For people who have fully immersed themselves in hip hop, this topic has been discussed ad nauseam; however, for the general layperson this culture is
unfortunately stereotyped as kitsch and vacuous.
Music is a powerful medium in modern society, but one genre stands as the persuasive and defiant voice of many – hip hop. The birthplace of hip hop
is in New York, and it has its roots in Jamaican toasting and West African griots. Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, hip hop music was
characterized by uplifting social commentary, braggadocios raps, nonchalant party records, and rhythmically empowering Afrocentric verses, all
accompanied by sampled loops. The evolution of hip hop has been very punctuated, and at times it has deviated from its roots, albeit still retaining
its codifications. Not only has hip hop enhanced society, but it is also responsible for degrading society by perpetuating ignorance, misogyny, and
juvenile delinquency. It seems that the antithesis of intellectualism is dominating most hip hop oriented mediums, and herein lies the problem -
the bad parts of hip hop are clearly overrepresented and overvalued.
Hip hop is more far reaching in its efforts, than to just simply degrade society and glorify delinquent behavior. A myriad of artists, such as
Illogic, Saul Williams, Gift of Gab, Sage Francis, Eyedea, Busdriver and Pharaohe Monch incorporate consciously-driven themes into their songs with
"lyrical acrobatics”, literary devices and verbal dexterity while showcasing a mastery of the English language. This is the epitome of modernized
poetry, which unfortunately is submerged underneath a thick blanket of songs drenched in homophobia, obscene language, materialism, misogyny and
violence. For example, let me compare these two verses:
Gucci Mane - Anytime You Ready
Well, it take money to make money
That's why I make money
Need some today so I'mma go take they money
Flip money, I weigh money
Hundred grand, that's play money
Counterfeit, that's fake money
Law city, that's Blake money
Cash money, that's Drake money
Broke niggas, they hate money
Rappers they get slave money
Gucci Mane, I say money
Gucci Mane, I say money
Kimberly in your face money
Brick squad we taste money
Gold diggers they chase money
Rich niggas we waste money!
Illogic - 1,000 Whispers
If a picture's worth a thousand words I'll paint a thousand pictures
To symbolize the decibel levels bred of a thousand whispers
To mummify useless unknown poems spit a shower with gold glitter
Pressure increase unleash the catacomb splitters
And for some reason you wonder why your puzzle is a jigsaw
When you fail to decipher the Morse code to simply avoid the pitfalls
If need be I can get raw - just pocket the latex
But that's like asking why the man with no legs crawls to see the apex
Or why the young planet's seeds won't blossom into a garden
Parallel to your search for stardom where you leave breadcrumbs and jargon
That you can't even feel. So how's that for surface tension?
Every step shows you're a worthless henchman itching to meet your maker
I'd rather finger-paint than take a tainted pen and curse the paper
Voice box turns cauldron, saliva boils, then thoughts are vapor
The differences in penmanship are blatantly obvious, two polarized verses that deliver diametrically opposed messages. Language is a powerful tool of
communication and hip hop is saturated with euphemisms, African American vernacular, colloquialisms, slang and literary devices.
In another example, the New York rapper Cam'ron says, “Sometime y’all get crimey crimey, grimy grimy/But those with a tiny hiney they get
in the song 5 Boroughs
. To some this verse may seem outrageously stupid, devoid of anything intellectually stimulating
(including the entire song), but does it have to be? Is it safe to assume that regular club goers do not want an artist like Aesop Rock or MF DOOM to
be played, but rather recite ad-libs like, “Yahhh, trick, Yahhh!” (Soulja Boy coined this phrase). Is music that is preposterously nonsensical
appropriate for certain milieus, or is this type of music sending a bad message to prepubescent teens and adolescents? "Retards Attempting Poetry"
is a witty remark that people like to use and it might apply to the aforementioned rap lyrics, but using it as an umbrella term to describe hip hop in
its entirety is inaccurate. Most consciously-driven rap music is underrepresented and undervalued in today’s society.
It has even gotten to the point where hip hop has been split into two categories: “fake” and “real”. "Fake hip hop" is rap primarily
concerned with talking about how much money you have, what type of car you drive, how many females you had intercourse with last night and other
trivial occurrences. "Real hip hop" encapsulates the true essence of hip hop culture, untarnished by impurities such as rapacious record labels and
vapid, materialistic subject matter. This is a false dichotomy, and the people who adhere to it are mostly fans who vehemently oppose mainstream rap
music. They contend that real hip hop is embodied by underground/alternative or independent artists who are not contributing to the wholesale
destruction of a culture.
Also, the internet has been a breeding ground for producing a plethora of pastiches and carbon copies of extant rappers, with no hint of creativity or
originality. Becoming a rapper, albeit not necessarily famous, is relatively easy now in this day and age due to technology. One can simply upload a
video onto YouTube, wisely advertise their song via word of mouth, and voilà, in no time their views will skyrocket. This constant influx of internet
rappers is inundating hip hop with more rappers than it needs. Not only has technology inhibited hip hop to an extent, the commercialization of hip
hop music has put revenue and sales ahead of the advancement of this genre - catering to the consumer is the industry’s raison d’être.
This genre has been transformed into, what Michael Eric Dyson refers to as a commodity fetish! The primary function of rap is to sell music, but its
secondary function is also remarkably effective at selling other products. For instance, in many rap videos, brand name alcoholic beverages, the most
expensive automobiles, the latest outfits and other hot commodities are conspicuously shown in order to attract attention to what is popular. If a
rapper is adorned in the latest outfits and other miscellaneous items, the viewer may start to confuse his/her wants with his/her needs. Popular
figureheads such as Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, Eminem, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Gucci Mane have gained notoriety through BET, MTV, VH1, the radio and other
mass media outlets. These aforementioned figureheads are marketable enough to promote superficiality, materialism and all things negative.
The transition from songs about the hardships in poverty-stricken areas (while not glorifying this stigma) to lyrics embellished with the lavish
lifestyles of multi-millionaires directly shows the presence of ulterior motives. In turn, this reinforces stereotypes about minorities and
bastardizes a subculture, while successfully misleading the impressionable and malleable minds of the youth. This blatantly obvious corruption,
although not solely responsible, can cause juvenile behavior which might possibly lead to incarceration or dysfunctional lives.