The Other Side of Hip Hop

by / 3 Comments / 115 View / July 8, 2014

Really, hip hop isn’t all that bad; its reputation, however, would beg to differ. When the words “hip hop” comes to mind, what words do people typically associate it with? Vulgar, obscene, degrading, repetitive, nonsensical, are just a few of the collection. Perhaps these would be the words to describe the modern take on the genre, notably “these so-called artists” Drake, Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne, in which hip hop is thematically sexualised or superficial, both of which incomplete without a chain of colourful vocabulary.

While I’m not trying to glorify hip hop for those who dislike it with a burning passion, I can say with conviction that hip hop can be good if done for the right reasons—indeed, in spite of its messages that infamously degrade women, promote crime, and somewhat preaches homophobia. Perhaps it is my own bias as an amateur street dancer, though I’ve liked hip hop even before I started dancing. True, some of these artists are downright awful, and the messages delivered may not be music to our ears, but that being said, we don’t have to put every single hip hop artist in the world in the same bag, do we? The other side of hip hop does not completely revolve around the manner in which these artists can blurt out a chain of words with impressive, but inhuman diction; it’s about the positive messages that are being delivered, but are unfortunately overshadowed by the aforementioned negatives.

Hip hop encourages its audience members to chase their dreams, even when it seems impossible. Although some dreams may be ethically questioned, in which case this message may not be completely attractive, the message itself is vital to those who are ensconced in fear. While Eminem’s Lose Yourself primarily deals with an individual’s struggle, it also has a secondary meaning: to seize the moment, and “the moment you own it, you better never let it go.” Since this secondary message is not as personal as the primary’s, it instils confidence in the listener through both the assertive lyrics and the question early in the song, “If you had one shot […] to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it or just let it slip?” Hip hop also stresses the reality of the difficulty in chasing one’s dreams. In Nas’ I Know I Can, for instance, he claims, “An architect, doctor, maybe an actress; but nothing comes easy, it takes much practice.” In other words, the lyrics give a realistic representation for dream chasing: possible, but definitely tough. Isn’t that something we’ve been told by the other adults in our lives?

Another important idea that hip hop tries to convey regards embrace: having the courage to embrace one’s own confidence (as discussed), and gathering the tolerance to embrace those who are different. Pertaining to the latter point, it may not be as obvious due to hip hop’s aforementioned reputation for preaching homophobia. However, our generation’s artists such as Macklemore, Frank Ocean, and Adair Lion are paving way for a hopeful future in hip hop, especially regarding LGBT issues. Notably, Macklemore’s single Same Love is a demonstration supporting equal rights for everybody regardless of skin colour or sexual orientation: “I might not be the same, but that’s not important; no freedom ‘til we’re equal, damn right, I’ll support it.” Meanwhile, since Frank Ocean’s coming out in 2012, the hip hop scene has shown a change in heart towards LGBT issues. In particular, music producer Tyler, the Creator supported Ocean, despite previously releasing homophobic material. As for rapper Adair Lion, his song “Ben” has received critical acclaim for its pro-LGBT message— one seemingly unprecedented in the known hip hop culture: “The Bible was wrong this time […] gay is OK—the No. 1 thing a rapper shouldn’t say. I said it anyway.” These endeavours have been considered revolutionary for hip hop, as they show the willingness to embrace those who are different, thereby advocating equal rights like never before.

The most important lesson learnt from hip hop, however, is in the criticisms, for it becomes an essential tool to formulate judgements that help us develop our morals and, ultimately, differentiate between right and wrong. Of course, hip hop is not the only medium to achieve this, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. Regarding this value, one does not merely listen to a song: one can also make the judgement based on the artists’ actions and character. For instance, although Kanye West has produced some of my favourite hip hop songs, such as Stronger and No Church In the Wild, his actions at award shows or comments pertaining to others’ religious beliefs may elicit more about his character than does his music. Hip hop can be a platform to give us, the listeners, a voice, both emotionally and morally.

For the most part, maybe society thinks hip hop is “detrimental” because it is making generalisations from its negative light. Of course, these flaws do exist in hip hop, as they do in numerous controversial subjects; that being said, the other side of hip hop is enough to say that we, as listeners, do not need to put every little aspect of hip hop in the same bag because, admittedly, some are worth the listen. Sure, there may be unnecessary details such as the vulgarity or slurs that emphasise or illustrate certain points—not everything is glamorous, after all. Ultimately, the messages may be music to our ears, even if the music itself says otherwise.

References:

Gold, Scott. For Hip-Hop and Gay Rights, A Transformative Moment. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/18/entertainment/la-et-ms-hip-hop-gay-rights-20120818.

Markman, Rob. Kanye West Accused Of Anti-Semitism For Comments About Obama. December 4, 2013. http://www.mtv.com/news/1718450/kanye-west-anti-semitism-obama/.

  • Austin Martin

    An interesting and optimistic take on where hip-hop is headed. In the link below, Questlove from The Roots explains (among other things) how he thinks hip hop has become too individualized, less about community and more about individuals flaunting themselves and their behavior. I tend to agree more with him, especially as hip-hop has come to glorify rags to riches stories instead of addressing problems of urban decay like it used to in the “golden age of hip-hop.” Instead of seeing new hip-hop songs as words of encouragement to chase dreams, I more often see it as unqualified bragging that causes listeners to lose sight of what is attainable and even “cool.” Questlove’s articles (a 6-part series) are an awesome read and I really encourage people to read it if they want to explore hip-hop music. The link below is the first part and the articles themselves have links to the other 5 installments.
    http://www.vulture.com/2014/04/questlove-on-how-hip-hop-failed-black-america.html

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  • Noam

    Hip-hop is great. I just wish my friends wouldn’t judge me for listening to it.