Opinion: The Reformation of Hip-Hop

This is the second in a two-part series on this mixed bag we call “Hip-Hop” focusing on the second question raised by a reader:

“Can you suggest any ways to protest some of the messages in hip hop while still enjoying it as a type of music?”

Below is the question in its entirety:

“I’ve been a longtime fan of hip-hop. But, through the years, I’ve noticed a troubling trend of hip hop lyrics that objectify women to the point of being misogynistic. It seems like some of the songs that are easily found on Spotify or Pandora such as Too Short’s “Ain’t My Girlfriend”,  Lil Baby’s “All of a Sudden”, and “Booty” by Blac Youngsta, encourage men to see women only as sexual objects. While you see these types of lyrics in other genres, it does seem more extreme and pronounced in hip-hop. Do you think that there is any way to change this trend in hip-hop? And can you suggest any ways to protest some of the messages in hip-hop while still enjoying it as a type of music?”

For hip-hip fans who were around at its inception, the music and the sound has changed dramatically. It has shifted from party and dance music, to violence and the gangsta lifestyle, to highly sexual and misogynistic mumble rap. This is difficult for those of us who love the music, but don’t care for the messages being delivered. We are unable to share the genre we love so much with the children around us for fear that it may shape their attitudes toward sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol.

What are our options? There are ways to protest the current state of hip-hop. It’s not a new solution: just don’t buy it. As with anything, money will make or break the cycle of negative influences in music. As diligent as we are when it comes to young, black men being unnecessarily killed, we should raise the awareness about the lyrics that are hardening the spirits of our youth. We have to find a way to make it less attractive to the current generation and the generations to come. Individually, we can choose not to buy it, but as I mentioned in the Part One of this series hip-hop is a part of our culture, so it isn’t as simple as not giving the industry your money. The hip-hop culture needs to change.

Changing a culture that rose so quickly in our society is not a simple task. Many people did not believe that the genre would last when it first came onto the scene in the late 1970s. We all watched it grow. At first, skeptics  predicted the demise of hip-hop before it truly got off the ground. It was described as “black music” or not even considered music at all. Today, some variation of rap and hip-hop exists on every continent on the globe. In the U.S., the National Basketball League is permeated with the hip-hop culture. As young basketball stars grow in stature and popularity, so does the hip-hop culture in which they were raised in. Kids of all races, demographics, and backgrounds are spitting lyrics and emulating the look, style, and swag of the hip-hop nation.

One Sunday afternoon several years ago, my oldest son and I are on our way home from church when I decided to put on some of Will Smith’s music (current and when he was known as “The Fresh Prince”). Songs like “Summertime” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” caught his attention with the smooth rhymes and the party rhythms. So I said, “Do you like this?” He gave me a look and a smile that let me know he was getting his groove on. It warmed me to see the same look in his eyes that I had when I first heard Run DMC twenty years ago. Clean. Fun. Music. Fast forward a few years later and the culture has taken hold of his playlists. Banging beats that make you move and that stir the emotions within, but lyrics that  make you cover your face in shame.

There are artists, some familiar and some not so, that produce an alternative to the mainstream. There are numerous popular artists such as Lecrae, Common, and Lupe Fiasco, as well as some lesser-known rappers such as Talib Kweli, and B.B. Jay, whom you may have never heard of, but are bumping their beats with the best of them.  B.B. Jay, one of my personal favorites, sounds like a clean version of the Notorious B.I.G. The beats are funky and the rhymes flow like butter, but women are elevated and there is no profanity or violence.

Not all rap music is misogynistic. Nor does all hip-hop glorify drugs and alcohol. I am a hip-hop head who loves the music, but not the content. We can still enjoy hip-hop without all of the negativity that currently comes with it. Hip-hop started as a party anthem. No reason it can’t return to its positive roots. We need to affect this change in our own homes by modeling behaviors that make the negative aspects of hip-hop (and other types of music) unattractive and distasteful to our kids. Also, don’t make the negativity taboo. Be willing to talk to your children honestly and candidly about the bad in hip-hop and how it has the potential to erode society. The more the next generation knows about the harmful effects, the less likely it will be that they will partake.

We can filter out the negative influences as adults, but children generally cannot.  Teach our children, protect them, and do our best to guide them to the right choices. This is how we squash the industry from exploiting our women and corrupting the innocent. If every village does this, this will be our protest. We are not protesting the genre, but we should strive to influence it in such a way that it enriches our communities. We want music that we can enjoy with our children, not protect them from. This is how we change the world of hip-hop. It took years to get to this point, so we should not expect that it will be an overnight process.  It starts with taking responsibility for ourselves.

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