Music has been called the universal language, the medicine to the mind, and more. This is especially true when people personally connect to the lyrics. They ease their emotions listening to certain songs and hype themselves to others. Perhaps music has been around since the beginning of time, delivering many messages, but it’s increasingly difficult to see the value or purpose of today’s popular music.
One well-known contemporary genre of music is hip-hop. Hip-hop was originally started in the Bronx, New York in the 1970’s. It developed and thrived in African-American communities, eventually gaining popularity with Latinos and Asians. Today, it is a world-wide standard. Hip-hop spun off into the rhythmic poetry we know as rap.
Back in the day, when hip-hop was just beginning to emerge, rappers and rap groups like Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash, and Run DMC rapped about street life and how hard it is to get by. We also had rappers like LL Cool J who would brag about rapping skills. You would even hear positive messages about getting an education opposed to dropping out.
Early hip-hop was about real people with real lives. Today in mainstream hip-hop, it seems that the only subjects rappers address are drugs, sex, and, money. This lifestyle has been glamorized and has been forced to be relevant to the listeners.
When rap and hip-hop were new, and when a woman was the subject of a song, a man would have rapped about how he admired her, would want to take her out, and love her. Nowadays, in popular hip-hop, a man doesn’t seem to want to have any emotional connections with a woman. He simply wants one thing—sexual intimacy—and once he gets it, he moves on to the next girl. Women aren’t even referred to as women. Instead, they’re called something more demeaning, such as a bitch, trick or ho. It’s as if the woman is just an object, something that could be used once and thrown around to the next person. Now we have our youth chanting these degrading words, instilling these morals into their daily lifestyles. And what is a woman supposed to do? You may say well, there are empowering songs for women. Well that is true, but while a woman may be singing these songs, we watch them perform in music videos and T.V. in costumes that barely cover their bodies. When our young women are listening to these songs and watching women perform in such provocative clothing, what real positive messages are being sent?
Perhaps it is more about conforming to a popular, male definition of female beauty.
Some may argue that you could always listen to a clean version of a song. Although that may be true, ‘clean’ lyrics aren’t what youth want to hear. First, a clean version has so many of the lyrics cut out that there is no real point to the song. Also, kids are becoming more used to overt words so it’s almost like they’re immune to very explicit content and it then becomes a part of their daily vocabulary. If they admire some of these rappers, what is said and done is repeated and it soon becomes a cycle of immorality.
Why can’t appropriate hip-hop be promoted as much as the inappropriate hip-hop is? Is the media contributing to this problem since they are the ones who play these songs, or is it us—everyday people like you and me—who should restrict the content? We should stop and pay attention to what we hear daily and really examine what is being understood. And hopefully, we will create songs with meaningful messages of empowerment.
Nujabes’ Lady Brown addresses the degradation of women in mainstream hip hop culture.