Controversy regarding rap music has been in the limelight of the American media for years. From the issues of East coast versus West coast to Biggie Smalls versus Tupac to Jay Z versus Nas and even Drake versus Meek Mill, hip-hop has undeniably been an impactful force in the music industry. However, many critics are quick to point out the violent lyrics of some rappers as a deterrent, missing the entire point of rap’s message.
Rap, like other variations of music, exists to make you feel, but also to reflect your reality. Movies like “Straight Outta Compton” support this. Rap helps us understand that while those violent words may seen unnecessary to someone living in a Beverley Hills mansion, to someone living in the ghetto of Compton (where police brutality, racism and discrimination is a daily reality), the emotions expressed by these artists are raw and must be expressed.
Hip-hop music is considered to have been pioneered in New York’s South Bronx in 1973 by Jamaica native Kool DJ Herc. Herc used a creative and unique technique of stretch and re-playing the break portion of two identical records consecutively. The popularity of this extended to “breakdancing,” which was facilitated by extended drumbreaks played by DJs at New York dance parties. By the mid-1970s, New York’s hip-hop scene was dominated by DJ Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Herc. The rappers of Sugarhill Gang produced hip-hop’s first commercially successful hit, “Rapper’s Delight,” in 1979.
Many young men would look up to rappers such as LL Cool J, Jay Z, NAS, Will Smith, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Tupac. These artists represent the hope many inner city youth face. To these young men and women, the music industry is one of their only opportunities to achieve success. But in an industry controlled by mainly by upperclass, white men, young, urban minority musicians are often treated as commodities, not as artists.
Despite the blame placed on rap for the rise of violence in America, hip-hop music is a symptom of cultural violence, not the cause. In order to understand hip-hop, it is necessary to look at it as the product its historical, political and economic circumstances and to study the role it has served as a voice for those subjugated by systematic political and economic oppression. Hip-hop has also been used to display many positive messages. Positive role models may also be posed through this genre, such as Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith and even Jay Z. These rappers have been a positive voice in the industry. They are often refereed to as the “CNN for African American people” because they are often seen as the voice of the people, using their influence to promote education and hard work. Some of these rappers have gone on to start charities dedicated to helping young men and women like themselves find their voice and see that there is a life that they can work towards.
It’s also very important to note that while hip-hop has had a great influence on the black community, it is not exclusive to just African Americans. Eminem, Vanilla Ice and many other Caucasians have played an influential role in the genre. Eminem, the first white male to break into the hip-hop world solely with his lyrical ability. Eminem, like many other hip-hop lovers, grew up in the ghetto of Detroit with a single mother. Through his raw, undeniable talent, he was able to make it out and has used his story to encourage people who are in the same position. In addition to racial diversity, hip-hop also includes a number of female artists. Many female rappers such as Eve, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill have taken the reins and transformed the genre simply by existing. These females have all had positive anthems that speak to the young women they once were.
If hip-hop doesn’t give a voice to the working class, then who will? Society makes people feel that if they have a felony, conviction, aren’t rich or live in the ghetto, they don’t matter. And let’s not forget that if we didn’t have hip-hop, we wouldn’t have influential artists such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Drake and many more. In order to put an end to the cycle of stereotypes about hip-hop, we must transform the mindset behind those stereotypes and provide resources and opportunities for our future generations to view the future with hope. Not only must we stop placing labels on the artists, but we must stop placing labels on the listeners. Believe it or not, your white, 55-year-old American History professor could be a hardcore Kanye West fan. Everything isn’t always as it seems.