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More than Guns & Hoes:

The Misrepresentation of Hip-Hop Music

Over the weekend, I was with friends, socialising, drinks, food and good music. . . . The music was good yea, found ourselves listening to some 70’s & 80’s blues and soul classics playlists on Spotify . . ..I should mention that this eloquent choice of music wasn’t by my choosing. . .I preferred some rap music, but I was overpowered. . . . The people I was with complained that rappers just talk about” guns, bitches and their material luxurious goods”.

I know right? in 2019 there are still people who still see Hip Hop and rap as poster a poster child for negativity in society and urban culture.Every genre of music has its fair share of songs with derogatory messages or ideas such as sexism, misogyny, sex, money, or drugs.

Unfortunately, rap and hip-hop music seem to be an easy target when the topic arises in the music scene and media outlets. I can personally attest to how Hip Hop can have a positive influence on listeners and expand their consciousness and broaden their horizons.

There’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip hop is confronting, and in many instances, it includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination.. But, of course, hip-hop and rap didn’t start out that way. Hip-hop started out as an underground art form — a way for African American youth to express themselves and make their voices heard.

But unfortunately, the rap scene has without a doubt changed since it was introduced. Hip-hop is now marketed and produced by white-dominated corporations that have only one interest — to make money. Hip-hop has become increasingly mainstream, and artists and corporations seem to care less about producing songs with meaningful messages and more about making their status known by rapping about sex, women, and money. All of these themes are present in rap, and every other genre, because they sell. When it is being discussed, the media often fails to pay attention to anything else but the bad parts of rap.

The very people who paint rap music with a dark paint are silent around the misogyny in Pop Punk Music. Pop Punk, a genre dominated by white males, has a ton of sexism that is not recognised like sexism in hip-hop music is. Perhaps a little white privilege??? White-dominated music genres aren’t scrutinised for their sexist behaviours, but hip-hop is constantly in the spotlight for its mistakes. If hip-hop and rap were genres that primarily consisted of white males, would they be facing the same criticism they are currently facing?

Whether the genre is rock, hip-hop, country, or death metal, if you are looking for sexism, substance abuse, misogyny and violence you will find it.

Hip Hop culture at its core, is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, communal and self-progression.

Despite all the negativity associated with it, hip hop has generated a huge fan base around the world with a wide demographic of listeners, mostly among youths.

Born in New York City, hip hop culture is now a worldwide phenomenon. It would be hard to find any country that doesn’t have some kind of hip hop scene or movement. On the other side of the coin is a hidden side to rap music that needs to be exposed. The hip hop that I know has had  and continues to have massive positive influences on society.

I realised that my friends, like many others greatly misunderstand hip-hop and rap music.Perhaps they don’t understand how it all started. Hip hop emerged as a reaction to the gang culture and violence of the South Bronx in the 1970s, and daily experiences of poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice. .

Rap artists write songs about their own life experiences, just like any other musician. The main difference in content comes from the drastic difference in the life experiences of Black Americans and non-Black artists. The
majority of Black Americans grow up in a culture of guns, drugs, and gangs, therefore this experience ends up being the content of their writing. When listened to leisurely, it is easy to just hear profanity, harsh tones, and keywords referring to violence and drugs, but when one listens closer with a critical ear, they will hear heavy stories of growing up in inner cities characterised by high levels of poverty, racism, misrepresentation and exclusion. Hip Hop culture and rap music formed as a tool of cultural resistance, a tool used to reflect and respond to reality. This inner-city expression born out of the USA has become a global expression that has been reworked and localised by communities across the world to reflect and respond to their reality.

Hip Hop has become a a global tool for expression found all over the world; it has become an expression of everything, from the way we dress, to the way we talk and sometimes even the way we walk. Our music has dominated billboard charts (SHOUT OUT TO LIL NAS X), our urban fashion hs sold out at record levels, our language has penetrated mainstream culture. . .It is a global phenomenon. As the global popularity of hip-hop exploded, some began to see it as a marketable commodity., a big fat money making machine.

The co-option of hip-hop by the music and entertainment industries began to create a hip-hop that lacked much of its original soul and content. In the pursuit o the might dollar, compromises begun to be taken which created a breeding ground for artists who favoured  finances over activism. Profits took over from Prophets!

That is the Hip-Hop the friends I was with only get to see. They don’t recognise hip-hop for what it is. Hip-Hop is still fundamentally an art form. Like all art, hip-hop is very flexible, and can be adaptable to in many different and unique ways interpretations and uses. It can be used in both constructive and deconstructive ways.

Which brings me to the point of this article: Not all rap music carries negative messages and one should listen carefully when understanding the message that the music is presenting.

For me, hip-hop is a cultural expression that has provided me with a space to think things thoroughly and critically, analyse and evaluate my social, political, spiritual and economic realities. Both an an individual and collective level.Hip Hop provides us with ideas of how things are and how they should be, a scope through which I can interpret reality and possibility. Through Hip-Hop, I found help in accounting for the past, make sense of the present and dream for the future. Hip-Hop inspires us to search for solutions.

Hip hop is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be consumed without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is so important. Its complicated history enables us to critically reflect on our society, and forces us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation. It provides us with a platform to react to these realities and acts as a vehicle for which we can become agents of change

Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about hip hop culture. It is more than just about “cars, guns, bitches and money” It is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.

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