Remembering the roots of hip hop

If asked, I could probably recall the first time I heard some of my favorite artists. Classics like Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” and NAS’ “Hate Me Now” to more modern rap like Kid Cudi’s “Baptized in Fire” or the never ending hits of J. Cole resonate within communities and through generations. Rap music has been and always will be near and dear to my heart. Growing older and realizing the complexities surrounding the history of hip hop, the depth behind every story has only pulled me closer. However, I find a larger sense of hostility towards rap in recent years, and I can’t help but feel like people are starting to unjustifiably judge the rap game.

My father, though a stereotypical baby boomer, encouraged me when I started listening to rap at a very young age. He described rap as “street poetry,” which had an elegant ring to it. Others, however, are not so supportive. Many older generations criticize rap for what it comes from; yet, that is its entire essence.

West Coast rap, which grew in the 90s, is a staple to nearly every kid in Los Angeles. Though political rap was big on the East Coast, the West Coast invented “street” or “gangsta” rap. It was a way for the people of Compton and South Central to show where they came from. The vulgar and confrontational nature of rap group NWA, for instance, was revolutionary in their way of letting the entire world know what it is like to be young and black in America.

It’s evident to see, however, that rap has evolved just like anything else. When Puff Daddy came out with “I’ll be missing you” as a message to Biggie, he opened up a new world of hip hop with sampling, which was a way of widening its audience. Fast forward to the 2000s–Eminem kept this idea of telling one’s history by rapping about being white in the lower middle class in America. Slowly, the sheer number of people drawn to this style of hip hop grew.

Hip hop became more celebratory with the music of Kanye West and Jay Z. Jay Z was a major success story, a man who could do it all: rapping, producing, directing and acting. Kanye West, on the other hand, was among the first to indulge into his narcissistic fantasies with his release of album “Late Registration” in 2005, an attitude which warped the hip hop we have today. The celebratory nature of coming out of the ghetto and being successful in America is now a standard for hip hop.

Atlanta rappers like 2 Chainz and Migos also helped change the game to more of what we see today, but they didn’t necessarily lose the history. In the video series “Going Undercover” by GQ magazine, hip hop artist Offset talks about how the Migos’ speed and cadence of rap, although different, keeps the essence of rap, which can be seen in Offset’s most recent release, “Father of Four.”

“I gotta be relevant… I’d rather talk about the undergrounds and, like, the people struggling so they can feel what I’m saying… I gotta stick to what I know and what I went through in life,” Offset said in an interview with GQ.

Arguably, however, many hip hop artists have completely changed rap to be about the glorification of drugs and the objectification of women. Artist like Shoreline Mafia and Blueface are definitely not a parental favorite; nevertheless, they do not define what rap is. In no way is their music a representation of the entirety of hip hop.

Hip hop is now an entire culture, with its own genres. It is not fair to condemn the music of artists like SOBxRBE and “hate” the rap game, when there are artists like Kendrick Lamar winning Pulitzers for his 2017 album, “DAMN.” Rap and hip hop have so much history; in truth it is so much more wholesome than from what I’ve perceived people make of it.

Personally, I have no judgment towards what may be seen as “mumble rapping.” Though not as respectable as artists like Tyler the Creator and ASAP Rocky or Childish Gambino, it still has a standing in modern culture, whether people like it or not. The truth is that whether or not someone likes rap music does not dismay all of the history and meaning behind it. More importantly, if one doesn’t like the music of certain rap artists, like Lil Pump or SixNine, that does not validate hatred toward rap as an entirety.

In the end, rap music will always cause controversy–in a way, that’s what it is about. Rap is about history and culture, but it is also about the celebration of resilience. We live in a generation of hip hop, and that is undeniable. The most important thing to remember is that the music is not about celebrating the life given to us. It is about the celebration of overcoming the obstacles and hardships easily faced in the lower class of America, which, to me, any kid from the valley can understand.

Kendrick Lamar
Image Source: Variety
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