“Rap is supposed to motivate, address societal issues and personal feelings, and also liberate me through art, not insult our women.”
― Unarine Ramaru
Hip Hop to me is one of the most important forms of Black expression. This fluid construct is the voice of the people. The way MCs (Master of Ceremonies) get on the mic and bend the English language into a colorful mosaic of different words, sounds and alternate meanings. Hip Hop has always been an outlet for marginalized people. In a world fueled by capitalism, crass consumerism, racism, and other structures of inequality,we have created this insular sub culture that is extensive and far reaching. I remember when I first heard Wu- Tang Clans “Bring da Ruckus” in my father’s office. I was 10 and at awe by the vulgarity and the harshness of Raekwon’s voice, the lyrics, the sound, the repetition of the chorus “BRING DA MOTHERF*CKING RUCKUS!!” pulled me in. I asked my father to play that track over and over again, needless to say I was in love.
Here I am at 25 and I can’t help but notice how hip hop has changed dramatically. Now when I turn on my radio I hear songs riddled with sexism, violence and crass misogyny and the vulgarity no longer feels empowering for me. My body parts have become subject to an onslaught of respectability politics from what feels like the world.
Hip hop has always had an air of Nihilism. The crack era which brought about a flux of incarceration rates to the inner cities due to street wars over drug turf, money, and goods on the black market. Reaganomics and trickle down politics of the 80’s dismantled primarily Black and Latino communities seemingly overnight. News channels covering the pillage in urban neighborhoods on the 5 and 10 o’clock news started to portray frightening images, leaving people scared of the world outside their doorstep. With crime bursting at the seams in the nations ghettos and the government’s refusal to address socio- economic problems, police were militarized and sent in to correct the “evil – doers” which set high tensions and propelled police brutality. Through this breakdown happening in the inner cities, “Gangsta Rap” was formed.
Straight Outta Compton
With NWA (NIGGAZ WIT ATTITUDES) a controversial rap group in Compton at the forefront of Gangsta rap with songs such as “Fuck the Police,” which told of the ongoing problem with law enforcement and inner city residents. Gangsta rap became lyrical articles on what life was like in the ghetto.
Rappers were the journalists chronicling what what it was like to survive in a system that was built to gridlock upward mobility for persons of color. Not only did Gangsta Rap confirm the “safe” white and black middle class greatest fears of the dark “ghetto underworld” it also seemed to praise social ills such as prostitution, drug trafficking and violence. Women were sexually objectified in songs such as Eazy –Es “Gimmie Dat Nutt,” whose title speaks for itself, This “Gangsta – hoe – pimp” trinity became the narrative of hip hop and has been ever since.
It’s this “Gangsta – hoe – pimp” trinity that is latent in Hip-hop that bothers me to the core. With the 80’s long out of rearview, I feel as though I can’t listen to mainstream Hip-hop without feeling attacked. As a intersectional womanist, it’s hard to listen to music that reduces me to a “hoe” whose mere existence is to be pleasurable or servicing a man. Now most would say, “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, DON’T LISTEN..TURN THE STATION,” however as a lover of Hip-hop, I think its only right that I critique in hopes of saving it. Even though scrutiny has waned since the days of NWA, Hip-hop is now a lot less colorful and way more harmful. Hip-hop has become a vehicle to perpetuate age old stereotypes of female sexuality and homosexuality. Hip-hop has always been hyper masculine, and in world that is male dominated it has always pushed men at the forefront to create the narratives of women and gay and lesbian persons. This is harmful. When you don’t allow women, gay and lesbian people the right to control their own images we become exploited, our nuances become flattened and we go lost in the viewer’s thoughts of “other.”
Music is very powerful, many people’s thought patterns, ideologies and views are shaped by corporate media. With identity movements at an all time high, people are demanding that we speak on core issues for social change, and that these demands do not go lost in American thought as they have so many times before. I’m asking Hip-hop to do what it has always done, challenge people’s views. Hip-hop is very influential, its cultural impact enormous. I just can’t help but think what it would be like if we decided to uplift people instead of reducing them under the guise of a limited, subjective visceral oration.
People often tell me that I wish for this utopianism that is unrealistic. Yet I know that what I am asking for is rather small. I’m asking Hip-hop, the art that I’ve loved since a kid to reexamine its moral compass. When we don’t critique the art and its flaws, it says we are accepting its negative qualifies. It says that we are welcoming the harmful effects of sexism and homophobia in our communities, and abuse and violence all in the name of free expression. We created this art form out of our own subjugation and for that we should make sure that it does not further the subjugation of those like myself who praise it, who love it for its rawness, authenticity and genuineness. Hip hop has always been the voice of the people, and like KRS once said “Hip-hop has the ability to corrupt minds but it also has the ability to uplift them.”