All Articles Tagged "hip hop"
A few ambitious kids from Los Angeles—Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, collectively known as N.W.A—changed rap forever.
Now, almost thirty years later, they’re getting the biopic treatment in Straight Outta Compton. In the film, the role of Ice Cube, born O’Shea Jackson, is played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
GQ Magazine got father and son together to talk about it all.
Here are some of the quotes we loved, check the whole interview here.
O’Shea: Dad, did it ever cross your mind that you might someday be starring in movies?
Cube: Not in a realistic manner. When John Singleton approached me to do Boyz N the Hood, I was like, “Me? I don’t act.” And he pursued me for a couple years, and I ended up doing it and caught the movie bug. O’Shea, what made you really go so hard with this part?
O’Shea: I didn’t want nobody else to play you. I didn’t want to go in the movie theater and see somebody else being called O’Shea or see somebody else re-enact the story that I remember. It would have made me nauseous.
N.W.A were political in a way that rap groups before you hadn’t been. Does that moment in retrospect feel similar to the social moment that we find ourselves in now?
Cube: It’s all the same thing, man. People don’t understand that songs like “Fuck tha Police” are 400 years in the making. It’s a constant racism that affects black people in this country that’s never stopped. What’s crazy is that the people who inflict the pain don’t expect you to scream, don’t expect you to holler, don’t expect you to say that it hurts, don’t expect you to say, “Leave me alone!,” don’t expect protests. They expect you to just grin and bear it. Hell no. Hell no.
O’Shea, are these conversations that you guys have between the two of you?
O’Shea: My parents wouldn’t have sent me out into the world with wool over my eyes. You have to be aware or you’ll be swallowed.
“We been hurt, been down before
Nigga, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like, ‘Where do we go?’
Nigga, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho
Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright”
The song is explicit and emotional, speaking directly about racial disparity. Current events show us that we are not safe, and some of us feel displaced. There is some hatred for the cops because of the police brutality. You could argue that “my knees getting weak and my gun might blow” is about the helplessness that makes you want to take matters into your own hands, or maybe the helplessness that might make you want to turn the gun on yourself. The song is timely and the black-and-white video that dropped yesterday is gorgeous, packed with symbolism, and even downright depressing.
But as far as Rivera’s statement, two things: 1) Nothing is more damaging to the Black community than racism. 2) Nothing is more damaging to the Black community than racism.
I had to say it twice because his sentiment should be in the Guinness World Records book for the longest reach in the history of reaches.
Now, that is not to say that rap music is not jam-packed with problematic and damaging messages, but using Lamar to make his point displays Rivera’s ignorance of the culture. Kendrick Lamar is one of the few Top 40 rappers whose purpose is to share a message about the trials and tribulations of our current times. Had Rivera referenced Young Thug or The Game, his statement would have some weight, but alas, he did not. Then again, why would I expect the man who blamed Trayvon Martin’s hoodie for his own death to make a valid point when throwing around tone-deaf cultural accusations?
Let’s be honest: Modern-day commercial rap music is theater, akin to the WWE and Love & Hip Hop. A lot of things are said and done to get ahead, not because the lyricist truly means it. Rick Ross is a glowing example of this. Once a corrections officer, the Florida-bred rapper is constantly criticized for spitting bars about a history of drug dealing and arms carrying. Back in 2008, when it was uncovered that he had worked as a prison guard, Ross denied it, insisting that pictures of him in his uniform had been Photoshopped. He later came clean and admitted that if times got tough enough, he would return to his old job though his recent troubles with the law might make that a bit hard. No matter his past, Ross is a character in a costume and his act has paid off.
But for every Rick Ross portraying a hood caricature, Kendrick Lamar lands on the other end of the spectrum. He did grow up in Compton. He is facing internal struggles about his socio-political environment. He did see a lot of violence growing up. He sometimes has girl problems, too. He’s just different. Very different from his colleagues in rap.
As a Black woman, the violent and misogynistic lyrics in commercial rap definitely make me uneasy but they don’t “damage” my worldview. The first time I really remember being put off by the content of a rap song happened when I was 10 and one of my family members was bumping DJ Quik’s “Sweet Black P***y.” I vividly remember covering my ears in disgust as Quik rapped about his love for, well, you know. Bad words were no friend of mine. As a side effect of hearing this song, I do not prefer to use that word nor hear a woman’s nether regions referred to as such. While I definitely came up with vulgarity-laced hip-hop, there was a balance in my life; my dad constantly exposed us to the oldies from the ‘60s and ‘70s, which allowed me to revel in a time when men were able to sincerely proclaim love for a woman and her beautiful…soul. There are probably a few hours worth of music from the ‘70s devoted to the beauty of a woman’s eyes alone.
Those times are gone. Long gone. Now we have songs about eating booty like groceries. I am forever nostalgic.
The levels of homophobia, violence, exploitation, and misogyny in popular rap are at peak levels. When I get frustrated by any of this, I have to remind myself that the music industry is like theater. It’s a sometimes cartoonish, and troublesome production, much like Ringling Bros. Theater is dramatic and compelling and it requires the views and participation of the audience. What if the audience doesn’t realize it’s watching a show? Do young kids realize that Nicki Minaj is the Hulk Hogan to Onika Maraj’s Terry Bollea? Would it change their views if they understood that Minaj is a character that Onika created to be successful? She is a strikingly talented businesswoman; over the course of 8 years, she has created a multi-million dollar empire that includes a clothing line, signature perfumes, an alcoholic beverage, platinum records, sold-out tours, and three movies. Behind the persona, for the world to see, is a success story. What could be damaging about that?
But a lot of kids take entertainment at face value. Therefore, it falls back on the parents to set the tone and lead their kids by example. The onus is not on Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Tyga and any other rapper you can think of to be role models; it starts at home. While I may have had an uncensored entertainment experience as a child, my parents made a lot of lessons very clear to me: Treat people how you wish to be treated, respect yourself and your elders, help others, and act like you got some sense. It was and has always been, just music. It entertained me. It made me think. But it didn’t damage me.
I don’t think the tone of pop rap is going to change anytime soon, so these uncomfortable messages are going to continue to dominate and be passed around. But, in the background and sometimes in the forefront, we get entertainers like Outkast, Common, Mos Def, J. Cole, Jidenna, and yes, Kendrick Lamar. They give me hope that there is a balance in this rap universe, and that positive, uplifting messages are being shared too.
But whether or not there is a balance, rap music does not force or cause racial disparities. Rap music could never be more powerful than racism. Racism is a hateful never-ending plague. Rap music is not perfect. It feeds the culture, and sometimes perpetuates nasty messages, but it can also heal, raise awareness and bring a marginalized group together in celebration of the vibrant culture that racism deems ultimately inferior.
When I was coming up in the roaring 90’s, it seemed like at least one song per album was devoted to bashing the deadbeat dad. Others took a more positive route like Tupac and praised the sturdy, but loving mother. Hip-Hop was predicated on being the truth, but nobody seemed to have a good enough dad to write about. Those days are dying…slowly.
I think Hip-Hop dads are changing the profile of a good dad. Lets start with the OG’s like Will Smith, Rev. Run, T.I. who all have very visible families that appear to be burgeoning dynasties like the Wayans Family are presently. We’ve recently seen other older gods of rap like Busta Rhymes, Young Jeezy and Baby from Cash Money Records graduating their offspring from traditional education institutions. Most of them have fought out of impoverished conditions to feed their families, provide and nurture their seeds.
Then, we have the young guns, who TMZ and other tabloid media outlets have a field day with, but they still persevere as fathers. Make not one mistake, many of these guys live lives wrought with controversy. Take Rich Homie Quan for example. His name has recently been sullied after a pair of songs he wrote referenced raping women in them. The songs were unacceptable and inexcusable and he has since apologized for both instances. He said, “I was young and just rapping. At the time, I had no guidance in my life. I blame it on that. So I apologize once more to my fans.” When I talked to him, earlier this year, he made it clear he was a dedicated father and explained the challenges with being in his sons life and that he was not perfect, but aware of his shortcomings.
Similarly, Chris Brown’s life is a true cluster of missteps in his personal life…and yet he still manages to adorn his daughter with love and lavish gifts. And not all young bucks have drama-filled lives. Take Fetty Wap, the NJ singer/rapper, as an example. He and his child’s mother are in perfect accord. However, he wrestles with his life as a rapper and he told VIBE, “I used to see them every day. Now, my biggest fear is that my daughter is going to be crying because she doesn’t know who I am. Or she’s going to be crying because she’s happy to see me. She’s still young so she doesn’t really know what’s up right now. As a man though, that s**t kind of hurts me. That’s my baby girl, my only daughter. What man don’t want their daughter to know who they is?”
I often envy guys like Nas and Common, both sons of musicians because both of their fathers were able to witness their success in Hip-Hop and they were even able to do cool things with their dads. Nas and his father were in Gap ads and Common’s dad played on several of his popular albums. At the day’s end, I was extremely proud that they had dads that reminded me of my own father in many ways. My dad was far from Hip-Hop, but he would sport suede Puma kicks and Adidas suits back in the day as a sign of solidarity with his b-boy sons. That’s the kind of father I have become. I’m that father, like these others, that seeks to break cycles and create new ones.
When we talk Hip-Hop Fathers, people tend to think about rappers and cultural affiliates, but that’s not it. This is a movement that can be seen on every front of life. If you look on Facebook, Instagram or other social media, you will find doting dads that are sharing information, encouraging other fathers, and showing how much they love their kids. These are people like my brother, a teacher with a teen daughter and a penchant for making beats. My boy Jerry, an editor at WatchLoud, in an overlord in the underground rap scene but is also a diligent father or take Datwon – who runs VIBE.com – who has been one of the coolest, dedicated fathers I’ve ever known for the longest.
We are doctors, dentists, lawyers, security guards, engineers, bankers, poets, web site owners, entrepreneurs and more. We are Hip-Hop. The days of old may not be completely dead, but we are doing our best to kill them, despite a myriad of hurdles placed in our way. Our lives may not be perfect, but as fathers, we can and will do this the right way – by any means necessary!
The warmer weather months are often filled with many large music festivals such as Coachella, Governor’s Ball, Lalapalooza, Made in America, and for the strictly hip-hop audience, Summer Jam, Hot 97’s annual summer event (also the largest hip-hop music festival in the world.)
Beyond the music, these concerts and festivals provide fans with the chance to listen to the music of their favorite artists, interact with different vendors/sponsors, meet fellow fans, and also dive into the summer music festival “sub-culture” of tailgating, drinking, and “feeling” the vibes.
Prior to attending this year’s Summer Jam concert, I interviewed Hot 97 executives Ebro Darden and Deon Levingston about what goes into planning the event and what their expectations/visions for the 2015 show are. Chatting with them prepared me for what content to expect, but it was the experience of what it must be like to be a first time festival-goer that intrigued me.
“The fans at Summer Jam are super-duper fans of the artists, music, hip hop and R&B. That’s important for an artist’s brand. [This] is where you can reinforce your position in the hip-hop culture,” said Darden.
Despite the rioting that occurred outside after a group of individuals tried to gain access to the concert without having tickets, Summer Jam was still a hit. Favorites from the festival stage included B.O.B, who got crunk with the audience and had an unmatched energy. Joey Bada$$ (who I admittingly have never heard before) wowed me with his lyrical flow and commanding stage presence. Overall, the Stadium stage performances which included surprise guests like Future, Redman & Method Man, Nicky Minaj, 50 Cent (and more), were equally impressing.
There are two main reasons why I believe everyone should experience a large summer concert festival at least once in their life:
Experience what “live music” truly means. Listening to a song on the radio versus seeing it performed live are two different things. Add people surrounding you engaged on all sides, and you have a very special situation. The energy that radiates from the stage during a good live performance (whether it be DJ or live band-backed) is something that is hard to describe. Even if you aren’t a hip-hop head, you’ll walk away with a deeper appreciation for what it takes to truly perform and produce crowd-appealing music. An artist’s ability to command a live stage can be a turning point for his/her career.
Learn to appreciate hip hop music as a powerful (and unifying) force. When Remy Ma stepped on stage with Fat Joe to rap her verse on “Lean Back,” the stadium erupted with cheers. It was as if Remy was all our personal friend who we were welcoming back home from a long absence. I may be a bit philosophical here, but I couldn’t help but think about how hip-hop music unites people of all backgrounds, if only for a moment. At any point during the day, you could look around and see individuals mouthing the words being performed on stage. As I observed, it’s easy to get lost in the collective magnetism of performance art.
One concertgoer, Crystal Adams, who I chatted with after the event was over, attended with her husband and teenage children. “My favorite performance was Fabulous’ set because I felt it truly repped the tri-state area,” she said. “I loved seeing so many people who have been at past Summer Jams rock the stage together.”
She continued, “I haven’t done Summer Jam in many years mostly because I felt I was too old. This year however, our teens wanted to go so I went to chaperone but ended up having a great time! Fortunately, we missed the melee outside and I certainly could have done without the weed smoke in my face all night, but overall it was a great time with the family. I look forward to taking them to future concerts.”
As Darden told me in our pre-Summer Jam interview, “Music is all about life and memories. Summer Jam is part of that music memory… that’s the most meaningful piece for people.”
Now, as an official Summer Jam attendee alum, I’ll have to agree with Mr. Darden. Throughout the night, I observed so many people making memories I imagine they’ll remember for a lifetime. Whether it be singing ,”I Don’t F*** With You” by Big Sean accompanied by a stadium full of screaming fans, chilling with your best friends walking the stadium grounds, or sitting down wondering why an able artist (*cough cough* Chris Brown) decided to lip sync his top hits and still expect the crowd to be pumped, the experience always trumps.
Though all are not equal in prestige, any music fan knows a good live music festival is one of the ultimate ways to experience the art form. Be sure to get out there and experience one for yourself.
Dear Tom Hanks,
Never in my life did I think I would be writing Tom Hanks a letter. But, here I am in 2015 writing you, buddy. I hope you don’t mind me calling you “buddy,” but you seem like the sort of father I could have grown up knowing. See, Tom, a good part of my life was growing up around White parents that resembled you and son’s that lookd like you kid Chester. Most of them were good, hard working people that were just looking to raise their kids. It just so happened my family and two other Black families decided to break the color barrier in a certain section of Newark on the outskirts of Delaware back in the day.
Tom, I am going to leap to the present day for a minute before I go back to my rearing in Delaware. I promise there is a rhyme and a reason. Lets get to the rhyme: your son, Chester, aka rapper Chet Haze, aka a white guy that feels strongly he should be able to use the N-Word despite the objections of…anybody. Here is what he said – word for word – on his Instagram account.
If I say the word nigga I say it amongst people I love and who love me. If I say “f**k yall hatin ass n***az” it’s because that’s really how I felt at the time. And I don’t accept society getting to decide what ANYBODY can or can’t say. That’s something we call FREE SPEECH. Now I understand the older generation who grew up in the Jim Crowe era might have strong feelings against this. And that’s understandable… But what I’m saying is this is 2015… And even tho we are still far from where we need to be and black people are still being literally KILLED by a RACIST and fucked up system… We have also reached a point where the word can no longer have a negative connotation if we so choose. And who is to say only black people can use it? The way I see it, it’s a word that unifies the culture of HIP-HOP across ALL RACES, which is actually kind of a beautiful thing. It’s a word that can be used out of camaraderie and love, not just exclusively for black people. What’s the point in putting all these built up “rules” about it. It’s time to let go. You can hate me or love me for it, but can’t nobody tell me what I can or can’t say. It’s got nothing to do with trying to be a thug. It’s about the culture of the music. And that’s all I have to say about that (no pun intended) lol. It’s all love. Some people will get it, some people won’t. Either way, Ima keep living my life however the fuck I want. ALL LOVE.
There is so much wrong in this stupid post that I cannot begin to address it in a single sitting, Tom. I think the fallacies and the foolishness speaks for itself. So, I am going to question you, because you are Chet’s daddy and he, my Hollywood friend, is a reflection of you. Why does your boy want to use the N-Word so bad? Why’s he using it anyway? Did you all use it in the house a lot? Or was it his white, hot lustful burning love of Black people, culture and Hip-Hop music that make him long to spew the word as symbol of his camaraderie? Do you think he would take a bullet for his African American Hip-Hop comrades? Since he mentioned racists and a f**ked up system, is he out here marching to fight the evils that we Black people face daily? Does he want to play in the Black playground a bit without once delving into what life is truly like?
Back to Delaware and me, Tom.
I am bringing it back to my life, because I wonder how many real Black people your boy Chester knows. While growing up, a white boy that looks a lot like your son Chester called my best friend a n***er on the way to school. My friend proceeded to bash his head in on the school bus and they had to pull him off of that kid. They kicked my friend off the bus after that, but he was never called a n***er again. Tom, I too have been called that ugly word too. There’s no need to share all the stories with you, because you can gather that it is still a very sensitive topic and word.
I gotta tell you, bro, you have a problem here. Chester is making you look a bit crazy and we used to wonder what went on in the house of those white kids that said n***er. If Black people tell you not to use a word considered derogatory, who is your boy to say otherwise? Talk to him, Tom. Don’t pin the tail on the donkey of Hip-Hop when you talk and don’t let Chet either. As parents, we have to raise our kids right and check them hard when they are very wrong. If you don’t, somebody else will. I’m a little older and wiser – not Jim Crow era – but the younger me would probably try to turn Chez into a human pretzel or something. OK, I know I wasn’t going to share any more stories, but here is a quick one. In college, some White students from the University of Delaware in a car did a “drive-by” calling me a n***er. Tom, I instinctively picked up this gigantic cobblestone rock and threw it. I missed and that was a good thing. The cops were right there to witness it all. Imagine if I had hit that car or somebody in it.
Sure there are some Black people out here that willingly allow White people to call them n***a or n***er. That does not you we should do it. The great Ice-T once said, “Freedom of Speech…Just watch what you say.” This slogan applies to everybody even though he was talking about Black people under persecution. In Baltimore recently, a Black man was peacefully protesting at a march, but he happened to have a t-shirt that said “F**k The Police.” Don’t you know those cops yanked him by his locks (dreadlocks), pepper sprayed him and cuffed him, seemingly for wearing such a shining example of Freedom of Speech? Check the video, Tom. You gotta see this!
The point is: we don’t just get to do what we we want in life. If you are rich, White and a male you may grow up thinking that. That’s how privilege and White Supremacy tends to work. Perhaps you and Chester aka ill rapper Chet Haze and tell me that. Its bad enough that this sort of appropriation is rampant in the world, but for it to be infiltrating Hip-Hop is a travesty. Hip-Hop music gave Black and Brown people a voice when there was no voice. It made businesses and opportunity where there was none. It yelled a that “RACIST and f***ed up system” that your boy spoke about. It didn’t stop there: it sought to change it. These days, some say Hip-Hop today is all messed up.
The system is still messed up and rap music reflects that. We are still messed up and your son and those like him want to fight for the right to use the word that continues to degrade. Unacceptable, Tom. Talk to you boy before he tries to gain entry into this world of Blackness and Hip-Hop. (Let Chet read this piece from talented white producer songwriter Mike Posner called “We Have No Idea What It’s Like To Be Black In America”) Teach him about the wonder of people of color, if you know. Teach him about the gains and losses Black people deal with. Teach him respect.
If you don’t somebody will. Take it from a guy that’s come across quite a few Chet’s in his life.
P.S. For the record, there are a lot of terms of endearment in the Black community. We call each other king, queen, brother, sister and even god. Tell Chet to use those, especially “god.”
At a time when many women in music are working hard to look and sound exactly the same, sometimes it feels like there aren’t very many female artists speaking your language and trying to make genuinely good music. Not true! They may not be at the top of the Billboard charts or all over the magazines yet, but there are some very talented women out there ready to change the game. For music lovers everywhere, here are five up-and-coming women in music to look out for.
This Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and emcee has had her vocal abilities compared to the likes of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill, but with a fresh twist. She has provided supporting vocals for many musical geniuses including Common, Lalah Hathaway, Zap Mama, and The Roots. Her work with The Roots landed Maimouna her first Grammy nomination for the hit “Don’t Feel Right.” In 2011, Maimouna released her first EP, Black Magic Woman. That same year she released a full-length album titled The Blooming, which made the Washington Post’s list of the Best DC Music of 2011. One of my favorite songs of Maimouna’s is her cover of Lorde’s “Royals.” Maimouna reclaims our rich African history and proclaims, “We’re already Royals, see it runs in our blood. We just been having tougher luck, we need a different kind of buzz. Let me be your ruler, call me Nefertiti and baby I’ll rule, come on in to reality.” Maimouna is truly a voice that will take the music industry by storm.
One misconception about me, is that I have been somehow complicit in rappers acting dumb or worse, actually being dumb.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I sat on Fox News a few years ago and told then-host John Gibson that I am one of Hip-Hop’s fiercest critics. Why? I know the potential of the most influential genre since the 1960’s and I am convinced that it has been co-opted to mentally direct listeners away from the most powerful weapon young people ever created. So, if you truly follow what I am about then you already know that I have been outspoken for a very long time.
So, now it is Rich Homie Quan’s turn. In a recent song, the Southern rapper spewed some of the most ignorant lyricism seen since…well Rick Ross rapped about date raping somebody. Here is what Quan stated on “I Made It Questionable.”
“I don’t want your ho, just want that cookie from her – she tried to resist so I took it from her. How you gonna tell me no/ you must not know who I am/Even if I’m on the road I see whats goin’ on cause you know I got cameras/ I don’t know no questions but I know the answers/I throw these black fists just like a panther.”
He’s rapping about rape, uh yeah, well past questionable. And, Rich Homie is very clear on what he intends to do should a woman say no.
Another misconception about me: That I don’t prepare my daughter for those people with these thoughts. See, I am not so concerned with the raps, because we can discuss rhymes and imagery. I am more concerned with that kid next door that grew up with both parents, seemingly “normal,” but having these deep, dark, disgusting thoughts. I mean, you have to be sick to even put this sort of material on a song, even if it is technically unreleased.
On top of it all, Quan then proceeds to talk about physically assaulting the woman with the beloved Black Panthers in his mouth. It is no longer my place to try understanding these people, because it requires too much energy. We are living in real time, where there is little room for such catastrophic mistakes. It is my place to protect my daughter and for her to know the character of the people she’s around. However, if you have read my material, you already know this. (READ: Point Blank: I Am My Child’s Bodyguard)
I recently interviewed Rich Homie and we spoke about his son and how he manages his rap star life as a father. He seemed responsible. He seemed like a good dad for where he is at this point in his life. If he’s creating kids that feel like he feels about women, then I have to reconsider. Like most of these rappers and singers, he’s not easy to get at, but I can’t take chances. As far as I am concerned, “a rich homie” could be in any school, next door, in the club, a registered sex offender…WHATEVER.
I bar none.
If you are about raping women, we cannot be cool. Furthermore, you need to be re-educated about what it is to be a man. You need to be re-educated about what it is to be with a woman. You need to be re-educated about what it is to be a human being.
Far too many people are out here lost, like this is what’s good. I would be lying if I told you I knew where such notions originated in this day and age of #BlackLivesMatter. I’d also be lying if I told you such notions haven’t been mentioned before in Hip-Hop. A couple years ago, UpRoxx published 32 lyrics in rap that condoned rape. Unacceptable.
I have always maintained that rap music is a microcosm of that which is going on in the real world. So be it. We know the world is sick.
As a parent, you just have to be ready and get your child ready. Point blank. Hopefully, Rich Homie’s dad pulls him aside and give the 23-year-old a long, serious talk.
MC Lyte was one of the groundbreaking hip-hop artists of 1990s, especially for women in rap. Now after an 11-year hiatus, the legend is coming with a new album aptly titled Legend.
There are a few promotions centered around the release, including the album’s one-day-only availability in throwback vinyl format only (with digital downloads for album purchasers) at independent record stores nationwide as a part of Record Store Day.
For the album Lyte, whose past hits include “Cold Rock A Party,” “Ruffneck,” “Cha Cha Cha,” and “I Am The Lyte,” had a little help from her friends. Ten in fact. And it’s already getting great reviews.
“The comeback in itself is an art. On Legend, however, MC Lyte doesn’t appear to have any jet lag,” raves the Source magazine.
The newest single to be released from the album is “Check,” with its retro underground hip hop feel. Prior to this, “Ball” featuring Lil Mama & AV was released.
And the single “Dear John” proved to be MC Lyte’s first Billboard charting single in 11 years. The track features Common and 10 Beats.
For more information on Lyte’s new release, check out her website.
First, who’s your favorite conscious rapper?
And secondly, what is a conscious rapper?
I asked this question about a month ago on my Facebook page and the consensus among most who responded was that a “conscious rapper” was an emcee who wasn’t afraid to make a much needed political and social critique in their music. While everyone who responded had their own ideas of which emcee out today best fit that label, they all pretty much agreed that the label gets thrown around way too much.
As wiki defines it, conscious rap, has its roots in the jazz poetry movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s, which included the likes of The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. However in this essay, An Historical Definition Of The Term Rap, Hip Hop historian Davey D reminds us that rap itself is shaped out of a long tradition of signifying, which was loud, brash, boastful and at times political. Probably the genre’s most notable influencer is former SNCC and Black Panther organizer H. Rap Brown, whose legendary signifying found its way in the Sugar Hill’s Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”
At any rate, as Hip Hop progressed, the conscious definitely have evolved over the years from its peak in the ’80’s when mainstream rappers like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, KRS-One weren’t afraid to directly and aggressively pump a Black fist, yell at the cops, tell us to fight the power and more importantly, make all kinds of political statements. However what often constitutes conscious rapping today is a little more ambiguous.
And I think no one more illustrates that ambiguity than Common.
It should be noted that upon his arrival on scene, he didn’t look or sound anything like he does now. There was no talk of Black Panthers or worshiping the Black Queen. There were no crochet hat and pant sets. Instead, on his first album Can I Borrow A Dollar? Common Sense was your typical backpacker in baggy jeans and oversized sweaters, using clever word play and rapping about tricking “Heidi Hoe” over jazz beats.
Common kept up the same jazzy motif and slick word play on his second LP Resurrection which dropped in 1994. And although not as blunt as his first album, Common still loved talking about the ladies, reminding us all on the title track, “I’m a hoe, not a hoe-nigga.” But admittedly his rapping got a little more deep and self-reflective.
In particular, he took his “admiration” for the ladies and turned it into a metaphor about the decline of true Hip Hop in I Used to Love H.E.R. The track was a weird bit of respectability politics, which equated the purity of Hip Hop to a woman’s lost innocence and virginity.
Naturally, some folks, including fellow emcee Ice Cube, would take issue with Common’s assertion that “gangster” rap, which was the mainstream at the time, was ruining this figurative woman. Yet the song’s insightful critique would resonate with and draw strong praise from many Hip Hop fans who had grown disenchanted by the ever-increasing commercialization of the genre. The track would not only become a quintessential reference in Hip Hop’s history, but it was the moment, which helped to solidify Common’s place as a conscious rapper.
Most fans of Hip Hop are not the least bit shocked by news that Marion Hugh “Suge” Knight Jr., former head honcho at Death Row Records, has killed someone. Some of us might even claim to have seen this coming.
And yet, for years we kind of ignored, if not excused, his erratic and often violent behavior because that’s just Suge. Folks might not want to admit it, but lots of us were entertained by Knight’s debauchery. From the story about the time he hung Vanilla Ice by the ankles off a roof until he signed away rights to “Ice, Ice, Baby,” to his most recent arrest for alleging stealing a camera from a photographer with accomplice Katt Williams, doing crazy things used to be a huge part of his appeal.
And as disgusted as I am by his actions, I do wonder if somehow Hip Hop culture, which at times seems to thrives off of hyper-masculinity and violence, kind of empowered Knight?
No, I don’t think that Hip Hop was the reason why Knight plowed into a bunch of people, killing one. That is all on Knight. But rather, how might our being entertained by Marian Knight’s erratic behavior have shielded him from getting the help that he needed? And I’m talking mentally.
This is not the first time the question of mental health in Hip Hop has been broached here. Last April, Tom Barnes penned a piece for Policy Mic, entitled “What We Should Really Be Saying About the Rapper Who Cut Off His Penis.” In case you hadn’t figured out, the essay is about Wu-Tang affiliated rapper Andre Johnson, aka Chris Bearer, who in a bout of depression fueled by drug abuse, cut his penis off and jumped out of the window.
Barnes argued then that Johnson’s suicide attempt was indicative of a culture, which celebrates mental illness. More specifically he writes:
“There is a romantic notion surrounding artists as tortured geniuses who relieve their anguish through creative expression. But when artists’ suffering shows its fullest extent and ends in tragedy, it’s not ok to be entertained. It’s time to face up to the facts about mental illness in hip-hop and treat it as the problem it really is.”
As noted in a previous piece, I thought Barnes overstated the prevalence of mental illness in Hip Hop alone. I firmly believe that Hip Hop culture is no more or less flippant about mental health than the rest of society. But after Knight’s latest violent outburst, resulting in the loss of a life, I’m really starting to see his point. And I’ll take it one step further: what if it’s the fans, who give excuse to depression, personality disorders and other unchecked mental illnesses; not only because it entertains us, but also because it feeds into narratives that Black boys and men are inherently bad and later, dangerous?
“Another theory is that African Americans don’t also subscribe to treatment. So we could be suffering for years and we won’t get help,” said Ronald Crawford, mental health professional and author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas?
Crawford, who also writes for Rap Rehab, said that while he wouldn’t make a diagnosis of Knight without meeting him first, the rap label boss’ behavior, as reported in the media, is consistent with an anti-social personality disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of the disorder include difficulty dealing with people, frequent trouble with the law and having little to no regard for the rights, wishes and feelings of others. Crawford added that anti-social personality disorder is a common diagnosis among people serving time in a correctional facility.
He acknowledges that Knight probably found refuge for his erratic behavior in the glorification of his image, as do other artists including Kanye West and DMX, whose erratic behavior (and in the case of DMX, actual diagnosed mental illness) is often cosigned by fans.
This is only compounded by the already fragile nature of American manhood, which frowns upon the sharing of any emotions and feelings, that could be perceived as weak. Crawford said that anger is considered a secondary emotion usually meant to protect oneself from vulnerability. And the anger we sometimes hear in Hip Hop may very well be the result of people not knowing how to express their true feelings properly. “It’s raw emotion – that is lots of what we hear. People don’t know how to say, you hurt my heart. So they say other hurtful things.”
However , Crawford is not convinced Hip Hop (or by default, the Black community) culture nurtures mental illness. Instead he points to a number of artists who have used their platforms to talk about mental health including Pharoahe Monch, who last year dropped an album about his own bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts.
In fact, Crawford said that he has felt that the raw emotion within Hip Hop has been helpful in getting some of his more difficult patients to open up about what is troubling them. “A lot of people pay attention to the misogyny and the violence in rap, but one of the things they don’t talk about is how rappers have been talking for years about fatherlessness and the impact it has on young men,” he said.
Crawford isn’t the only one who has used Hip Hop in counseling services. A couple of researchers from Cambridge University have created Hip Hop Psych, which also uses some of Hip Hop’s more positive lyrics to raise awareness about mental illness.
He also points out how often the artist’s intended message is lost when we focus only on the presentation. “I think it is a little deeper than some of the lyrics that they use. And we need to take the time to get into what they are saying and not how they are saying it,” he said.
While Crawford thinks we should be aware that an artists’ erratic behavior might be indicative of deeper issues, and that help should always be encouraged, he doesn’t believe that fans should stop patronizing their art. To do so, is like punishing people for being hurt or having mental health problems, he said.
“Is it what the artist is saying, which is upsetting you? Or are we mad at what they are going through? I think instead of shooting the messenger and getting mad at what they are talking about; let’s get mad at the conditions of what they are talking about,” he said.