What comes to mind when you think of hip hop music? Most people think of money, drugs and fast women. Ask me what comes to my mind and I’d say politics, passion and poetry.
Admittedly, today’s hip-hop has lost some of its original appeal. Turn to 102.3 The Beat and you might hear Future rapping about scandalous sex with “Real Sistas”, Kevin Gates expressing the importance of having “2 Phones” or Young Gotti plotting to slide in your girl’s DMs.
As sad as it is, these are the popular artists that represent today’s hip-hop. Independent rapper DJ-V describes these artists as being a part of the “dark cloud of materialism that plays on the radio.”
It’s no wonder that these songs are written at an average third grade reading level. It’s no wonder that older generations consider this music damaging to our culture. It is hard to understand, then, why we continue to celebrate this side of such a beautifully honest and thought provoking art form.
My challenge for you
Look beyond what’s popular in hip hop. It’s important to know that good music and marketable music may not be the same.
DJ-V says there is a shortage of rappers who stay true to their craft. He believes “we need more innovative people promoting what’s real instead of what sells.”
When you dive into these kinds of artists’ discographies, you may be surprised at the profound insight you discover.
Take Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said,” for example. In this one song, Fiasco comments on the war in the Middle East, the corrupt government and the absurdity of student loans. It’s refreshing when a rapper speaks on real issues. Not to mention, you’d be hard pressed to find an artist of any other genre who can discuss these political themes as smoothly as Fiasco.
Other times being a smart rapper simply means that you can tell a story that’s authentic, reflective and passionate. The epitome of this would have to be Outkast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1).” In this cautionary tale the rap duo details, among many things, the struggles of a girl named Sasha Thumper whose life tragically crumbles at the hand of drug abuse.
The art of wordplay also deserves recognition. As mentioned earlier, most rappers write songs at about a third grade reading level. What this doesn’t take into account, however, is the wit found in those seemingly simple words.
Underground hip-hop group Typical Cats have songs filled with fun wordplay. In “Cliché” they rap, “Just ‘because I stand over you don’t mean you understand me.” Could a third grader read this? Probably; could a third grader understand this? It’s less likely.
There are so many amazing rappers whose songs read more like carefully crafted poetry than just another catchy tune. English major Nelsy Padilla believes that rap music, now more than ever, is breaking away from the stereotypes.
She said that she notices more rappers using “rhyme schemes and imagery, that are still relatable, but not just about what people typically think rap is.”
Kendrick Lamar’s masterful LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, was taught in English classes around the nation. Pusha T, Madlib and Chance the Rapper are just a few more names that are making hip hop smart again. Will we be smart enough to give them the spotlight they deserve?
About the author
Dablacceinstein is a rap artiste, a hip hop observer and a human rap music encyclopedia who is driven by the practice of the true culture. He was inducted into HipHopHead as a contributor in October 2017.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of HipHopHead.