Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Does Hip Hop Degrade or Enhance Society?
About one week ago, prominent hip hop artists, activists and scholars such as Michael Eric Dyson, Jesse Jackson, KRS ONE and others gathered in London to debate about hip hop. One of the questions raised was whether hip hop degrades or enhances society. Although I love hip hop, I have to admit that it degrades society.
Originally, hip hop was the genuine voice of the African American community. Back in the day, hip hop was multi-dimensional. All of its different voices shared equal space on radio stations and music video shows. It was profound and profane at the same time. One song told the world that You Must Learn, and another song told voluptuous, scantily clad women to Move Something. It exposed the world to the harsh realities of drugs and inner violence. However, it was also politically conscious. It taught us about Malcolm X, the real Black Panthers, the Five Percenters, Islam and the motherland. I remember when the African medallions replaced the gold chains. In addition to be being dead serious, hip hop was also about dancing and partying.
Today, with the commercialization of hip hop, negative rap music has been catapulted to the forefront and positive, inspiring hip hop has been pushed into fringes. Finding positive rap on the radio is like sifting through a mountain of garbage looking for a diamond. Artists such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots and Common are rarely played on the radio.
Nowadays, radio stations play the same 20 songs by Lil Wayne, Drake, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, 2 Chains, Waka, Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent and a other few others.
For the most part, mainstream rap does degrade African American society in several ways. It celebrates violence and criminality. The gun is a phallic symbol in mainstream rap. Many rap artists brag about having guns. For example, in one popular rap song, Rick Ross boasts about having "a chopper in the car". Many rap artists brag about shooting and killing their own black brothers. Instead of celebrating real achievements, mainstream rap celebrates getting shot and "catching cases". Those disasters are badges of honor in the warped world of hip hop.
In addition to promoting violence, mainstream rap glorifies crack dealing and materialism. Rappers brag about buying Maybachs, Bentleys and expensive jewelry with dope money. Essentially, in order to be respected in the rap game, you must have street cred. You have to be a former drug dealer or have a criminal record. By flaunting their wealth and bragging about their criminal past, many rappers are basically encouraging the gullible youth to sell drugs. Although mass incarceration and inner city violence are not caused by rap, popular rap encourages and perpetuates those problems.
Moreover, you can't listen to a rap song without hearing artists using the word "nigga" to describe themselves and their own people. For example, one of the most popular rap songs out is titled Niggas In Paris. The "n" word is probably the most derogatory racial slur in the English. That word is rooted in slavery and Jim Crow. It is outrageous that we continue to use the oppressor's slur against ourselves. Usage of that word is a modern day example of what Naim Akbar called "the chains of psychological slavery."
Instead of honoring our sisters, mothers, wives and girlfriends, hip hop has reduced our women to bitches, hos and other derogatory terms. Dr. Dre's Bitches Ain't S*** summarizes mainstream hip hop's attitude toward women. Here are a few misogynistic lyrics from some very popular rap songs. On Steady Mobbing, Lil Wayne raps "F*** these bitches! I swear I care about everything but these bitches." On another song, Drake says, "I don't trust these hos at all."
Hip hop does not present women as intelligent and capable equals. It presents them as rump shaking, half-naked prostitutes and strippers. One of the most popular songs tells women to "shake that ass." Another popular song brags about "beating the p**** up."
In sum, hip hop degrades society, but we have the power to make hip hop enhance our society. We must empower and promote positive and conscious rap by buying it and by encouraging radio stations to play it. At the same time, we must challenge and oppose the self-destructive and degrading messages in popular rap music, not through censorship, but through our purchasing power. This article is cross-posted on Jack and Jill Politics.