Some people dislike country music because they don’t like the twangy sounds of it. Some people don’t like pop music because it is too upbeat and mainstream. Some people don’t enjoy jazz because it is too slow and doesn’t have enough energy. Some people don’t like rap because of it’s malicious content. There are so many variables as to why people don’t like certain genres of music.
However, even if someone doesn’t enjoy a certain style of music, one can appreciate the skills required to produce a powerful piece of music.
For example, many people dislike Justin Beiber…Okay, A LOT of people dislike Justin Beiber.
But a lot of people can also acknowledge the fact that he does have a good singing voice. People can hate his music all they want, but they will still admit he has a good voice. The same thing can be said about Bruno Mars. He has a beautiful voice; just not everyone has an interest in his songs.
With that being said, rap music has a bad rep. It is notorious for its super explicit content, the degrading lyrics of how women are seen in society, promoting a message to live the thug life and get rich, and the fact that it often campaigns for acts of violence.
While a lot of rap music does promote all of that and certainly contains undesirable content in its lyrics, people should also recognize the more powerful songs within the rap community that are not involved in the mainstream promotion of these ideas.
Rap music is not all about violence, sex, drugs, women, and money. There are some amazingly beautiful songs within the music industry that are poetically written and performed. Just because a song has that hard-hitting, head-banging beat in the background, doesn’t mean it isn’t art.
Art is subjective, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So many rappers are well known for their ability to artistically heighten controversial subject matter. They take real experiences, real problems and real life and they turn it into a powerful message through music. Rap music is essentially poetry. Poets take the same subject matter and turn it into a certain rhyme scheme where they use literary elements like repetition, assonance and alliteration to portray their message in a unique way. Rap music does the same. The lyrics in rap music do posses this degree of musicality by using these same literary elements and adding melody to it.
Some of the most famous rappers of all time did not climb the ladder to success through lyrics that promoted the degradation of women, violence and lewd sexual acts. Their ability to beautifully sew words together in a way that provided their songs with an artistic cadence and deliver a message with a profound meaning showcased their talents to the world.
And the world recognized.
I’m talking artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Tech N9ne, J. Cole, Drake, Eazy-E, T.I, 50 Cent, Ice Cube, Andre Nickatina, Murs, Method Man, Freddie Gibbs, Chance the Rapper, Common, Dom Kennedy, King Mez, and the list could go on.
Their lyrics allow them to have a voice in our democratic nation. They are the ones taking full advantage of their first amendment rights. They are the voice of the suppressed. They speak through lyrics for all those who struggle with self-expression. They talk about real issues and how they feel from the heart. There is passion in their voice and their diction is strategically chosen to deliver a certain tone and message.
Eminem, for example, fueled the fire for his song “White America” from the American government’s attempt to censor his lyrics. This censorship was based on the fear of his lyrical influence on American children. This fear came mostly from white people who had no particular interest in rap music until Eminem came along and rapped about controversial issues.
When I was underground, no one gave a fuck I was white
No labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up
I was like, fuck it, until I met Dre, the only one to look past, gave me a chance
And I lit a fire up under his ass, helped him get back to the top, every fan black that I got
Was probably his in exchange for every white fan that he’s got
Like damn, we just swapped, sittin’ back lookin’ at shit, wow
I’m like my skin is it starting to work to my benefit now.
Eminem speaks the truth on the stereotypes within the rap community and sheds light on the fact that he failed to get recognition of his talents because of the color of his skin. Contrary to traditional belief that whites get more privileges than blacks, the opposite is true within the rap scene. He brings forth the issue of skin color in a way that goes against traditional expectations of receiving benefits based on the color of his skin.
Eminem dealt with many personal issues throughout his life and his raps reflect his emotion. You can hear it in his voice how passionately angry certain things made him like his mom being addicted to prescription pills, his wife, Kim, cheating on him, his father walking out on the family when he was a baby, etc. His music is so powerful because he treats his songs like an open diary. His form of self-expression lies in rap music, which makes him have such a strong connection with his fans.
Similarly, Kanye West also talks about the struggles of race on the opposite end of the spectrum, being a black rapper. In his song “Never Let Me Down”, he has a beautiful verse where he lets the world know his place and purpose in the rap community.
I get down for my grandfather who took my momma
Made her sit that seat where white folks ain’t wanna us to eat
At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit in
With that in my blood I was born to be different
Beautiful. I love when people recognize their worth and their purpose. It is an inspiring form of self-revelation when people can take a bad experience and build themselves into stronger people from it. Kanye knew that through this bad experience in his family, he would make a difference as he was “born to be different.”
A prime example of rap being a form of poetic art is Common’s song “I Used To Love H.E.R.”
According to Rap Genius’s perfectly worded interpretation, “Common tells the story of a girl he met as a kid with whom he eventually fell in love. Over the years, though, they have drifted apart due to the girl’s changing persona. It isn’t until the very end of the song that Common reveals that he hasn’t been rapping about a girl at all, but about rap as a whole, mainly about what rap had become once it became gang-oriented music when West-coast rap got big. ‘H.E.R’ is an acronym for ‘hearing every rhyme’.”
She was really the realest, before she got into showbiz
I did her, not just to say that I did it
But I’m committed, but so many niggas hit it
That she’s just not the same letting all these groupies do her
I see niggas slamming her, and taking her to the sewer
But I’mma take her back hoping that the shit stop
Cause who I’m talking bout y’all is hip-hop
The creativity involved in making a song like this is phenomenal. Rap can incorporate so many different styles and techniques to get a message across in such a unique and special way. This isn’t just a straightforward message of Common speaking of a girl he fell out with… it has a double meaning. This type of song requires you to look deeper into it. It’s the type of song that makes you have to listen to it again after you figure out the real meaning behind it… to go back and reinterpret the song based on its newfound message. That, my friends, is art.
Two more examples of the poetry found in rap are J. Cole’s song “Love Yourz” and Tupac’s song “Dear Mama”.
For what’s money without happiness?
Or hard times without the people you love
Though I’m not sure what’s ’bout to happen next
I asked for strength from the Lord up above
Cause I’ve been strong so far
But I can feel my grip loosening
Quick, do something before you lose it for good
Get it back and use it for good
And touch the people how you did like before
I’m tired of living with demons cause they always inviting more
Think being broke was better
Now I don’t mean that phrase with no disrespect
To all my niggas out there living in debt
Cashing minimal checks
Turn on the TV see a nigga Rolex
And fantasize about a life with no stress
I mean this shit sincerely
And that’s a nigga who was once in your shoes
Living with nothin’ to lose
I hope one day you hear me
Always gon’ be a bigger house somewhere, but nigga feel me
Long as the people in that motherfucker love you dearly
Always gon’ be a whip that’s better than the the one you got
Always gon’ be some clothes that’s fresher than the ones you rock
Always gon’ be a bitch that’s badder out there on the tours
But you ain’t never gon’ be happy till you love yours
The simple poetry in this is the rhyme scheme. Although there is no hidden message, the fact that the meaning is straightforward and simply put yet still strong and meaningful makes it artistic. A lot of people enjoy when poems rhyme and this is a great example of a poem with beautiful cadence.
The sad thing is that a lot of parents will listen to the first five seconds of a rap song and automatically conclude it has a bad message. If more people took the time to listen to the message behind some of these songs, they would realize that the messages are actually positive and influential. These are the types of songs our kids could listen to and gain some value from.
Tupac’s song “Dear Mama” is simply heartfelt and is something any mother would love hearing her son say:
Now ain’t nobody tell us it was fair
No love from my daddy cause the coward wasn’t there
He passed away and I didn’t cry, cause my anger
wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger
They say I’m wrong and I’m heartless, but all along
I was lookin for a father he was gone
I hung around with the Thugs, and even though they sold drugs
They showed a young brother love
I moved out and started really hangin
I needed money of my own so I started slangin
I ain’t guilty cause, even though I sell rocks
It feels good puttin money in your mailbox
I love payin rent when the rent’s due
I hope ya got the diamond necklace that I sent to you
Cause when I was low you was there for me
And never left me alone because you cared for me
And I could see you comin home after work late
You’re in the kitchen tryin to fix us a hot plate
Ya just workin with the scraps you was given
And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin
But now the road got rough, you’re alone
You’re tryin to raise two bad kids on your own
And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated
This type of artistry shows just how much emotion is truly placed within each song. Regardless of whether or not a song has double meaning, rhymes, serves as an open letter or diary entry, they are all beautifully poetic in their own ways. These songs showcase the variety and beauty that lies within rap music; that rapping is not all about sex, drugs, money, women, and violence. There are songs that express emotion and life experiences just the same as pop, R&B, country, jazz, and any other genre does. You just have to listen. Appreciate the artistry that goes behind rap because it takes just as much talent and life experiences to make a rap song as it does to make a song of any other genre.