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    In Defense of Hip Hop and Rap

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    It's very fashionable to dislike hip hop and rap and make it known. I hear this rhetoric all the time, usually from older folks, and a surprising number of younger folks too. People say that hip hop is not music, that it's offensive, that it's not a useful medium. Hip hop is probably the most heavily criticized music in the world. Why is this the case?

    Well, interestingly enough, many of the people who say they dislike hip hop are white. My intent is not to turn this blog into a discussion of social issues; this blog is about music, first and foremost, but I also believe it's difficult to talk about hip hop without talking about race. Anyway, before I offend anybody, let me make it clear that disliking hip hop does not make you a racist. However, I do want to make it clear that there is a very clear racial line between people who like hip hop and people who dislike hip hop.

    For most people, this is probably due to upbringing. Many white kids are raised on classical, pop, and rock music--genres which are mostly dominated by white musicians, while many black kids are often raised on R&B--which is mostly dominated by black musicians. When you expose someone to something that they are not used to, it is completely human to be cautious. Many white people don't like hip hop since it is simply new and unlike anything that they're used to. On the flip side of the coin, it also seems true that black people aren't into rock music. So, many people don't like hip hop simply because it's not within their comfort zone. Fair enough, but what about the criticisms of hip hop?

    Let's start at the top. Many people say "Hip Hop is not music". Ok, people. It is music. Hip hop is music. Get over it. There is rhythm, melody, harmony, instrumentation, vocals, and so on. I don't understand how you can say it is not music.

    Some people might say "Well, what about instrumentalists? There are no instruments in hip hop". First of all, this is a stereotype, and not rooted in reality. You see, many people associate the instrumentation in hip hop and rap with record scratching. And it's true, hip hop does contain record scratching, but that's not all it contains. Most hip hop has a wide variety of instrumentation ranging from keyboards to guitar to horns to computer generated sounds. And even if it only included the sound of a record scratching, making those sounds is a skill that takes practice and finesse, just like playing any other instrument. Sure, anyone can scratch a record, but anyone can also pluck a string on a guitar. That doesn't mean it will sound good. Besides, most people have no trouble calling Britney Spears music, even though she doesn't really produce, perform, or write her melodies, she just shows up and sings.

    Hip hop truly is a form of artistic expression, and it is musical. It takes a good ear to put together good hip hop. Even if you're using samples and loops and sounds, and all sorts of other things, it still takes hours of time, and a clear artistic vision to put all of the pieces together to make something interesting to the ears. Composers do it all the time, they simply use different instruments. Repeat after me, hip hop is music.

    OK, next many people talk about hip hop being offensive. It's not all offensive, in fact, a pretty small percentage of it is offensive. Sure, we all know about violent and misogynistic "gangsta rap", but this style is not really the dominant force in hip hop. But, on the other hand, how can you completely dismiss it? When you listen to a group like NWA, there are some very revolutionary things being said, and quite honestly, if I was "Straight Outta Compton", I'd probably write a song like "Fuck Tha Police" or "Cop Killa" too. This early gangsta rap brought important issues of police brutality, racial profiling, gang violence, drug abuse, and other ills of society to national attention. This music brought the hard realities of the ghetto life into the public knowledge. It may not be pretty, but now that we're confronted with these problems, we are in a better position to address them. Reality isn't always pretty. Reality can be offensive. That doesn't mean we should hide from it.

    Let's take a look at the majority of hip hop now. Most of it is not very offensive. Much hip hop has deep roots in old-school and modern R&B, as well as jazz and electronic music. A lot of this music is about peace, love, happiness, finding a better life, and other good things. Sure, there are some prudish people that are offended by the sometimes explicit descriptions of sexual acts in hip hop, but hey, at least they're not talking about killing people. Instead, they're talking about love, pleasure, making someone feel good, and so on.

    **Quick soapbox: Why can they show violent movies on TV, with people getting shot and stabbed, and murdered, and beaten, and other violent, anti-social behavior, yet you'd better not show Janet Jackson's nipple, or two people making love? Just saying...**

    Another attribute of hip hop is a keen awareness of social issues. Many great hip hop acts talk about racism, poverty, and violence in a negative way. Much of this music expresses a deep lament for the world in which many children have to grow up in. This is music with a deep consciousness, and while it is sometimes offensive, it does have meaningful things to say. This is a social music that is truly for the people. For the people who have lived it, and for the people who want to know more about it.

    Many people also take offense to the language used by many hip hop artists. Of course, when you can look at this slang from a more rational perspective, you can see some more interesting things going on. First of all, much of the language used by hip hop is slang. These words have the same meanings of other phrases that people use all the time, but since they're in hip hop, they're considered more offensive. Bitch, for example. Many people like to say that rappers use the term to describe women. They're not really. They're using it the same way that everyone else does: To describe an unsavory woman. When a rapper says "nigga", he's saying "person". They're reclaiming the word and making it their own. They're taking power from white people who use it as a slur. It's genius and revolutionary. Also, people criticize hip hop because they don't use "proper English". Guess what people? Language evolves. Otherwise, we'd still be speaking middle English. Rappers don't feel supported by the English language, so they've created their own version of it. That is a radical and revolutionary act, and more power to them.

    Finally, people say that hip hop has nothing to offer, that it is not a useful medium. I think if you can agree with some of the statements I made above, you can see that this is not true at all. Music serves an important purpose in humanity, and hip hop is music. In addition, hip hop has a lot to say about society and the world. It isn't always pretty, but it is always relevant. You don't have to like hip hop or listen to hip hop, but it does deserve the same artistic credibility as every other type of music.

    "Peace and I'm out." -Chuck D.

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    Topics: Music, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    2 Responses to “In Defense of Hip Hop and Rap”

    1. mylee Says:
      July 26th, 2010 at 10:20 am

      Some of what you say is very true but we cannot justify the work nigga all I will say is”recaliming it” and making it yours is not okay and the word does not mean person person means person along with the word human being that is and always will be a degrading term because if its nothing that every one could call you and you not be offended its not okay that was my only issue though 🙂

    2. Alan Says:
      July 27th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

      Glad you liked the article!

      Obviously, I can understand your point of view as well. You should be careful of using words that could potentially be offensive to other people, but on the other hand, there are people who and use certain slang terms, and don’t really care if it’s offensive to some people. I guess that’s life…

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