When I envision the advocacies of modern hip hop culture, I picture a life of unfulfillment for many people and the encouragement of destructive behavior. Mainstream hip hop artists and labels push the lifestyle of excess without purpose. Realistically, when you have that million-dollar car, unnecessary mansion and visually appealing sex partner, then what? At some point, you will be in bed, alone with your own thoughts about what you are working so hard for. Is what you are doing for your own betterment or is it someone else’s dream?
The reality is that the ones who even make it to such status are a ridiculously small percentage of people and that reign on top is likely very short lived because a life of excess in a risky industry will eventually lead to the well drying up.
My views on hip hop have changed throughout the years, ranging from feeling that it is no big deal to now seeing it as a cry for help. When I was younger, I saw it much like a movie and majority of the artists who appeared ridiculous were just playing a part for the audience. People like violence, so they are going to portray someone that is violent. Artists like Freeway, Scarface and Rick Ross adopted their names from real or fake gangsters to give the audience the portrayal of someone that is dangerous and taboo for a civil society. Music that is edgy and bends the rules is much like driving pass a car accident, you cannot help but to look. Many people watch NASCAR waiting on the edge of their seats for a crash, and that is how we react to modern hip hop. We wait for the next hyper-violent, sexually driven and drug inducing song that becomes our life’s soundtrack. It becomes normalized and we need more in order to keep our endorphin levels raised.
The days of “2 Live Crew” appear tame to modern standards and remember, they were sued for the lewd words that they were saying. While their court case is a win for free speech, the music industry operates on a capitalist basis. Much like an IPO, the music industry is always looking for that next edgy artist or genre to push to the masses. Music is more intoxicating than any other form of entertainment and we should be wary of who consumes this elixir. There are people with fully developed brains that have trouble distinguishing the difference between musical fiction and non-fiction, so our children have little chance of fully understanding this difference.
Modern hip hop is a cry for help from our black inner-cities. The most credible artists must accentuate their validity based on a measurement of how impoverished they were, where they are from and how dangerous of a neighborhood they are from; the worse, the better. We have become feverish for authenticity over the years, so we want it to feel real, much like we want to see a real car crash versus a planned stunt car crash. The more destructive of a life that our musicians can convey to the audience, the more we want to consume their tales of despair.
Musicians consider themselves artists and they provide an artistic portrayal in their music based on the reality of their upbringing and surroundings. I do not doubt the authenticity of today’s musicians, so the tales that they are telling us are likely based on reality. When they talk about the loved ones that were killed, I do not doubt them. When they speak about the common place of drug selling and usage in their community, I believe them. When they mention how poor they were and the struggles of the day to day inner-city life, these stories ring true to my ears.
No matter how tough they sound, these are people who are hurt. These are people that are surrounded by misery, death and lack of hope for change in their community. When there is no hope, you give up to the inevitability of your situation. While their music is violent in speech, by turning to music recording they are actually removing themselves from the violence they speak of. The music studio gives them a safe haven from a community of purposeless people.
Modern hip hop wants you to understand their pain, not dance to it. Modern hip hop wants you to appreciate your life situation because it is not nearly as bad as theirs. I now realize this, but I am not sure if these musicians themselves understand this psychology. All they know is chaos much like a fire only knows how to burn. Chaos is natural to them and they are acting out their pain on the microphone. We are mimicking black suffering and turning it into a trend. Their lyrical criminality becomes an advocacy for societal criminality. We are mistranslating their suffering as style, rather than see it as a microcosm of an ever-growing destructive black underclass. We sag our pants for style points rather than understanding that this is part of prison culture. We speak in so called slang to appear cool rather than seeing it as the language of the uneducated. We would not buy wheelchairs to appear as handicapped, yet we are mimicking those that have been suffering from being disenfranchised.
The sad realization that many black men feel that the only way that they can escape their soul crushing communities is by being a rapper or athlete is daunting as the percentage that are capable of doing these things successfully is extremely small. The rest that are unable to accomplish this feel that they must turn to the non-legal routes and get caught up in an unforgiving street life.
The few that are able to make it through successfully, while personally feeling triumphant, they are consequently celebrating the same destructive behavior that they personally wanted to escape. With melodic music production and an appealing vocal cadence, we nod our heads in approval of their decision to preach what they hated. For these artists, the normalization of black despair gives them legitimacy to speak about it so romantically, not realizing that it brainwashes the public to slowly accept their communities pain.
As a country, we used to talk about black victims but as hip-hop has grown on the American public, we chalk it off to being normal. It is a Lasa fair attitude to black death, black imprisonment and black poverty that exists in the minds of all Americans that consume this form of musical entertainment. The media does not make news reports about leaves falling off a tree in the fall season, because that is what happens to trees, much like we do not talk about black death in dilapidated black communities because that’s just what happens.
While it is not the only reason we normalize black despair, it contributes to the problem. We have suffering people telling the stories of a suffering community and all we do is repeat their words without understanding their words. They are tales of destruction, turmoil and hopelessness. They are the words of the fatherless who are looking for a purpose, they are the words of the oversexualized (men and women) who see no other form of worth than what is between their legs and they are the words of grieving people who don’t know how to grieve.
If your favorite black rapper celebrates criminality, you will likely start to accept criminality as some sort of recreational activity that blacks participate in. As time goes on, you will lend sympathy to criminals rather than punishment. Once punishment disappears from the psyche as something that is negative and transforms into something that is normal, we no longer distinguish the difference between black criminals and black law-abiding citizens. We will lend excuses for criminal activity because it hurts our senses to see them punished. We will ignore the black people they hurt because black people being hurt is just normal. Our American standards for rewarding those that do no wrong will be replaced with a reward system based on tribalistic pity.
The cry for help does not need pity but it should be seen with some empathetic glance. We should not celebrate negativity as it will become part of our black culture; some would argue it already has. We will continue to pass this legacy of victimhood, criminality and hoodlum conduct if we do not change our outlook on the media that we consume, starting with Hip-Hop.