Article by Georgia Cammayo | Photography by Neil Harman | Owl Staff
“In the old days, it was easy to defend rap music on [an] intellectual level. You could break it down intellectually why Grandmaster Flash was art, why Run D.M.C. was art, why Whodini was art,” comedian Chris Rock says to the crowd. “I love all the rappers today…but it’s hard to defend ‘I got ho’s in different area codes.’ It’s hard to defend ‘Move, [expletive], get out the way!’”
As hilarious as his comment was, Rock’s stand-up had plenty of substance pertaining to hip-hop music.
Money, sex, and violence have increasingly become the major topics of mainstream rap in the last decade or so.
Wendy Ambrozewicz is a Philosophy major who listens to hip-hop. She says, “I’d like to make today’s rap culture much less degrading to women. I’d also like to see female rappers become the norm rather than something to sexualize.”
Defending his favorite genre, Mass Communications major Rashard Davis says, “Hip-Hop can be full of negativity, but there is a bright spot within the industry. We just have to look beyond what is shown and what hip-hop really can be.”
He shares that the beats, rhymes, and rhythm of the songs are what draws him to the music. He describes two of his favorite artists, J. Cole and Wale, as lyrically gifted rappers who tell a story about life and values.
Looking deeper into the history of rap, one would discover that there are a few rare gems who don’t fall under the same category as other mainstream artists do. Dubbed as conscious artists, they rap about relevant issues and intelligent themes.
DJ Kool Herc, who’s credited for forming the basis of hip hop music, kept teens from partaking in gang-related activities in the ‘70s by luring them into his creative beats.
In the ‘80s, KRS-One led a collaborative effort in which multiple artists like MC Lyte and Public Enemy were featured in the song “Self-destruction” as part of the Stop the Violence Movement.
The ‘90s introduced rappers such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Dead Prez who tackled social issues from inequality to environmental concerns in their lyrics.
Female artist Jean Grae rose from underground hiphop years ago and remains a front-runner in representing intellectual female rappers to this day.
Then there’s my personal favorite, Common, whose single “I Used to Love HER” cleverly uses a metaphor to describe the decline of conscious rap beginning in the late ‘80s.
Macklemore’s 2013 album “The Heist” includes hits like “Thrift Shop” that contradicts the glorification of materialism as often seen in rap culture, and “Same Love” that advocates for gay and lesbian rights.
Other current influential artists include Nas and Lupe Fiasco, whose powerful lyrics combat the more popular and sometimes negative mainstream rap.