I remember discovering Dr. Dre when I was in fifth grade, and since then my life has never been the same. Hip-Hop music and culture have basically dictated the way I live my life. I have been heavily influenced by Hip-Hop, and some would see that as a negative thing, due to how Hip-Hop is portrayed and seen in the media.
When you watch video interviews or music videos of Rap artists, you will probably hear explicit language and you will most likely see marijuana or alcohol. Hip-Hop was born in the inner city, and it is the voice of inner cities across the US today. Because of this, there is often violence, drugs, money, and other suggestive topic matter in the music. Rappers are often profiled or labeled as gangsters or bad guys because of what they talk about in their music as well as their interviews. For example, Multi-platinum selling superstar Eminem has gotten into a lot of trouble over the years because of his lyrics and his use of homophobic slurs. I found a video online from a news station that discusses Eminem’s use of homophobic slurs, and it pulls scenes from an interview of Eminem with Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes. Anderson Cooper and Eminem discuss some of his lyrics that bash the LGBT community, and asks Eminem if he is a homophobe, to which he replies: “No, I don’t have any problem with nobody.” His use of a double negative even makes the reporters laugh after he says that line. That shows me that the use of slang is looked at as comical to people who identify with this particular news station. Eminem doesn’t hate gay people just because he says something in a song. But because of his lyrics, he had a long bout with GLAAD and the LGBT community, which was highly publicized by the media. I knew a lot of people who’s parents wouldn’t allow them to have the Marshall Mather’s LP because of these reports and views seen in the media related to Eminem’s lyrical content.
It isn’t just Eminem, the news blames rappers on murders and crime rate increases solely based off of lyrics. For example, there is a strong movement that has been going on right now out of Chicago called Drill Music. Drill music is a scene of Hip-Hop that gives listeners insight on life in the troubled Southside of Chicago. These songs are full of murder, drugs, sex; but Chicago’s murder rate is out of control, so what do you expect these artists to talk about? People focus more on the lyrics and how they could affect the youth, but there are limited nationally televised reports or news coverage on the city and how it is impoverished. A lot of people don’t even know that Chicago has the highest murder rate in the country. It is even referred to by many Drill artists as “Chiraq”, because one year there were as many homicides in Chicago as there were US soldiers killed in Iraq. It seems like the agenda of the news is to focus on the negative aspects of Hip-Hop rather than focusing on solutions to improve areas of our own country. This point is illustrated by Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper in a song called Pusha man/Paranoia:
“They murking kids; they murder kids here
Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here
Where the f*ck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here
Probably scared of all the refugees; look like we had a f*ckin’ hurricane here
They’ll be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot
Down here, it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a f*cking parking spot
No love for the opposition, specifically a cop position
Cause they’ve never been in our position
Getting violations for the nation, correlating, you dry snitchin.”
In this verse, Chance talks about how his city is in ruins, and he talks about how there is no coverage at all, and he feels deserted.
The perception of music from areas like this is that people are savage and ruthless, and maybe rightfully so, but the ordinary citizen doesn’t take the time to understand the position that these people are in. Part of the beauty of Hip-Hop is that a white kid like me, born and raised in a suburb named Happy Valley can take a tour to an area full of murder and crime, through the music. It is fascinating. It does not make me want to buy a gun or some crack cocaine to distribute to the community like some people suggest it does.
Lil Durk, a Drill music artist from Chicago has a song called “Dis ain’t what you want” where he talks about his shows being cancelled by the Police and the city because they think that his music has a lot to do with violence in the area.
This passage of lyrics from “Dis ain’t what you want” talks about the people who run Chicago; and how he (Durk) thinks they would rather focus on shutting down a concert than to work towards creating a better living environment for the lower class in their area. He goes on to flame media outlets like TMZ and ABC because the coverage that they report on artists like him falsely represents his motives as an artist.
There is also a relationship between Hip-Hop and Social media that is important to note. Going back to the Drill Music scene, Rappers from Chicago like Chief Keef and Lil Reese use social media like Twitter and Instagram, and that has a lot of effects on how Hip-Hop is portrayed to the world, and has mostly negative effects on how Hip-Hop heads such as myself are seen. For example, rapper Lil Jojo, who was a rapper from a rival gang as Keef and Reese used twitter to post a video of him and his crew driving up to Reese and starting a verbal altercation. In the video, you can hear Reese say, “Jojo, I’m going to kill you.” A couple of hours after the video was posted online, Lil Jojo was gunned down on the street. He was 18 years old.
After the incident, Chief Keef posted this tweet:
you can see that the tweet was favorited 390 times and retweeted to the rest of Twitter 1,560 times at the time this image of the tweet was captured. He later would claim that someone hacked his twitter, but no one knows for sure.
Chief Keef is signed to a major label, and antics like this are what give Hip-Hop a bad name. People who don’t listen to Hip-Hop, but see something like this, they will often generalize and think that all of the culture is like this. There is a quote from Legendary Artist Jay Z that shows this point well:
“Hip-Hop is controversial: People don’t bother trying to get it. The problem isn’t in the rap or the rapper or the culture. The problem is that so many people don’t even know how to listen to the music.”
What Jay is saying in this quote is that the problem when it comes to Hip-Hop and how it is perceived in pop culture isn’t the explicit lyrical content, but the people who don’t understand the culture.
Besides the music, Hip-Hop fashion is another thing seen in popular culture that effects me, and others who are perceiving Hip-Hop. Fashion is an important part of both popular culture and Hip-Hop culture. There are so many trends, fashion styles, and accessories associated with Hip-Hop. People like to link certain clothing with Hip-Hop heads, and in turn, these styles are used to stereotype people like me. Sagging pants, big T-shirts, flashy jewelry, and snapback hats are all examples of this. Hip-Hop fashion is often vibrant, flashy, and loud, so it is perceived by people as obnoxious at times, and is often used for comedic purposes. The movie “Malibu’s Most Wanted” plays on these stereotypes. In the movie, Jamie Kennedy is portrayed as a white rapper who lives in Malibu, California. He wears outlandish clothes throughout the whole movie. Tracksuits, Baggy clothes, jewelry, du-rags, and designer clothes like Gucci and Coach. This character and his fashion enrich the stereotype that people who listen to Hip-Hop dress this goofy. I thought the movie was funny, but I also considered it to be kind of racist.
The fact that Jamie Kennedy is white and his role in Malibu’s Most Wanted is what some would label as a “wigger” which is a white person who thinks that they are black effects me and how people like me are perceived. I am a white male, and the culture that I identify with originated with strong roots to the African American population of our country. When people meet me and see the way I choose to dress, they know that I am into Hip-Hop, so this wigger character can be drawn upon to label me as a person. I don’t wear Du-rags or 5XL t-shirts, but I do wear jewelry often, and other Hip-Hop inspired fashion. At the end of the day, I don’t care what people think about me, or the way I dress; but I’m conscious of the labels that might be stamped on my forehead for doing so.
Another important element of Hip-Hop culture that is subject to criticism or labeling is the use of slang derived from rap music, or used by rappers. When I am having casual conversations with people, I make use of slang terms or slang words in my speech. It’s the way I talk. It’s the way all of my friends talk. Sometimes I am not aware that the words I say aren’t commonplace, and I am viewed differently because of it. I can’t count how many times I have been told that I talk black. I hate it. How do black people talk? It is hateful. Slang is heard all over popular culture be it Twitter, film, music, or social media. It is an important part of Hip-Hop. There are even songs devoted to slang, like “Ebonics” by the late great Big L. In the song, Big L breaks down the meanings of his favorite slang terms. The way that I talk defines me as a person and affirms my role in society as a Hip-Hop head.
Hip-Hop is a huge industry that is always in the spotlight in the media in one way or another, whether it be suggestive lyrics and the effects on the youth, crime rates, violence and drugs, fashion trends, or use of slang that is exclusive to the culture. It is important to take a step back and look deeper than what the media wants you to think about these topics, and try to understand the culture so that stereotypes surrounding Hip-Hop heads such as myself can be alleviated.