Abstract: The outpouring of lyrical poetry, fused with slick, well crafted, and hefty beats. That’s my definition of hip hop, a genre of incredible power and influence (some positive, some negative). In this video, US rapper ‘Bizzle’ reflects on and challenges some of the things that mainstream hip hop teaches us. I’d highly recommend listening even if you’re not a big hip hop fan.
I’m an ardent lover of hip hop/rap music. At it’s best, its blissful beats, charming melodies and poetic artistry make it so easy and delightful to listen to. It has historically been praised for helping break down racial and ethnic divides in the USA and has brought about lots of other positive change over time. Having grown up in what I would call a ‘hip-hop generation,’ it is clear that it’s power and influence are not always a good thing. We are all products of our environments and a big part of youth culture today is influenced by hip hop. Rap videos are typically filled with ‘mob-like’ groups of men either flashing weapons or giving off that impression as a symbol of their power. The overuse of sexual references coupled with rappers that would appear to be defined by what they have (e.g. expensive cars, jewellery, etc) are also typical characteristics that form the marketable hip hop artist/video. One of my favourite positive rappers, Jahaziel, paints a lovely picture in his rhymes of the kind of impact that our background, surroundings and personal choices have on us when he says this:
“They say some things are taught, some things are caught, some things are said, some things are thought, we all absorb stuff that we’ve grown around, that’s how it goes around.” (Song: ‘Round and Round’ – by Jahaziel)
The danger, I feel, with the single perspective portrayed by hip hop is that it affects young minds that grow up wanting that same lifestyle – the life of a hustler – even though the harsh realities of ‘ghetto life’ or working in the music industry would frighten the majority of us that buy into it. Hip hop repeatedly pushes messages through our moral and value filters and can get our heads bopping whether we agree with the lyrics or not (this might include how we view women, treat money, or even see God). It affects how we dress, who we hang out with, how we think and in a nutshell who we are. Another of my favourite rappers, ‘Shai-Linne’ (pronounced ‘Shy Lynn), summarises his view on why more conscience rap isn’t pushed forward by mainstream sources.
“The radio refuse to play stuff like this, cause they’re shady so they choose the unrighteous. They want your minds – vain guys long for power. Labels pay ’em to play the same five songs an hour. A lot ain’t even hot. In fact, I heard the same song so many times I almost forgot it was wack. When the same message is pumped repeatedly, maybe not immediately, but sooner or later the seed will be a tree.” (Song: Slow Down – Shai Linne ft. Eric)
We might not think that what we listen to affects us much, but in the same way that we are what we eat, we are what we listen to. I do hope this challenges you to think more about what your mind is absorbing however well articulated or nicely sounding. As much as I still love hip hop/rap music, I’m a huge advocate for more lyrically sound and conscience rappers like Lecrae, Shai Linne, S.O, Trip Lee, Jahaziel, Flame, Dwayne Tryumf and Guvna B to name a few.