to Making Great Hip-Hop

The Secret to Making Great Hip-Hop

Keeping it real and saying what you feel.

About every November, TIME Magazine publishes a list of the 10 Worst Songs released over the previous year. Looking at it, I was surprised to see songs I love (“7 Years,” Lukas Graham; “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Mike Posner). Some of them I understand (Britney Spears’s “Private Show definitely should have been ranked higher on the list), but others, TIME seems to hate on because of what I would consider only minor flaws (maybe Machine Gun Kelly’s verses were what the song “Bad Things” was named for). If you don’t like any of the songs I just listed, that’s fine. TIME clearly states its reasons for selecting these songs as some of the Worst of 2016. But for all the hate, these songs—for the most part—seem to get one thing right: They all talk about things people can relate to.

I hope the majority of us haven’t taken a pill in Ibiza, but all of us at some point have done things we’ve regretted and isolated ourselves as a result. Posner does something right when he sings about his experiences—that is, he sings about his experiences. We can relate to what he writes about in his song not just because of how he tells it, but because it is genuine. And even if they weren’t genuinely his experiences, our believing it would produce the same effect. We crave authenticity, even when we know its put on or, for example, when someone has a ghostwriter.

Sia is a ghostwriter who doubles as her own writer. She’s written songs for tons of big names as well as for herself, and we can’t say we think “Diamonds” is any worse because Rihanna sings it. So we know that writing good songs require more than authentic material sung by the authentic singer. Yet we know “Titanium” becomes more compelling the more we learn about Sia. Associating personal integrity with a song can do a great deal for the song’s popularity, especially if the content might otherwise be discordant.

Which brings me to one of my (formerly) favorite singers, renowned for his off-putting and offensive lyrics: Eminem, a.k.a. Marshall Mathers. Eminem made a career out of rapping on subjects no one else would touch: doing absurd amounts of drugs, murdering other celebrities in obscenely grotesque fashion, and (the elephant in the room) ascending so quickly to superstardom just for being white. But although his hyperbolic hits might have attracted attention, they would have just as quickly grown old hat if he didn’t have something to back it up: experience. No, thank goodness, Eminem didn’t have to kill his wife to write “Kim” or have brain fall out of his skull to write “Brain Damage.” Still, everything Slim Shady went through provided the material for his music. His early raps, at least, while exaggerations of his life, were expressions of his life as well. For that reason, I consider him one of my former favorite singers.

If the Marshall Mathers LP 2 is anything to go by, Eminem’s life has improved dramatically. He’s in recovery from addiction, he’s friends with the monster, and he’s beginning to feel like a rap god. These feelings of freedom and acceptance have become major themes of his music. For the most part, I find the related songs uplifting and inspiring, but not all the way through. The lyrics of recent songs, coming from both light (Marshall Mathers) and dark (Slim Shady) perspectives, seem misdirected. They focus too much on the “how” of expression than they do on the “what.” Super-fast delivery and tongue-twisting verses draw to themselves so much attention that whatever Eminem tries to say gets overshadowed by how he says it. We appreciate genuine, even exaggerated, personal experience, but the communication also needs be clear for it to be appreciated.

Words can get in the way of we say, and keeping it real helps prevent that from happening. In terms of lyrical style, Eminem-inspired hip-hop artist NF (Nate Feuerstein) raps more like a throwback to Eminem: his lyrics tell personal stories using simple language and express outrage using excessively violent language. And like the Eminem of old, NF chooses lyrics that let him express his controversial ideas, rather than ideas that let him use controversial lyrics.

Anyone with a thesaurus can write “Alphabet Aerobics,” and lyricism for the sake of lyricism has its place in hip-hop. What keeps us invested in artists, though, is the feeling that they share their unique experience with us in a way we can relate. The secret of making great hip-hop, then, is the one everyone’s saying all the time—it’s all about keeping it real.

Cover Image Credit: Hip-Hop Golden Age

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I'm A Woman And You Can't Convince Me Breastfeeding In Public Is OK In 2019

Sorry, not sorry.


Lately, I have seen so many people going off on social media about how people shouldn't be upset with mothers breastfeeding in public. You know what? I disagree.

There's a huge difference between being modest while breastfeeding and just being straight up careless, trashy and disrespectful to those around you. Why don't you try popping out a boob without a baby attached to it and see how long it takes for you to get arrested for public indecency? Strange how that works, right?

So many people talking about it bring up the point of how we shouldn't "sexualize" breastfeeding and seeing a woman's breasts while doing so. Actually, all of these people are missing the point. It's not sexual, it's just purely immodest and disrespectful.

If you see a girl in a shirt cut too low, you call her a slut. If you see a celebrity post a nude photo, you call them immodest and a terrible role model. What makes you think that pulling out a breast in the middle of public is different, regardless of what you're doing with it?

If I'm eating in a restaurant, I would be disgusted if the person at the table next to me had their bare feet out while they were eating. It's just not appropriate. Neither is pulling out your breast for the entire general public to see.

Nobody asked you to put a blanket over your kid's head to feed them. Nobody asked you to go feed them in a dirty bathroom. But you don't need to basically be topless to feed your kid. Growing up, I watched my mom feed my younger siblings in public. She never shied away from it, but the way she did it was always tasteful and never drew attention. She would cover herself up while doing it. She would make sure that nothing inappropriate could be seen. She was lowkey about it.

Mindblowing, right? Wait, you can actually breastfeed in public and not have to show everyone what you're doing? What a revolutionary idea!

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby. It's something you need to do, it's a part of life. But there is definitely something wrong with thinking it's fine to expose yourself to the entire world while doing it. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody cares if you're feeding your kid. Nobody cares if you're trying to make some sort of weird "feminist" statement by showing them your boobs.

Cover up. Be modest. Be mindful. Be respectful. Don't want to see my boobs? Good, I don't want to see yours either. Hard to believe, I know.

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I Didn't Choose To Be A Dance Major, It Chose Me

How my passion became my purpose


I don't remember the exact moment, but I do remember the process. I remember moments in time and the way joy has manifested itself into my life. Perhaps this is the meaning of life—a slow growing journey of finding yourself through experiences and delightfully long conversations with people we care about, long nights filled with laughter, early mornings with dew beneath our toes, waves of utter joy, followed by waves of somber; it's all just part of it. And within these waves and moments of our lives, we begin to see with clarity—a slow but steady process. Clarity occurs when the fog is lifted. It's when you find that thing you're passionate about, and you do it relentlessly. This is the art of becoming.

So, I don't really remember when I became a dancer. I suppose it's been a lifetime of becoming. I can't even really say that it's a choice. I don't think it is. I know that I was born to dance. And this has nothing to do with how I look or anything like that. But it has everything to do with how I feel when I dance. It's this sense of sheer release, and to be able to get to that point of really, truly not having a care in world; this is how you know you're in the process of becoming. It's in the moments where I'm the most lost—the moments where I've really given myself over completely that result in the greatest rewards, usually in the form of self-knowledge. This is clarity.

I have not chosen to become a dancer, but inevitably dance has so gracefully chosen me. And with great appreciation, I've accepted the invitation. I've since made the mindful choice to immerse myself in this art form, because to me this is how joy has chosen to manifest itself in my life. Through movement, and love of music, and love of creating, this is how I've chosen joy.

It recently dawned on me that dance is what we as humans use to declare our vitality. It's an appreciation of being alive. And more so, it's a celebration: of being alive, of our bodies, of human contact, but mostly just of life. We as humans dance to celebrate life.

So with this joy that I've been so lucky to find, I am compelled to study dance. And not just take classes, and not just take notes, but to really study—to really understand what it means to be alive, and to feel gratitude for every ounce of my life.

This is why I'm a dance major.

So before you question me, and perhaps tell me that my major is useless or is not setting me up for a successful life, maybe consider that I've chosen a life of joy. I've chosen to be passionate and throw myself into gaining a greater kinesthetic awareness, a more profound appreciation for music, and for art, and for culture, and just life in general.

I have chosen to celebrate my life, and celebrate what my body allows me to do every day. And through my choices, I've begun to master the art of becoming.

Author's note: The theme of "becoming" was subconsciously inspired by Michelle Obama.

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