Why I am Starting to Hate Rap Musicby The Augustan on 12/30/2013
I love the energy, quick-wittedness, and irreverence that rap music offers. There are still a handful of rap artists that I enjoy listening to, but as a whole, rap music is becoming formulaic and simple. Regrettably, many popular rap records contain drug-related themes, threats of violence, boastful lyrics about money and material possessions, references to blacks and other minorities as “niggas,” and references to women as “bitches and hoes.” Rap videos are even more clichéd. How many times do we need to see a person blowing weed smoke in a camera, making trigger-pulling gestures, or sticking their entire behind in a camera shot? The fact that I consistently see these same elements in rap music tells me that it is becoming less about artistic expression and more about perpetuating a particular set of ideas that rap artists believe will garner respect, attention, and record sales.
Some will argue that because I am not from “the ‘hood” I do not understand rap music. Where I am from does not necessarily limit my ability to comprehend something. I understand that the ideas and attitudes that exist in rap music also exist in the world. Does that make them right, helpful, or, most importantly, meaningful art?
Of course not.
In addition to rap music’s current lack of creativity, many of the messages in it are destructive. Blacks and other minorities are vulnerable to these messages. Should rap artists feel obligated to create music that is uplifting and beneficial to others?
When we see a large percentage of fatherless homes in black communities, at what point can we look at a rap music, a widely consumed genre of music in black communities, and question a perverted version of manhood that suggests that the more women a man has sex with the more of a man he is? When we look at the violence in black communities, at what point can we question a music genre that consistently affirms that shooting someone is a rational way to resolve a conflict? Clearly, rap music is not the cause of the problems in the black community. Crime and suffering were present before rap music was created. Even so, we should not be opposed to examining its impact on culture.
Rap artists claim that their music does not influence the world, but is merely a reflection of it. I disagree. Culture and art operate in a feedback loop. Art influences culture and culture influences art. If rap artists did not understand their influence on culture, why do we see so many of them collaborating with corporate brands to promote shoes, clothing, jewelry, and electronics? Rap music is not simply responding to culture, it is helping to shape it. Rap music influences the way that people see the world. I remember listening to “Magna Carta Holy Grail” and hearing Jay-Z, a rap artist that I admire, say that “[rap music] is only entertainment.” Jay-Z understands rap music’s ability to introduce and popularize ideas. Otherwise, why would he promote products and brands (many of which he owns or profits from) within his songs? I assume by saying that “[rap music] is only entertainment,” he was trying to liken rap to film and other forms of art.
Here is the difference between rap and film:
When Mr. Denzel Washington portrays a hardcore, crooked cop, we do not actually believe that he is that way in real life. We know that Mr. Washington is married, has children, and carries himself in a respectable manner. For some reason, that is not how rap culture works. A rap artists’ legitimacy lies in their ability to convince others of how tough they are in real life. In many cases, a criminal record can boost a rap artists’ notoriety. Furthermore, we do not see the same admiration for the criminal lifestyle that we see in rap music as we do in the film industry. In fact, many rap artists name themselves after notorious criminals or deplorable ideals?
Why is that?
To be fair, many rap artists raise money for various charities and give back to their communities in different ways. I often wonder, though, if their philanthropic efforts are mitigated by any negative impact that their music might have. Not all rap music fits the profile that I am criticizing, but if we are honest we can admit that a lot of rap does. The rap music industry operates like any other industry: Making money is the primary objective. Ultimately, as individuals, we are responsible for our own behavior and we have to decide what we want to see in the world by voicing our opinions through what we consume and give audience to.