Although rappers like Common and Lupe Fiasco use their music to push for social change there is still a trend in the rap industry today towards complacency. Rap has had its most identifiable characteristic, resistance, stripped away and has become a culture of commercialism. The meaning of rap has been misconstrued by today’s popular mainstream rappers. Many rappers today are simply concerned with the ability to generate large sales, which creates fame as well as fortune. The same social issues exist today that spurred the creation of rap culture, but modern rappers are reluctant to address these issues in their music. Although many negatives exist in regards to rap and its direction today, rap is still being positively used in many situations.
Rap and hip hop is being used within the social work field as a form of therapy. Hip-Hop Therapy uses hip hop culture and music to engage youth and address their issues in therapy. The goal is to get youth patients to reflect on their past experiences by connecting with hip hop lyrics.
Recently grassroots organizations have sprung up in the United States that aim to use
hip hop and rap to decrease youth violence. In Tucson, Arizona, Usiel Barrios has created ELEMENTary Hip Hop Skool, which aims to use hip hop to get young people involved in community building. This program aims to empower young people with leadership skills, encourage positive self expression, and promote community involvement – through hip hop.
Another grassroots organization that has been created in recent years is, Project Spitfire. This organization was founded by Henry Mann and aims to pair young musicians with professional producers who help them record songs and videos. Spitfire also provides artists with a $100 signing bonus, photo shoots, and publicity. Spitfire aims to sign young artists who speak of change and alternatives. Their goal is to sign artists who can teach the youth that there are alternatives to gangs and violence. Mann wants to give young rappers an avenue to tell their stories and past lived experiences in hope that it will instill change in the youth culture.
I believe that the modern rap industry needs to go back to its roots and recognize rap’s importance as a social form of resistance. Modern rappers should not be easily swayed by the desire to turn a profit or fulfilling the needs of their record labels. Instead they should rap from the heart or about ideas that they value. Rappers need to recognize the power of the spoken word and use it to help those that are trapped in a culture of silence. Maybe the solution is to eliminate record labels all together and put the control back into the hands of the artists.
Today there is a small minority of rappers that speak to social issues and who use their music to create conversation and debate. One modern rapper who has worked vigorously to push a social agenda and speak of change is Common. Common recently spoke at Ohio State University and in his lecture, “One Day It’ll All Make Sense,” preached to students to find their own uniqueness. Common spoke about the courage and greatness of Nelson Mandela and Tupac Shakur, while telling students to fight through obstacles. He encouraged students to find their own paths by believing in themselves and quoted Frederick Douglass who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Common has routinely emphasized the need to rebuild society and fight back in his
music. In “Be” Common asks us to focus on the children and to teach them right from wrong because they are the future. In “A Dream” Common samples Marin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech and preaches to end racism and speak out against injustice. Common asks us to end our societal silence and instead use our voices to instill change.
Although much of Common’s music is “socially conscious” and a sharp contrast to mainstream rap today, many individuals were upset with his invitation to a poetry event at the White House this year. Upon the invitation, Fox News called Common a, “vile rapper” and many right-wing conservatives protested against the invitation to the White House. I found the protests to be ridiculous and a prime example of Fox New’s hypocritical nature. In a 2009 interview, a Fox News reporter told Common, “Your music is very positive…you’re know as the conscious rapper.”
Following the path set forth by Common, rapper Lupe Fiasco has embarked on a campaign to fight back against authority and push for change. Lupe Fiasco’s recent music has become extremely political and has served as an outlet for resistance. When the Occupy Wall Street movement gained momentum Lupe demonstrated his support by contributing close to fifty tents. Lupe has continuously spoken out on behalf of Occupy Wall Street protesters and even shared a poem that was inspired by the Occupy movement, “Hey Moneyman.”
In “Words I Never Said” Lupe speaks about the negative consequences of living in a silent society. He speaks of the regrets that come with not speaking up while criticizing Glenn Beck and President Obama. Lupe denounces war and even comments on the violence occurring in the Middle East. In an interview on “The Last Call with Carson Daly” Lupe speaks about politics and his activism. Lupe comments on how his mother and father have had a large impact on his politically aimed music.
Another rapper that I would consider to be part of the “socially conscious” group is Talib Kweli. Since the beginning of his career, Kweli has focused a vast amount of energy on fighting oppression, poverty, and racism. Kweli actually visited the Occupy Wall Street sight in New York’s Liberty Plaza and performed for the crowd. Kweli said, “We need to grow” and encouraged individuals to ignore the politics and religion and to aim for compassion. In “Thieves in the Night” Kweli along with fellow rapper Mos Def speak of the lasting effects of slavery. The song also comments on the consequences of greed and how the “American Dream” is merely a dream for a vast array of individuals.
Common, Lupe Fiasco, and Talib Kweli are prime examples of rappers today who speak of more than just fame, glamour, riches, and women. Their music aims straight for the heart and mind, creating questions for our society to ponder. They go against the commercial mainstream music industry and are not afraid to create music that fights back against the establishment. Their courage inspires others to dream, change, and resist.
Another Lupe Fiasco Song:
Rap has served as an outlet for minorities and the oppressed to voice their opinions ever since its creation. Hip hop or rap is a blend of various identities and is commonly described as a collision between African American, West Indian, and Puerto Rican cultures. Hip hop and rap were born on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and formed as a means of resistance to racism, classism, and deep forms of oppression. Public Enemy, one of the most politically active and influential groups within the rap genre, grew in popularity throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Public Enemy was representational of resistance and spoke out against social issues while raising consciousness about the negative conditions facing average black Americans . One of Public Enemy’s major hits, Fight the Power, served as an anthem for the black American community and others witnesses to social inequalities.
Another socially conscious rapper who followed the path set forth by Public Enemy was Tupac Shakur. Tupac gained widespread support in the early 1990’s, and his popularity continued to rise until his death in 1996. Tupac’s work exemplified the power of rap and its ability to get individuals to question their surroundings and the social order. Tupac spoke to issues of racism, classism, poverty, oppression. One of Tupac’s most popular songs, Changes,asks everyone in society to alter their lifestyles and attitudes for the betterment of society. He asks us to share with each other and to learn to love one another. In another popular song, keep ya head up, Tupac raps about treating women with more respect. Tupac speaks out against domestic violence and abuse while questioning why we mistreat “our” women.
Although Public Enemy and Tupac gained immense fame and respect in the rap community and in society in general, their “socially conscious rap” did not resonate with major record labels. The major labels deemed conscious rap unsuitable to commercial interest and refused to sign other artists who spoke with similar messages. The labels also felt that messages centered on black cultural issues were a subject matter that alienated potential white consumers. As a result, record labels continued to shy away from politically engaged artists and instead signed artists who spoke to fame, fortune, and power. This brings us to where we are today in the hip hop or rap music industry.
The hip hop and rap industry today is much different in comparison to its beginning in the mid to late 1900’s. Today few rappers speak to social injustices or about issues of inequality, oppression, and poverty. Instead mainstream rappers today focus their lyrics on the amount of money and jewels they have. They rap about women, degrading them, and uphold ideas of gender involving masculinity and femininity through their lyrics. Few rappers attempt to question the social norm and instead push complacency. One reason for this is the precedent established by major record labels during the past thirty years. Record labels are reluctant to sign rappers who speak of change and who question authority because they believe their sales will decrease. Another aspect in why many mainstream rappers shy away from working with political or anti-establishment lyrics is because of the control over them. For the most part, white individuals own and control many areas of the music industry and as a result, black rappers become economic slaves as well as slaves to the “market”. Even with all of this economic and oppression within the music industry, there are a few rappers and underground organizations that are capable of tweaking the sensibilities of mainstream media, challenging the status quo, and opening up the debate for change.
Public Enemy: Fight the Power
Another Tupac song, Everyday Struggle:
Many of the blogs that I read through and observed did an excellent job of providing images and pictures to accompany the text. Mobileyouthideafactory has a very “easy-to-read” layout and has short and to the point posts with relevant media clips. The pictures and videos provide support to the blog posts and keep the reader interested. The posts are not too long and do not bore the reader, but inspire those individuals to read on.
I found the blog created by previous communication students titled thesoundsoftheyouth to be relevant to my blog ideas. This blog did a fabulous job with the writing and providing the reader with a lot of information. The layout of the blog was a bit boring and the black background was very distracting. Also they should have separated the posts more and maybe created another page to break them up. The header photograph was very well done, but is out of sink with the black background and white text of the rest of the blog. Overall, the blog provides the reader with a lot of information about the changes in the music industry as well as music’s influence on the youth.
Two hip hop blogs that I read on a regular basis are rapradar and nahright. Both of these blogs have tremendous layouts with up to date posts about the newest news within the hip hop industry. These blogs provide a space for new hip hop music to flourish. Posts include the newest released songs and videos with embedded text that tells the story. Both blogs provide links within the posts to other stories or blogs on the internet where you can get even more infomation. These blogs have fantastic layouts that allow the user to navigate quickly and easily. The color schemes of both blogs allow the user to easily read and provide enough spacing as to not overwhelm the reader.
“I rap about fighting back. I make it uncomfortable by putting details to it. It might not have been politically correct but I’ve reached somebody; They relating to me. They relate to the brutal honesty in the rap.” -Tupac Shakur