Hip-Hop Music: An Art Form Taken Too Lightly

Sex. Drugs. Violence. Guns. Girls. Money. Profanity. These are some of the words that may pop into a person’s mind when he or she thinks about hip-hop music. It is a genre of music that has been misunderstood since its start in the early 1970s.

hip-hop-danilo
The word “rap” was derived from a slang word that meant conversation. Young people living in poverty did not have the means to attain proper living conditions, so rapping was a way to release their anger. They told their stories through their music and people listened.

Most people are so taken aback by the inappropriate language used that they do not take the time to understand the profound meaning behind the lyrics. I believe the most thought provoking and poetic music is created during times of emotional unease, struggle or oppression. This applies to any genre of music, however, I believe hip-hop music has an element to it that differentiates it significantly from other genres.  This music continues to bring people from the same cultural background and upbringing together and explores and examines topics such as politics, poverty, oppression, racism, power, love, values,and difficult life decisions and experiences. Even if one hasn’t been through some of the situations heard in the songs, one is able to feel the struggles and pain through the creativity depicted in their writing, which I believe, is not appreciated as much as it should be.

Most people are too consumed in the beat of the song or are intrigued by the rappers’ lifestyle and quick rise from rags to riches that they do not take a step back to truly understand the message the lyricsWe have seen that these artists do not last very long in the industry. The rap artists who last in the industry are the ones who are able to really shed light on their struggles and tell their life story through their songs. They are also the ones who are able to depict society as it really is and not how it should be. In general, there is a level of trueness to their music. Some of the rap artists who resonate in my mind as the genuine depiction of artists who have remained, to a certain extent, true to their craft are the likes of Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, Nas, Tu-Pac and BIG. To gain commercial success, however, several of these well respected rap artists, with time, have written lyrics that are not true to their life experiences. In some cases, to attract what industry professionals have labeled as their target audiences, rap artists have had to rap about topics that are not necessarily a paradigm into their lives.  As a result, I believe rap music has the potential of losing its aesthetic value. This issue can be further understood through Lupe Fiasco’s “Dumb it Down,” in which he explains the downgrade in lyrical ingenuity simply because this method generates more money and wider range of fans: http://rapgenius.com/Lupe-fiasco-dumb-it-down-lyrics. Unfortunately, we are able to see with time the change in the music produced by these rap artists. In the end, who wouldn’t want to gain commercial success and everything else that comes along with it? For most artists, the evolution from underground to mainstream music is the ultimate goal. For instance, I have seen a shift in the quality of Jay-Z’s music. His first album, “Reasonable Doubt” released in 1996, contains much more poetic and heartfelt emotions than arguably some of his later released albums. Is he sad about this? Of course not! He’s one of the biggest rap artists to ever exist. He even wrote,” I dumb down for my audience, triple my dollars, they criticize me for it, yet they all yell holla.” Through these lines, the discrepancy and contradiction is certainly conveyed. It is a shame however that the art form has suffered as a result of what people expect to hear. People who listen to rap music no longer want to think. They are too distracted by the glamorous lives of these rap artists and their subliminal messages. As a result, the art form is listened to, but not as appreciated as it should be. It is important to look back in time and reflect on what rap music meant to the people who were influenced by it the most.  A time when music was not only made to generate profit, but was a tool used to communicate to the world about the obstacles, oppression, and poverty many people were living in.  A time when music was a form of art that allowed one to express their deepest thoughts and release any anger they felt about the unjust society he or she was living in.  A time when artists could sit back and reflect on their lives and experiences in meaningful ways rather than thinking about how the music will be perceived and if they will make significant profit. Generating money is important, but not at the expense of producing music that is true to oneself.

Hip-Hop music is underappreciated because music in general is losing its value. Commercial success is one of the main goals of all these upcoming artists and has taken its toll on other older artists. This is a time when an artist is faced with a dilemma: Do I sacrifice my identify, my musical depth and become molded into what the industry thinks will make money or do I reveal to the world my true talent, communicate to them my experiences, and as a result learn more about myself and the people who are influenced by my music? This artist needs to ultimately take control of their own path to fame and success and decide what he or she wants: Musical freedom or imprisonment. My hope is that rap artists of future generations are reminded of the reasons why this art form is so important, how it revolutionized a culture, brought people together, and how it can still be a platform of communicating issues, struggles and societal ills that are too often swept under the rug. Overall, audiences must not forget how powerful music can be and artists should not forget the power they possess in helping to spread influence and ideas around the world.

I have posted a short video that introduces rapper Ice T’s documentary entitled “the Art of Rap,” in which he explains the importance of understanding the origins of rap music and its terrain. I encourage everyone to watch the full documentary as it provides a lot of insight into the different styles of hip-hop music.

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Beyonce’s Impact on American Culture, Turned into a Course at the University of Rutgers

Check out this new course at the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Rutgers. The course explains how artists provide perspective on race, gender, and sexuality.

Beyonce as a Political Figure? Well, not in the traditional sense the article explains…

Beyoncé as a Political Figure?

“The course explores such topics as the extent of Beyoncé’s control over her own aesthetic and whether her often half-naked body is empowered or stereotypical.”
The link to the main article by Amber E. Hopkins-Jenkins:

Misguided Girl

It is often said that a man has a lot of responsibilities in his lifetime. In many societies, especially in Middle Eastern ones, a young boy is groomed at a very early age to be a man and not to show any emotions that may seem a bit too “feminine”. Unfortunately, emotions, positive or negative, are frowned upon and this lack of showing emotion grows with them into the future. The boy is someday going to be the man of the house, taking charge of the household and being the breadwinner of the family. Yes, the life of a man is far from easy. But do we stress too much about how hard it is to be a guy in our society and neglect how difficult it can be to be a girl? A girl’s life is also far from simplistic. Sometimes their life is even planned out from beginning to end, from which schools they will go to, to which man they should marry. Even the most educated girl can have no say about whom she wants to marry unless she speaks out and takes a stand. Families tend to forget that they are not the ones getting married. Marriages end up being a contract of financial security rather than of love. What I’m trying to say is that everyone’s life is somehow misguided by outside influences. Sometimes I think we do not stress enough on the life of a girl and the hardships she goes through on a daily basis.  My point is in our lives everyone, especially girls, are somehow always misguided by influences such as family, friends, and most significantly the media.

Society has transformed and with each day that passes, the media has stood as a platform for our thoughts, actions, and perceptions of what is real. Psychological and emotional disorders are further being catalyzed by the media’s ideas of how a person’s life should be. These ideas penetrate through a person’s mind and slowly shape their actions unconsciously.

TV shows, soap operas, magazines, music, etc., all seem to be harmless forms of entertainment for young girls all over the world. A lot of young girls these days are watching shows such as Gossip Girl, Desperate Housewives, Sex in the City and the list goes on. It is indeed entertaining to spend leisure time watching these television shows, but to relate them to real life is beyond understandable and downright insane. The characters in these shows are highly glamorized and live seemingly perfect lives with the toughest obstacle being which social event to attend or whom they should date. I’m not saying it’s not fun and entertaining to watch such shows, but to watch them and base them on real life is when they become detrimental.

The magazine Cosmopolitan claims to help women be more well rounded and be the best they can be in every aspect of their lives. More specifically, the magazine targets “fun fearless women who want to be the best they can be in every area of their lives.”   Fair enough, but if only it actually sets out to do what it claims.  Is it to empower women or is it for women to further feel objectified?

Lets take a look at just a few of the magazine covers:

Sex, sex and more sex!!

Below is a link to one of the feature videos posted on Cosmo’s website:

http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid18776372001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAAPudaAk~,C-Umm5CE0ILqKM5qxB9ysjRHrosKTFAA&bclid=26650873001&bctid=26643699001

Below is a link to the articles Cosmo features:

http://www.cosmopolitan.com/archive/sex-love/tips-moves/0/16

Are these the real issues on girl’s minds? Every issue has something to do with sex! The magazines clearly are advocating and encouraging promiscuity and do not depict sex as something that is special between two people who love each other. How does this educate a girl in the right way? Girls all over the world are reading Cosmo and actually follow and believe what is being said. The writers do not base any of their articles on facts. In some issues they try to help girls feel better in their own skin by giving tips on fashion and what suits their body types the most. Then why when I look through the magazines are there no pictures of real women? Why do they all seem so flawless? If the magazine is geared towards girls who are trying to better themselves then how come all the girls in the magazine are perfect? Are they telling girls that if they read the magazine they will look like the girls in the magazines or that they should live up to these unrealistic, air-brushed expectations?  How is this setting up women to be “fun and fearless?” Well, all it really does is set them up to be sex objects who spend all of their time trying to have perfect skin, hair, and bodies.

The real issues that should be talked about more are the real issues young girls and women are going through such as obstacles about body and self image, eating disorders, unrealistic expectations set for themselves, depression, family problems, inner conflicts and outside pressures. Maybe if we shed more light on these things, young women will be better-balanced and lead healthier lives. These young girls need a reality check and also need to learn that the world is not all about outer appearances, but rather inner beauty, success, family, friends, and above all, personal happiness.

A girl’s life is not simple because she not only has to deal with magazines, and society telling her everyday how the ideal life for her and other girls should be, but at the same time, other outside factors such as family and friends echo and replay through her mind.  It is hard to disappoint oneself but it is also hard to disappoint others. Family is most people’s foundation and what we do reflects on them. We want to lead the right life and do what makes others around us happy. We are after all social beings who crave approval from people close to us and as well as a successful life. But sometimes families who are very close-knit tend to add to the pressures society poses on us. They ultimately want what’s best for us, but forget that we should be the one’s deciding the path of our lives.  We ask ourselves, how do we do what we want without disappointing others? Well, this is not an answer Cosmopolitan can answer, but compromising is always a good method to use.

In conclusion, no one’s life is easy especially because of outside pressures and influences. Sometimes, though, the life of a girl can be more complicated than what meets the eye. Hopefully, young girls and women can be able to break through these obstacles by focusing on what they believe is important in their lives and working from there. Setting a goal, surrounding herself by the right people who love her, and being fearless enough to face real challenges in life is a great beginning. The challenges I’m talking about aren’t the ones Cosmopolitan, Gossip Girl and Sex in the City have the answers to. Slowly but steadily, maybe this misguided girl can find her true path onto self-discovery.

The Power of Stereotypes

Retrieved from: http://www.arabindustrials.com

People are judged everyday, whether by the way they look, their religion, nationality, or by the certain qualities they possess. The media has been the number one advocate in influencing our thoughts and has created us to view Arab ethnicity in a negative light.  When stereotyping, we no longer view a person as an individual, but rather as the group he or she belongs to.  Sometimes we never stop to think that the generalizations we have made about these people may be wrong.  We always make assumptions about people based on what history or generations have perceived to be true.   As Heilbroner states in “Don’t Let Stereotypes Warp Your Judgments, “we tend to create stereotypes because it helps us make sense out a highly confusing world.”   At times, we are so absorbed in our own culture and traditions that we become ethnocentric and see things only the way we have accepted them to be.  We must break through these misconceptions and learn to accept others ways of life and thinking.  In some ways, stereotyping can be a good thing as long as others do not instill them in their minds and remain static about them. Stereotypical thinking is an unjust way to judge someone given that it does not represent the real personality of a person. We come to think whether stereotypes can play a positive role and the social consequences that may emerge due to this stereotype.

According to the article, The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria, Cofer explains the many cultural clashes she had gone through, due to the stereotypes many people have of the Latina woman.  For example, she states that Latina women are seen as dressing too flashy and they tend to show more of their body and curves.  Americans make the generalization that these women dress in a vulgar way, but the Latino society accepts it as being a normal way for women to dress.  She emphasizes that even if someone has lived in a country he or she is not native to his or her whole life, the speculations people make about him or her will never fade away.  This is mainly because they have grown with time and people have been accustomed to believe such things.  It is often hard to eliminate things that have grown from generation to generation.  In addition to the many stereotypes made of Latinas, stereotypes have been made about Arabs, and these speculations have seemed to grow throughout time.  Some articles centered on Arabs are very biased and are based on personal experience alone. In other words, statistically, they may be very wrong.  The article “The Arab World,” written by Edward T. Hall, poses a very biased, generalized image of Arabs.  It aims at attacking Arabs, almost degrading them as human beings.  It seems as though Arabs were some kind of species up for observations.  The article claims that Arabs have no sense of personal space.  Hall states, “ Arabs are unable to formulate specific rules for their informal behavior patterns.” (122) He also states, “pushing and shoving is characteristic of Middle Eastern culture.” (118) He over-generalized the behaviors of Arabs most probably based on a few interactions he had with them.  Sometimes Arabs tend be very friendly, warm and humble that people place a wrong image about them and are a bit taken back.  We like to show emotion, whereas in many other cultures it is taught to stay calm and reserved.  Stereotyping is just based on a few misunderstandings that people take to be true about a whole society, without accepting the fact that we are all different individuals.

Retrieved from: www. goatmilkblog.com

All Arabs are named Mohamed, are rich in oil, are terrorists, and are religious extremists.  These are just a few of the stereotypical images portrayed of Arabs. Recently, Arabs have been the center of many stereotypical images.  These generalizations about Arabs were certainly sparked after 9-11.  According to the article “Arabs and the Media,” by Narmeen El-Farra, (Journal of Media Psychology, Spring 1996) Arabs are seen as terrorists due to how the media presents them. Keywords such as, terrorists and fanatics are used to describe Arabs everyday on some news channels.  El-Farra states that even with current events such as the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict, American media portrays a distorted image between who the victim and who the aggressor really is.  These misconceptions sparked by the media have created major tensions between Arab-Americans nationwide, who are constantly being judged by the images the media creates of their culture.  In many movies, Arabs are perceived as violent and religious fanatics.  For instance, in the critically acclaimed movie, Syriana, Arabs are looked at as terrorists and ruthless-evil people who are somehow inferior to mankind.  I think this is mainly due to the lack of knowledge or research people have acquired that leads them to a distorted image of Middle Easterns.

Stereotyping creates a big barrier between two cultures both socially and mentally.  An entire religion or ethnicity cannot be judged solely based on one person’s actions.  During the aftermath of 9/11, I was living in the states.  Many Arab-Americans in the area I lived in were discriminated against.  Even those who looked like Arabs were physically and verbally abused and racial slurs were used.  Mosques were vandalized based on the actions of a few extremists.  A large Arab-American newspaper in the United States received threatening voice mail messages from those who just wanted to take it out on individuals who had no prior knowledge of the attacks. Most people were angry and scared but that does not justify their actions against innocent people.  Most of those I knew and interacted with knew of my Arab ethnicity and would ask me questions that would allow me to feel belittled.  It is unjust and unfair that they perceive the actions of those who acted immorally and straight away look at other Arabs in a judgmental way.  They are approaching me for answers that I do not have. Arabs feel that they need to prevent the ignorant acts of others and are forced to take actions to protect those that may be vulnerable to such acts. For instance, the weeks after 9-11 hundreds of Saudi students studying in the United States were given the option to either continue the semester or return to their homeland. This would not have occurred if stereotypical incidences were not happening all across the United States. Even the most educated people today generalize about others and compare their culture to others, instead of learning and taking interest in other people’s way of living and thinking. Most people are too focused on reading things that are based on stereotypical thinking rather than looking for the inconsistencies of these stereotypical images. Generalizations are exclusively made to make groups of people feel mediocre. Most people create these stereotypes due to their lack of communication with other groups of people and their misconceptions. This only leads to lack of knowledge and great ignorance.

From a psychological point of view, stereotyping a person can be very detrimental and lead people to feel inferior.  Before actually getting to know a person these days, we place labels on them based on our prior knowledge, regardless of whether they are consistent or not. We all have positive attributes to give to the world and cannot be judged based on how a group of people, who share the same ethnicity that we do, act. In other words, just because a person or group of people from a certain ethnic background did something wrong, does not give anyone the right to prejudge a certain individual based on that assumption. In this way, we are not giving the person the benefit of the doubt. Once we get to know a person, we can later make our assumptions about them based on factual evidence, rather than just on hearsay.

In the “Myth of the Latin Woman,” Cofer states that stereotyping can be a good thing if one wants to think about it in a positive way. As she claims, it can be a way to win a person’s ‘minute of attention.’ (107) It can also make way for people to erase their misconceptions by trying to learn more about others cultures. All in all, stereotyping can be very misleading and harming, which make people feel inferior and often isolated. People that are stereotyped should not just play the victim role, but create proactive ways to change stereotypes made of them.  In other words, they need to take the initiative to create a new image of themselves.  People who are subjected to stereotypes should stand up for their right to be treated equally, and should strive to change the image that has been to unfairly bound upon them.  Only then will they be taken seriously, and acknowledged for who they really are, and not what society or the media have made them out to be.

Kofi Annan once stated in an Istanbul Address, “We need to get away from stereotypes, generalizations and preconceptions, and take care not to let crimes committed by individuals or small groups dictate our image of an entire people, an entire region, or an entire religion.” (105) I strongly believe that this very profound quote sums up the dangers and misconceptions of stereotypical thinking. There will always be tensions between the east and west, but by creating stereotypes, we only make them worse.  We must all open our eyes to other cultures, ethnicities, religions and be respectful of others ways of thinking, even if it does not coincide with ours.  We must not let the media, which can be very biased at times, take control of our mind and thoughts.  Instead the media and other associations should raise awareness to show our future generations not to base stereotypical portrayal on anyone.  Instead, one should take the initiative to get to know a person for who he or she really is.  If we do not do this, then we are leaving a lot of room for hatred, anger and barriers will remain.  In the end, we are unique individuals with flaws. We must not base all of our thinking on myths or traditions. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by these stereotypes, which are manifested in our minds and cause harm to others, we will never live in a just society.

                       Works Cited

Annan, Kofi. “Stress Basic Values Common to All Religions, Secretary-General

Says.” When Silence Speaks. Pearson Custom Publishing 2008.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz . “The Myth of the Latin Woman.” When Silence Speaks. Pearson

Custom Publishing 2008.

El-Farra, Narmeen. “Arabs and the Media.” Journal of Media Psychology 1.2

(1996): 01 Mar. 2008 <http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/Arabs.html&gt;.

Hall, Edward T. “The Arab World.” When Silence Speaks. Pearson Custom

Publishing 2008.

Heilbroner, Robert. “Don’t Let Stereotypes Warp Your Judgements.” Reader’s

Digest.