Lately I’ve been completely repulsed by the state of hip-hop. When hip hop was first recognized as a mainstream genre, rappers served as journalists by writing and broadcasting candid exposés on their plights and struggles. Even the profanity-laden rap group, NWA, expressed the anger that young black men from the inner city had with institutions that they felt worked against them. Through similes, metaphors, and puns hip-hop created a culture that became a fixture in America and throughout the world. Unfortunately, I think that culture has devolved into sophomoric buffoonery that has been embraced by too many people. As a hip hop aficionado it pains me to see little kids reciting songs like “Half a Brick” by Gucci Mane or “Becky” by Plies. Both of these songs glorify drug dealing, promiscuity, and flat out stupidity.
What bothers me even more is that whenever I think I’ve found an artist who eschews all of the negative things plaguing hip hop, they end up reducing themselves to the same nonsense. For instance, when Kanye West released his debut album “College Dropout” I was ecstatic. His hits “Through the Wire” and “All Falls Down” were the types of social commentary we needed to resuscitate a genre of music that was on life support. Slowly but surely, the self proclaimed “Louie Vuitton Don” has slipped into the same trap as all the other rappers who’ve achieved great commercial success. He has from time to time devoted a track to discussing the size of his genitalia or his ostentatious lifestyle. His songs “Last Call” and “Celebration” are examples of this. And let’s not forget Kanye’s Workout Plan, which was extremely witty yet misogynistic. As much as I give Kanye props for his music production skills, dynamic social commentaries, and avant-garde fashion, I have to give him a thumbs down for some of his lyrics. The sad thing is that many people put Kanye in the “conscious rap” sub-group. Even Common, another “conscious rapper”, has had his slip-ups. In his new hit “I Poke Her Face” with Kanye West and Kid Cudi, Common has some choice words for people who say he’s on a conscious tip. Maybe I’m being too critical. Nonetheless, it’s disheartening when the “thinkers” in the game stoop to the same level as many other rappers.
However, I do believe there is hope and it resides in a young man from Chicago name Lupe Fiasco. At one point Lupe subscribes to the same gangster-pose culture that is so pervasive in rap today. However, Lupe had an epiphany and ultimately switched up his style. His song “Dumb it Down” is representative of the struggle that many intelligent Black kids face everyday. “Hip Hop Saved My Life” tells the story of a young rapper who gave up selling drugs to pursue his dream of being a musical artist. And his ode to skateboarding, “Kick Push”, showed mainstream America that you don’t have to be a white kid from suburbia to enjoy skating. Lupe continues to abstain from using profanity while telling stories of inspiration, trial, and triumph. There are many more rappers like Lupe out there. Unfortunately, most haven’t reached commercial success. It is hard to reach commercial success in a game that is so saturated with nonsense that happens to sell well. But I still have faith, and in the words of Tupac Shakur “I aint mad at cha” hip-hop.