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.
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.