Recently, I explored golden age hip-hop MCs in order to gain a better appreciation of hip-hop music and culture. After listening to 14 albums from female and male MCs and recognizing their impact on MCs today, I’ve come to realize that hip-hop music and culture have been miseducated to some listeners today. This is especially true when it comes to what it means to be a Black woman and a Black man.
Until last year, I hated hip-hop music and culture because I was taught by mainstream media that hip-hop had a certain image you had to aspire to. From middle school to ninth grade, I felt pressured to listen to hip-hop music whose subjects were either materialism, a new dance craze or sex.
As a girl, I also felt pressured to be a hip-hop cheerleader for misogynoir-filled songs like Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” In high school, I would realize that Black men were pressured to aspire to an image of materialism and violence through these songs and others.
By ninth grade, I would realize that there wasn’t any hip-hop music that reflected my experiences as a Black girl. I was different from most girls because I was nerdy and artsy. I felt alienated from my Black peers, ashamed of who I was and unsure of who I could be. Since I couldn’t see my experiences reflected in hip-hop music, I found refuge in alternative rock bands like Evanescence and Linkin Park.
I wouldn’t find hip-hop music I could relate to until 2012. At that time, I would discover Angel Haze, an underground female MC. After admiring her raw honesty in her cover of Eminem’s “Cleanin Out My Closet,” I decided to explore her mixtapes and spoken word poetry.
One mixtape called “Reservation” had songs that changed my life. “Smile N Hearts” perfectly captured the sense of alienation, self-hatred and hope that I had been feeling up to that point. In addition, the song showed me that hip-hop could be poetic through a beautiful and frank interlude without music.
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It’s 2015, and the No. 1 consumer of rap music is white teenagers. Of course, there are going to be white rappers. But we can’t group all white rappers together. Sure, there are good white rappers, and there are bad white rappers. But that’s not the only way we should sort white rappers. There are two paths a white rapper can take. They can either embrace or exploit Black culture. It’s really simple.
Black people created a lot of genres of music. But this is about rap music. Rap music or hip-hop is a special case. The word struggle is thrown around a lot, but hip-hop was truly born from the struggle. No matter how simple the early lyrics were, they all touched on the same things, dreams of wealth and the struggle that we faced as Black people. As time went on, hip-hop demonstrated the struggle of different people. Gangster rap, popularized by the West Coast in the late ’80s and early ’90s by groups like N.W.A. and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, wasn’t about going out and shooting people. It was about being born into that lifestyle with no choice. Conscious rap popularized by artists like Common and Nas wasn’t about trying to be the smartest. It was about trying to build bridges as Black people instead of burning them down. No matter the sub-genre of hip-hop, it all encompasses some form of struggle, from Childish Gambino’s loneliness and alienation to Jay Z’s need to create a legacy and use his wealth to support his family and friends, it’s all a struggle Black people face.
There’s nothing wrong with white people wanting to rap at all. The problem is that not all white rappers are willing to understand or even recognize the struggle that Black people face. I’m not saying white rappers need to each drop a 40-minute apology for slavery. I’m just saying some white rappers have to recognize that their skin is the reason they have the success that they do. You can be a great white rapper, but the fact that you’re a white rapper will also be a great help. Recognizing it is the first step. That should be the obvious step. Then there are two ways you can go. You can take a path and embrace Black culture. You can give back or you can speak out.
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