Why, why, why must hip-hop vindicate itself yet again?
Not since the early days of rock ‘n’ roll has a popular music form been criticized so much by so many, from the mainstream media to groups of concerned parents to even self-proclaimed arbitrators of what is supposedly appropriate music.
Needless to say, hip-hop culture and rap music has often been on the receiving end of much criticism, and over what, I might ask? What exactly makes it “crap”?
Is it because of the lack of proper grammatical usage? Never mind the fact that language itself is an ever evolving entity, whose rules fluctuate, dependent on the time period and context. But is it a sin worth denigrating the art form?
If it was unique in its so-called abuse of language, then perhaps it is. Many other popular music forms have misused language. Recall almost any form of folk music, and one sees that the lexicon utilized is usually the colloquial language of the time and of the people the music represents.
In fact, improper language usage is usually the norm, not the exception in popular music. A very easy example can be found in country music. How many times will one hear “y’all” in any given song And by most accounts, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog” isn’t that far removed from many of the lyrics found in rap.
So then, what else is wrong with rap? Ah, yes, the apparent lack of meaningful lyrics that reflects social and political strife in the world today. Well, there is a valid point. After all, every other music form on the radio today describes the harsh reality of war in foreign countries, or the hardship of daily life for the lower economic strata, calling for solidarity against the forces of oppression. Oh, wait a minute…
I never understood why for many people who do not like rap music, that the only way rap’s existence can be justified is for it to have a “message” of some sort, as if every other music form only produces “meaningful” songs.
I’m not insinuating that the lyrics to “Back That Azz Up” are rich in context (although I must admit it is rich in imagery). But, once again, to imply that rap is the only music form with vacuous lyrics is just plain wrong.
Even in jazz (another music style that was criticized for various reasons), that American music form which is now so highly regarded, there are plenty of examples where the lyrical content isn’t exactly enlightening.
Then there are those who assert that the good old days of Public Enemy and Tupac Shakur are gone in rap music. This is ridiculous!
Yes, perhaps artists whose lyrical content is more profound than the average song played on the radio today find it harder to breakthrough to reach a mainstream audience. But there are plenty of artists underground and even aboveground who produce “meaningful” music. Perhaps the oeuvre of a particular artist isn’t dedicated to socially conscious music, but then there remain many artists whose body of work is comprised of such.
With that said, there is still much to discuss about hip-hop and rap music. After all, music is a reflection of the people who produce it and the society they live in. Yes, perhaps rap is a dominating force in the airwaves today, but the driving force behind it, the business itself, and the consumers largely remain outside the domain of those who create it. There is no denying that.
I won’t deny that much of mainstream “hip-pop” is materialistic and chauvinistic. But is this so far removed from mainstream culture that is prevalent today?
The fact remains that rap will continue to be vilified and the real reason behind the witch hunt of rap music? Well, quite frankly, that’s a whole ‘nother article.
Christian Martinez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.