Rap needs to expand

Today’s mainstream rap is arguably the most promoted and reproduced type of music in America. It is popular among numerous types of people from different backgrounds and has had a major influence on the culture of many young people. If you walk outside, you will likely hear rap being played – often out of the vehicles of young people of different races and backgrounds. Black youths like T.I. are promoting Chevy in commercials. Popular rap “icon” Snoop Dogg is a viable commercial figure in the eyes of many in mainstream America. However, there is some thought that mainstream rap is “dumbed down” in regards to its lyrics and creativity.

By “dumbed down” I mean the lyrics and topics the rappers approach lack diversity (rapping about materialism, sexual behavior, rampant violence, etc.) while avoiding political and social content (like institutional racism and activism) in tracks. Is mainstream rap avoiding certain issues to keep its listeners in an ignorant state of mind? Are the Young Jeezys, 50 Cents and Lil’ Waynes of the world rapping about “nothing” in comparison to real world issues?

Taking a look at some of the more popular mainstream rap artists and songs today, it becomes more difficult to see diversity (or intelligence) within the rap industry. Instead of historic rap hits like the politically conscious “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy or informative “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash ‘ the Furious Five, today’s rap fans are subjected to “dumbed-down” songs like “I Get Money”, “This is Why I’m Hot” and “I’m So Hood.” I also don’t want to forget to mention rap “classic” “Bay.”

To set the record, I am a huge fan of hip hop. I’ve actually spent a large part of my life listening to mainstream rap acts like Jadakiss, Cam’Ron and the Diplomats and Lil’ Wayne so I am not some guy out of touch with today’s rap artists or a person who is just hating on musicians. But as I matured, I became disenchanted with a lot of the mainstream rappers, their content and their videos. As much as I found the music entertaining (and many times it is), I felt personally that I wasn’t learning anything but the same thing from every rapper. It became a surprise to hear something out of a rap song besides the usual drug dealing, gun-toting, woman disrespecting, one-dimensional rap message that promoted ridiculous materialism and capitalism.

The diversity in mainstream rap seems to be gone. Part of what makes Kanye West interesting as an artist is the fact that he seems to be the anti-mainstream rap image. He is from the black middle class with two very educated parents. But for every artist like Kayne West or Common, there seems to be hundreds of rappers following the “gangsta” image to achieve success. And it isn’t as if mainstream rap artists aren’t capable of some brilliant political tracks, as Jadakiss displayed in the track “Why?” or Jay-Z showed in “Minority Report,” it’s that these types of tracks are rare among their normal repertoire (like eating a salad once a month while having a diet filled with candy and soda).

Ultimately, whether mainstream rap is “dumbed down” is up to an individual’s interpretation. But it is important to remember that rap has its roots in hip hop and hip hop was created to give a voice to the young Black and Latino men and women to describe their conditions in the inner city. It also allowed them to express their respective cultures and speak on a number of issues such as poverty, politics and racism. But today mainstream rap seems more concerned with pimping, getting money, and having a good time without responsibility. More talented artists such as Talib Kweli and The Roots are passed over in terms of promotion for one-dimensional artists like Lil’ Wayne, 50 Cent and T.I (among countless others). Why socially conscious artists don’t get comparable promotion is a different issue but it is unquestionable that mainstream rap is missing diversity and common sense in most of its lyrics and rappers.

Mark Hines is a senior majoring in sport management. Send responses to his column to [email protected]