Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Music: Rap < Hip-Hop

I will never forget the day in Afghanistan that I went with my boss to the recreation room to watch football late at night, and he pointed out that someone had signed up for the talent show as a raper.  It was sad to know that this soldier was not literate enough to know the correct spelling of his own craft.  Further, it was embarrassing that someone who shared my interest had set himself up to be ridiculed for announcing a planned display of forced sex rather than his skillful use of words.  

Black Music:

To say that black music is in a sad state would be much more than an understatement.  By ‘black music’ I refer specifically to R&B and Hip-Hop, as those are the two widely recognized black genres.  I have watched BET my entire life, and from time to time I would recognize the title, Black Entertainment Television, but rarely did I give it much thought.   While on a trip to Europe though, I came across a sign for a nightclub, and it had the words “Black Music” on it, featuring the artist T-Pain.  My initial reaction was of disappointment, and I considered the sign racist in nature.  Eventually I realized that they simply were stating the reality, and as I thought about it I came to terms with the fact that it was in fact ‘black music’.  So, while some may take exception to the term ‘black music’ I will use it anyway, and if even after giving it consideration one can’t accept the term then I apologize for the inability to deal with the reality. 

R&B has it’s share of problems, and I could just as easily be writing about the problems present in that genre.  The explicit, over-the-top sexual nature of the songs, along with the lack of love in ‘love songs’ is baffling.  I long for the days where singers poured their hearts out.  Am I suggesting the the problems of today were nonexistent back then?  NO.  R. Kelly is just as nasty now as he was in the 90's, but the lack of diversity among the artist’s material today is a true problem.   

Two Genres:
It is Hip-Hop that I will focus on.  The ignorant, stereotype affirming, listener killing, womanizing, money blowing culture that is Hip-Hop.... 

Actually I am a lover of Hip-Hop, and I would never attribute the above to such a wonderful culture.  These descriptors perfectly describe Rap music though.  It is the loose use of the term Hip-Hop that I would like to highlight as a problem.  

Just because someone is stringing words together over a beat does not make them a Hip-Hop artist.  I find it disrespectful that someone would put Wacka Flacka Flame in the same genre as Mos Def.  I mean, Celine Dion never had to share a genre with Britney Spears!  

What we have are two distinct genre’s, and I would appreciate it if the Pop version of Hip-Hop, which is Rap, was separated.  It should be looked at as a derogatory statement for a Hip-Hop Emcee to be called a rapper. To lump all 'black music' together into a few genres ignores the true talent and the beneficial aspects that exist within the culture of Hip-Hop.  In reality there are many subgenres of both Hip-Hop and Rap, but simply recognizing those two separately would be a good start.

The Problems with Rap:

To be a rapper is to be a product.  As a rapper your goal is to gain popularity, notoriety, and money.  To do so you are willing to say and do anything that it takes.  If that means that you have to fabricate or exaggerate a history of drugs, violence, and riches then so be it.  If that fabrication results in children aspiring to be that negative image, then so be it.  If the pursuit of that image ruins those children’s lives...then so be it.  That is the bleak, greedy, and careless nature of a rapper.  

If money is your end goal, and you could care less about the effect that you have on your community then that is perfectly fine for you.  Rap is not the first or only profession that has a negative effect on the world as a whole in the pursuit of material gain.  

The Goodness of Hip-Hop: 

An emcee loves his community too much to tell a lie that would hurt another within it.  Emcee’s are responsible for building and maintaining the culture that their predecessors have left them.  There is a respect for history, and the value an individual has is not based on their accumulation of possessions.  Instead it is the style, and lyrics that an individual brings that affirms their worth to the culture, and place in it.  

Being a part of Hip-Hop brings a sense of belonging to many who feel lost.  Life-Skills and values such confidence, determination, responsibility, courage, respect, creativity, and trust are just some of the many attributes that Hip-Hop develops in community members.  

Are there negatives to Hip-Hop?  Absolutely, but compared to the self destructive nature of Rap, Hip-Hop is saintly. There are ways to use anything for a negative, and individuals do so when battles are taken too far, and when private property is tagged.  

The important reality is, just like Gospel Music was turned into secular Blues and then R&B, Hip-Hop has morphed into Rap.  The biggest difference being that there is a refusal to recognize the lines that separate the two genres. It is time now to consistently distinguish between Rap & Hip-Hop, before the culture is lost in the blur!

‘Rap’ It Up:
At its core, Hip-Hop brings people together, while Rap drives people apart.  I don’t have any fantastical ideas of Rap going away, but I do envision a day where the two genres are not linked.  I hope for a time where the negatives of Rap don’t tarnish the image of Hip-Hop.  There is simply too much talent and positivity within the culture of Hip-Hop for it to go unnoticed by the masses.  I am not the only person that I know who can not relate to nearly any song that gets played on the radio.  I literally do not listen to Rap music anymore.  

I recognize the corporate forces that drive the industry, but when looking for a place to lay blame there is no need to leave the black community.  It is the artist that auctions off his soul, it is the DJ that brings the product to the people, and it is the consumer that happily takes in the ignorance.  Demand better and you get better.  While Rap may not go away, it definitely should have a diminished role in our society!  This is not the future that MLK saw as he slept.  


This freestyle takes a look through the body of Rap, and exposes the fractured skeleton beneath the skin.