Hip-hop is strange lately. It is ever evolving, but strange to say the least. I can say this because I am more than qualified. I will not go down my laundry list of reasons as to how and why I am qualified but I will say that I am a staunch supporter of not just the individual aspects of the culture but of the movement as a whole and I have been such for the better part of my life. I am in my late thirties and by all accounts, that is archaic by rap standards but my age grants me the privilege of having watched the evolution of the culture, more specifically the aspect of rap music. Rap has gone through so many stark changes over the course of its relatively short life. While this speaks to the range of flexibility of this form of artistic expression, it begs the question of what effect these changes are having on our communities and the culture as a whole. Comparisons can be made to other genres of music like jazz, EDM and R&B and while I don’t lend my ear to these forms as much as I do rap I think that it is painfully obvious that such swift, constant and obvious changes to the content are not happening as often.
With the exception of R&B, becoming raunchier nowadays compared to say, the day of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Rap has surpassed all other genres of music with the sheer number or changes that it has gone through. Changes that range from content to sound and geographic popularity of a particular style. In the 80’s rap and rappers from New York reigned supreme. In the 90’s the rap sound from California and on a lower level Georgia picked on momentum and in the case of the former took total control. From 2002 to 2004, the St. Louis sound was popular and then that seemed to stall and eventually die out. Crunk music was an offshoot of the Georgia sound and gained a following from around 2002 to 2004 soon followed by a little known sound called “snap music”, again with origins in Georgia. Texas rap rose to prominence around 2005 with content based around cars, rims and a drink called “lean”. As of late, since 2013 to now, the “drill sound” out of Chicago has become huge. Examining these changes, it becomes apparent to me that rap will retain a certain sound and/or style for a short period of time, roughly a couple years, and then someone flips and switch and then we are presented a new style, saturated with that style and then the cycle repeats itself all over.
My concern is that with Rap being such an influence to so many people, a lot of which may not have the guidance necessary to be success stories, the content and the message in it today is damaging. Violence is a prevalent message regardless of whether or not the rappers say that they are just reporting what is going on. It is obvious that the “reporting” of violence and hopelessness that was the case in the 90’s has a doubt been replaced by the glorification of it. As a teenager I was obsessed with rap because of how rebellious it was and because it conveyed the angst and emotion that I had at the time. This is the era where I believe the rappers of the time were the hood reporters. However, somewhere along the line, the intent of the message changed and the hostility increased tenfold. Now it is as if the intent of reporting what is going on in inner cities in hopes that it will incite change has degenerated to promoting the violence as not just a solution to any problem you may encounter but as something, that can be and IS even thoroughly enjoyed. Moreover, the misogynistic approach to women is another constant theme. On so many levels the family structure is under attack in many of the rap songs that we are listening to on a daily basis. If you follow all of the mainstream rappers, you can see that good portions of them are more or less following the same script. A lot of the blame for this can be placed with the need to follow a winning formula. If one rapper talks about a certain subject matter and is successful in terms of sales and revenue then of course the next rapper will emulate the style of the previous entertainer in some form or fashion. However, when this formula is so counterproductive, counter-intuitive and blatantly self-destructive, being as artistic as I truly believe our rap artists are, why can’t different content be explored or at least tested? Why with all the social issues that are prevalent today aren’t rappers more culturally inspired and driven? An even better question may be why are we not tired of this as consumers of this product? After all, rap musicians are only selling what we buy. Similar to the trade, which is also overly referenced in the rap world, drug dealers are only supplying what we demand. It is that simple.
I am saying that this is concerning and something that should be paid attention to. The demand for different content should come from us the consumer and these artists. It will not be easy to toe the line between artistic expression and a form of self-censorship but we have to try. Given the fact that Rap is a component of Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop is influential all across the globe, we cannot be viewed as a genre and even more so, a culture of brainless, self-destructive do nothings that do not realize the errors of our ways until it is too late.