Until recently if you would have mentioned Kanye, Chance The Rapper, or even just rap in general I would have internally rolled my eyes and thought you didn’t appreciate music for what it’s for. For example, my favorite band the Mountain Goats, is probably fairly characterized as being as far from rap music as physically possible (if you’re curious about my other music taste and the Mountain Goats check out this article). My main criticism of rap was that it was musically absent of melodies and rhythms, lacked a deeper meaning, and took little to no skill to write. I was terribly wrong.
The first time I started to delve into the world of rap was with my introduction to the artist milo. milo’s rap lies on the border of rap, spoken word and hip hop featuring slow moving lines with instrumental backgrounds. His lyrics are often autobiographical or are expressions of what he should or wants to do such as the line “I should not sit on this couch and watch Netflix, I should take pouty mouth pics for my press kits”. milo’s genius comes not from his autobiographical work but from how he weaves philosophical references in to his work with lines like “I wish Hegel wasn’t so incomprehensible” or “I thought they might have killed me, so I read the Hagakure”. These lines allow the audience to sympathize with the everyday experiences that milo incorporates into his music while also explore this other higher level of thought that he emphasizes. For me it was the first time a rapper had expressed more nuanced or philosophical thoughts in a way I was able to pick up on and enjoy and drove me to continue listening to a few of milo’s songs on repeat, going through with a fine tooth comb to find every nugget of wisdom I could.
The next rapper I stumbled upon who also began to change my perception was Chance The Rapper and his album Coloring Book. One of the first things that caught me about Chance’s music is that unlike a lot of rap I had heard and didn’t like it used back up instruments beautifully, for example the beautiful horn intro on the first song “All You Got (feat. Kanye West)” which transitions to a bass sections supporting the rap works beautifully creating a full rich sound I had never seen on a rap album. Furthermore, Chance’s gospel themes across the album continued to prove he was more than your ordinary rapper in terms of material. Where Chance really began to impress me was though was not in the substance of his lyrics but in their rhythm and rhyme. The more I listened the more I heard not only traditional rhyme structures but deep internal rhyming more complex than I had ever imagined or could imagine writing which shattered the perception of rap as a “skill-less” art for me and began to place it closer to poetry in terms of expression and talent.
The final step in my conversion towards believing in rap came unexpectedly through an assignment for my writing class to listen to and analyze Kanye’s “Family Business” of the album The College Dropout. As I listened to the song I began to see a culmination in all of the themes that I had noticed in Chance’s and milo’s work. First Kanye use of a choir to sing the choruses and interludes adds once again a level of artistic expression I had found missing in a lot of rap songs. Second Kanye uses his own rap to begin to criticize rappers who only focus on things like drugs and gang life with lines such as “a creative way to rhyme without usin’ knives and guns”. Third and finally Kanye continues to build upon his own rhyme structures in an amazingly rhythmic and lyrical way that makes his lyrics not only aesthetically pleasing but unbelievably unique.
Overall I deeply misunderstood rap as an art form. And while there definitely is some rap music out there that isn’t worth listening to, if you take the time to explore and listen to some of the great artists I can guarantee you that you will be able to find something that you not only enjoy but that you love.