There’s more than meets the eye and this is why we should listen with our ears
Rap music is underappreciated. Rap artists sell millions of albums annually but the genre is still mocked regularly. I will always defend it and probably listen to hip-hop for the rest of my life.
Hip-hop was founded in the 1970s in the Bronx, New york. There were block parties held by an African-American group called “The Black Spades” where hip-hop found its original sound. Hip-hop gave a voice to the people who desperately needed one. It was a celebration of the African-American culture and still is.
Hip-hop is the genre of music and rap is the voice. I use the terms interchangeably, but this is the difference between hip-hop and rap. Emcees are the title that hip-hop gives to its artists.
1.“Every rap song is full of swearing”
There is a common misconception that rap music is full of profane language. While many rappers use swearing to get their points across, there are a lot who do not. Wu-tang Clan has many songs that don’t have swearing at all (and some that do). Coolio’s hit from the 90s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was unedited and didn’t contain any profanities.
One of the best rap groups of all time, “A Tribe Called Quest” released many songs that don’t have any curse words in them. Other artists such as Lauryn Hill, Run-DMC, and Rakim barely use profanities in their music. In 2013, Method Man challenged himself to write lyrics without curse words and hasn’t used profane language in his music since. The rappers I have mentioned are some of the greatest ever and they didn’t need to use swearing to get our attention.
2. “The treatment of women in the hip-hop community is terrible”
Another statement I hear a lot is that women are not treated well in the rap community. This is a controversial opinion and one usually based on the visuals that rappers use in their videos.
Many people see rap videos and assume the women who appear in them are being objectified. Keep in mind that rock-n-roll and country music also use women in their videos in this manner but naturally, this is ignored.
These women audition and are paid to be in these music videos. They use it is a stepping stone to fame and in some cases, it is. Some women have built a profession out of being in music videos, like Karrine Steffans who has written numerous books about her experiences in the industry.
Many of the most respected emcees from hip-hop have been women. Artists like MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, and Queen Latifa set the stage for the new generation of female emcees. They were treated with a lot of respect by the male emcees, included in many projects, and are still recognized to be great influencers in hip-hop music today.
3. “Rap music is all about violence”
There are a lot of rappers who speak about gun violence, crime, and pimping. Gangsta Rap, a sub-genre of hip-hop made popular in the early 90s by West Coast rappers Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg, WC, and Ice cube was primarily about this subject matter. Ice-T and the rap group NWA, of which Dre and Ice Cube were members of were considered the pioneers of this sub-genre.
Many of these rappers also talk about what their lives were like living in low-income housing and being poor and oppressed. If you dig deeper, there is a lot more to gangsta rap than most people think.
A side note: Outlaw country music is just as violent as gangsta rap.
There are many more rappers who rap about the oppression they feel as African-American people. I am steering clear of this subject because I have no idea or insight into how it must feel to be oppressed in the way Black People have been. However, I will list some rappers who come to mind that rap about oppression and inspire their listeners: Common, KRS-ONE, Talib Kweli Greene, Tupac Shakur, Nas, the rap group Gangstarr and many more.
There are rappers who are born storytellers. Rappers like Slick Rick, the rap groups Gangstarr and Atmosphere, Notorious B.I.G, and Mos Def are some examples of rappers that tell us stories. They set the scene for us and gave us a visual in our heads. Listening to storytelling rap is like listening to an audiobook set to music. Personally, this is my favorite kind of rap.
4. “Rappers are not talented”
I have a real issue with this one. I was at a party once, with a group of rock fans and one of them commented that rapping doesn’t require talent. I promptly played the song “Uncommon Valor” by Jedi Mind Tricks and R.A The Rugged Man for them. I heard no argument after that, only silence. You could hear pin drop in that room. They were floored.
Rapping is hard work, rappers spend hours in the studio perfecting their records and making sure their sound is right.
A rapper has to perfect many elements to be considered “one of the greats”:
- Rap flow or “cadence”: The rapper must be able to construct their words with the beat, this is not an easy thing to accomplish.
- Rap Delivery: This is the creation of a rhyme scheme, based on many different principles. At this point it’s not the words that matter, it is about how the sounds of the words and the beat go together. It is a very complex thing to explain, so I imagine it is a very difficult thing to perfect.
- Lyrical content: Lyrics are very important to real rap fans. We look for meaning and something to relate to when we listen to a new emcee. We are the harshest of critics when it comes to lyrical content.
- Stage presence: A good rapper is able to deliver their rhymes with confidence and pull the audience in. Snoop Dogg is one of my favorite rappers to watch on stage, he’s electric! Tupac Shakur is another rapper who had excellent stage presence. He was in many plays growing up and did ballet, I believe this helped him learn how to work an audience.
- Rappers are expected to be good at freestyling: Freestyling is when a rapper makes up a rhyme on the spot. It’s basically pulling poetry out of nowhere. Some of the greatest freestylers are Pusha-T, Eminem, Hopsin, Ludacris, and Eyedea.
- Many rappers play instruments. Dr.Dre, Andre 3000, and Kanye West play the piano. Scarface plays the guitar. Flavor Flav of the rap group Public Enemy plays fifteen musical instruments!
Hip-hop music found me at a very difficult time in my life. I have a deep respect for this genre and wanted to use my voice as a writer to defend it. My hope for this piece is that the skeptics will realize that there is more to rap music than they thought.
It is easy for people to judge a genre of music because they do not like it but hip-hop deserves our respect. Many of the myths above could also be said about country and rock music. However, I rarely hear that concept discussed for some reason. If you take a moment to think about it, all music genres have their myths. Is it fair to judge a genre of music you haven’t fully explored?
I feel like the world needs hip-hop now, more than ever. Every week I hear a new emcee that exceeds my expectations. The new voice of rap is political, polarizing, and inspiring. Whether you like it or not, hip-hop is here to stay.
Amy Cottreau is a freelance writer from a small city in Atlantic Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics. Feel free to follow her on Twitter!