For those of us who either currently love or have at some point in our lives loved Hip-Hop Culture, there is an unspoken issue marring contemporary manifestations of what can be best termed the nuclear bomb of American pop culture. The issue that I refer to is the steep decline in all manner of lyricism from content to word choice that we are witnessing today. Lyricism is the very pivot that controls the contemporary and future direction of Rap Music and by extension the minds of those so deeply steeped in this culture that they could not extricate themselves if they tried.
Such matters are particularly important when one considers that Rap Music has served as the soundtrack for the lives of at least the past five generations of African-Americans. Rap Music has been so central to our lives that it serves as a veritable bookmark for our existence. For instance, many of us remember exactly where we were when we heard our favorite rap song for the first time.
Personally, I remember hearing Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full moments after I quit my summer job in what could have been considered the coolest way possible. When I reached my vehicle preparing to drive off in a blaze of glory, I heard Rakim spit into the mic, “I dig into my pocket and all my money is spent, so I dig deeper and still coming up with lint.” I simply mused that it was going to be a long summer because I knew that I had no money coming in at all.
Considering that rap music serves as the soundtrack for many important moments in most people fifty years old and below, the lyrics found in these recordings have most certainly helped shape our belief systems and worldview like none other. The reality that rap lyrics have impacted such a wide-swath of African-Americans, one must cringe at the ascension of contemporary expressions of Black culture found in today’s rap lyrics by today’s rap superstars such as: Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Young Jeezy, YG, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Drake, and a host of others.
As a person who loves Hip-Hop Culture in general and Rap Music specifically, I involuntarily whence when I hear the diction of Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, the metaphors flowing from YG’s recording “My Nigga”, and the hyper-sexualized image of Nicki Minaj. Not to mention the rampant promotion of immorality, drug trafficking, and dysfunctional behavior that flows from all of the aforementioned artists. In the words of The Notorious B.I.G., “Damn, things done changed.”
It appears that the racial uplift messages that supported the race for so long from artists such as Chuck D., KRS-ONE, Rakim, and Nas have receded into a never to be revisited cultural cavern. Today, one is hard-pressed to find politicized artists taking a public stance against state repression like Paris, Ice-Cube, or Dead Prez.
The absence of politicized artists committed to uplifting the race from a poignant informed position weakens both Hip-Hop Culture and the African-American community. Unfortunately, politicized artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, and Big K.R.I.T. are rarely reaching national airwaves; and the Hip-Hop community is much the worse for it. One thing is for certain, the longer that the politicized lyricist is muted by radio stations the worse it will get for the Hip-Hop community because they will have nothing other than a consistent stream of non-sense and materialism spewed at them from emcees who apparently do not know any better.
Unfortunately, such drivel will serve as the soundtrack for the next generation of Hip-Hop culture adherents. Such a prospect is frightening if we are to believe X-Clan’s Grand Verbalizer Funkin Lesson Brother J when he remarked that “ignorance is not a trend.” The failure to re-situate the politicized emcee at the apex of Hip-Hop culture will invariably lead to our race spiraling into further ignorance; and that is a scenario that should never serve as the soundtrack for anyone’s life.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
* Please join Manhood, Race, and Culture on Nu Power Radio from 6:00 – 8:00 PM EST (November 4, 2014) at 917-889-8059 for an exhilarating discussion over this post.
Please compose a letter to those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement from yourself that addresses your view of their previous actions and your commitment, or the lack thereof, to continue the struggle that they began so long ago. 3 Page Minimum.
Once a year, local elementary schools throughout the nation have a “career day” that allows their students to “dress the part”, meaning they are to adorn themselves with the dress of their future occupation. On one particular “career day” at my suburban elementary school, my white classmates came to school dressed as pediatricians, firemen, teachers, or politicians; their professional occupations were not only endless, but also did not include aspirations to be a professional athlete.
However, the overwhelming majority of my African American male classmates, myself included, dressed as either Emmett Smith or Kobe Bryant. We each sported an athletic jersey that publicly proclaimed ourselves as the next NFL or NBA superstar. Admittedly, none of us had any idea of the endless training and God-given physical tools necessary to bring such aspirations to fruition. As I gazed over a room full of athletic wannabes, my young mind wondered why we had all chosen the same occupation. Ten years later, I think that I have the answer.
The answer that my young mind could not conceive was that we had all been brainwashed to believe, through mass media depictions of African-American male athletes, that this was not only the epitome of Black male professional success, but also the only form of success. In a nation where depictions of African American males in mass media are not always positive; African-American youth have a difficult time viewing the evening news without seeing an African American male arrested for some crime. Such matters pushed me and my young peers toward ESPN as it elevated Black athletes to the status of Gods executing superhuman athletic feats; unfortunately, this focus failed to expand our minds.
So the question before us is a simple one. Who is responsible for expanding the horizons of African-American children beyond aspiring to be either an athlete or rapper?
In my opinion, African-American parents are solely responsible for exposing African-American males to positive images that impress upon them the need to do more with their lives than just that dunk a basketball, throw a football, or sprint down a track. The black male child should know that their occupational options are endless: business owner, lawyer, professor, plumber, mechanic (automobile and airplane) or chef. Parents need to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans like Donald Thompson, the CEO of McDonald’s, and place less emphasis upon the Derrick Rose’s and Adrian Peterson’s of the world.
When my father was a young man in the 1970s, my beloved grandmother told him, “you can be anything you want, even the president.” Some four decades later this phrase rings true as an African-American male is President of the United States of America. It is past time that we push young African-American males to diversify their professional aspirations and learn a mantra that my great-great-grandfather used to reiterate every time he talked to me, “In this life, you will be judged from the neck up.”