Rhythm & Poetry: A Real Conversation About Rap

Rap, an acronym for rhythm and poetry, is a craft that has empowered a countless number of people to communicate authentic emotions over a melodic beat. This art form serves as a medium for expressing humor, anger, violence, peace, and joy. People of varying ages use this medium to tell their life stories over introspective instrumentals, vocalizing poetic lyricism as an outcry for social change. Rap has also changed the trajectory of lives, uplifting people into positions of power. It helped transform Marshall Mathers III – whose family lived on welfare and moved so frequently that Mathers had to attend different schools multiple a year – into being the rapper Eminem. It carved the path for the former cocaine dealer Shawn Carter, whose individual net worth is now more than $600 million. It is noted, however, that rap’s transformative power can be a double-edged sword; for instance, rap influenced the lives of people who gained fame, but lost their lives in the process, including hip hop legends talents like Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Eazy-E.

Clearly, rap is a powerful tool for change. However, the art form garners a great deal of criticism. Critics claim that some rap lyrics are uninspiring, or too raunchy and distasteful. As a result of such criticisms, many people choose not listen to rap at all. When some critics hear a particular word or lyrical concept in rap a song, they focus on that word or concept, to the detriment of understanding what the rapper is attempting to communicate in that song. This results in people switching the radio station to avoid rap, covering their proverbial ears, or speaking about rap in a negative light.

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The goal of this article is to address these criticisms of rap. To meet this objective, we will address two main arguments commonly brought against the craft which we want to discuss: rap’s reliance on obscenity and rap’s lack of inspiration. We hope to help you, both novices and experts of the rap game, make an informed decision about whether to listen to rap.

First and foremost, it is understandable why many people might find some rap music distasteful. Critics hear Tyler, the Creator’s song “Yonkers” and say that sort of music is vulgar and just not for them. Or, they listen to J. Cole’s verse on Jeremih’s “Planes” and hate the music for being misogynistic.

These are valid concerns, but it is important to not paint the whole genre as vulgar or misogynistic and therefore describe the art form as bad. To disqualify it as art, for this reason, is to miss out on hundreds and thousands of wonderful gems that capture and explain emotion and human experience like no other art form.  Rap can be obscene, and all too often mainstream material focuses too much on sex and drugs, but unfortunately, sex sells. A study by SUNY Albany psychology professor Dawn R. Hobbs found that “approximately 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 in 2009 contained reproductive messages…” This is a condition that has affected many other genres, not just rap. Music, just like any other art form, reflects qualities that society deems valuable; to blame rap for the degradation of social interaction and call for its removal is to cure a symptom and not the underlining disease. Is some rap music misogynistic? Well, that might be because our society is still very much misogynist. Cam’ron explains the dynamic succinctly on the Bill O’Reilly show, saying “I am a reporter of the situation in the hood”.

We should also still recognize that some forms of art are made for only mature audiences. Thus some rap does have obscene material since that rap is aimed at these mature audiences. However, this does not disqualify it as art or mean that the overall genre should be discarded.

To offer a comparison to another form of media: suppose a teenager watches an R-rated movie that has indecent sexual images and violence. The teenager’s parents come home, find the child watching the obscene film, and quickly turn it off. Now, what should the teenager take from this situation? Should the teenager make the argument that all movies are bad? Should he or she never watch another movie again? The answer to the latter two questions is no, and the same argument can be made for rap. Movies are essentially portrayals of events, and rap is simply a series of words rhyming over a melodic beat. Therefore, it is hard to believe that all forms of rhyme can be disliked. There are countless other examples of rap that have different forms of expression without vulgar lyrics or concepts – including rap about religion, love, hope, and peace – just like all other forms of music. Therefore, it would be unfair to dispel a whole genre because of the material found in some lyrics.

The second major argument against rap is frequently made by people who claim to have once enjoyed the art form. These critics say that rap is no longer inspiring, that the once-beloved craft no longer has “dope” lyricists. They cite rappers like Young Thug, Future, Kodak Black, and Lil Yachty to make the point that “hip hop is dead“.

But these critics may have overlooked the increasing diversity of rap. The hype surrounding the artists listed above does not mean that other artists such as J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar are less important. There are plenty of dope lyricists in the game; the best music is simply dependent upon the perspective of the individual listening to the song. Therefore, rap has not gotten worse; it has become more diverse.

All in all, rap is a medium for which people express themselves. The lyrics can inspire and uplift individuals or make people indifferent to the music. However, the latter does not mean that rap should be seen as a detriment or that people should not listen to it. Rap stands for rhythm and poetry for a reason, and we think that more people should appreciate what the art has to offer. It takes talent to string words together and communicate a compelling message. In fact, one could argue that Def Jam Poetry by Kanye West or KRS-One could evoke similar emotions to poetry by Joshua Bennett. Overall, we would urge people who dislike rap for the described reasons in this article to give the art form a chance; rap may be more compelling than they think.

 

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