To Be Black And Unconscious In The World Of Hip-Hop: Where Do You Stand With Trap Rap?
Hip-Hop intellectual Eric Michael Dyson once said that “Whether along race, class, or generational lines, hip-hop music has been a source of controversy since the beats got too big and the voices too loud for the block parties that spawned them. America has condemned and commended this music and the culture that inspires it.” And hip-hop remains both controversial and a heavily divided genre. There’s the woke, incense-burning, reparations-demanding, “remember we are royalty” conscious visionaries like Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Yasiin Bey, Common, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. And then there are the trap kings and queens on the other side, stacking the money, moving that “white girl.” Rappers such as Young Jeezy, Chief Keef, Fetty Wap, Migos, 2 Chainz and, of course, Future.
As a culture, we celebrate the socially conscious rapper for using hip-hop to address political and racial injustice. We praise them for using their platform to give back to the communities in need. We place them on a pedestal as the messiahs who are going to once again redefine the culture of hip-hop and take it back to the days when it was a genre that meant something. To a time when rap told stories. Not just delusions of grandeur stories, but accounts of poverty, drug addiction, broken homes, shattered dreams, and redemption. It was a platform that shared the triumphs and failures of being Black, or Jewish (The Beastie Boys), or Latino (Immortal Technique), or a woman (Queen Latifah).
But in the early ’00s, hip-hop began to shift as rappers started to focus on braggadocio rap. Stories about lavish lifestyles and designer labels. Even Kanye West emerged on the scene as the new voice in conscious hip-hop before slowly transitioning to the top 1 percenter and leaving the rest of us behind. Things and artists changed.
I stumbled across an article from the Huffington Post written in 2012 that accused Jay Z and Nicki Minaj of being part of the problem in this shifting culture.
“What was once a music and culture for and about the struggles of young, urban rebels, who used music, dance and art to express themselves and fight against a system that had forgotten them, has become a culture that glorifies, defends and aspires to be the 1 percent that was once considered the oppressor.”
But after reading this, and hearing a coworker’s claim that NWA somehow broke hip-hop, I started to think, what is hip-hop? How do we define an entire genre based on social and political views and why don’t people do this with any other style of music? (Well, maybe jazz.) James Baldwin once said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant stage of rage” and boy was he right. Us “woke” folk expect every Black entertainer in the industry in the spotlight to be political activists and criticize them if they’re not doing enough. But as much as us “conscious” Black folk love to talk about the system, political warfare and elevating our minds, I don’t think it makes us any less socially or culturally aware if we want to turn up and shake our rumps to some ratchet hip-hop. Variety is the spice of life.
In his article, “All You ‘Real’ Rap Fans Need to Stop Hating on ‘What a Time to Be Alive”, Complex writer Angel Diaz calls out hip-hop purists for their criticism of Drake and Future’s new collaborative album. He says that if we think that Future, Drake, and similar artists are going to rap about social issues in this day and age, we are idiots. But I don’t think he was prepared for the clapback he received from Talib Kweli, who claims he has been fighting to save hip-hop since it started to decline. Even Wes Jackson of Brooklyn Bodega shared his distaste for Diaz and the music he called “coonery”:
“And to your point that I should not expect Drake or Future to speak on social issues, I feel bad for you. You claim some sense of awareness of Hip Hop’s history in your piece but I fear that is a front. For if you did, you would realize that standing up for social issues is the very foundation of this culture. It was why Afrika Bambaataa and The Zulu Nation helped create this industry that pays your bills.”
Kweli and his supporters at Brooklyn Bodega shared some thought-provoking points on hip-hop’s history and why it is important that we preserve it with each new artist that emerges. But Diaz made some good points too:
You old head, super lyrical m*********rs need to get over yourselves. Every time some new rap drops you sound bitter. “This ain’t that real s**t,” you scream as you fix your two-toned durag and adjust your NT denim. We can’t enjoy the two hottest rappers in the game dropping a joint tape? What exactly is that “real” s**t then? Turn up music isn’t “real” hip-hop? How so? Was the genre not invented at a goddamn party? Isn’t music about having a good time? I’m dead tired of you cats, man. You make my head hurt. Can’t be listening to Talib Kweli rap off beat and Lupe Fiasco deep cuts at BBQs. I, too, was once like you, but come on, don’t nobody wanna hear that s**t all the f****g time.
He didn’t have to fire shots like that at the end of his statement, but all that aside, why do we try so hard to define “real” hip-hop? Why can’t we be okay with its diversity? Why can’t we go to the protest in our neighborhoods with our fists raised while listening to some of the rap visionaries telling us to “fight the power” and then go out on a Friday night to kick back and act a fool to some trap rap? As stated before, hip-hop is one of the only genres people expect so much from. So, with that being said, are we all a little too awake or are we sleeping a little too hard?