There is a part of our community that is apathetic or openly hostile to the genre of hip-hop. I hate hip-hop,” a student said. “Hip-hop is not real music,” a teacher said.
I have been a hip-hop fan my entire life. I don’t remember a time in which it was not my favorite genre of music. While I was initially attracted by the catchy beats and lyrics, it has taken on an entirely new meaning for me.
Hip-hop is essential for understanding the world around us. The genre is commonly written off with ideas that the genre is simply one of bling, braggadocio, misogyny and vulgarity.
While some of these criticisms are valid, disregarding this genre just because of these flaws ignores the crux of this issue; hip-hop and the genres it originates from (like jazz and soul) give voice to the black community in a way that few other genres do. Hip-hop is a substantive genre that gives me a unique view into the lives of people often unlike myself.
As a white male student at our elite college preparatory school, I am a person of immense privilege. And in the same way that a goldfish knows nothing outside of its glass bowl, I often can lose sight of that fact. While I have never and will never be able to claim I know anything near to what it is like to actually live and be a black student at our school or even in our country, listening to hip hop exposes me to these viewpoints.
For example, if I were to be stopped by a police officer while driving, I wouldn’t fear for my safety or worry that said officer would act unfairly. I wouldn’t worry about being suspected of shoplifting in a store for no reason other than the color of my skin. I don’t fear being heckled or called barbaric slurs when I go out. While this list is not conclusive, hip-hop has opened me and many others up to the unique struggle of the African American student and teenager in the United States.
“You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture” Kendrick Lamar cried on The Blacker the Berry, a song off of his 2015 political masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly.
While many might dismiss the album’s title as mere vulgarity, Lamar explains on the last track, Mortal Man, that the butterfly is a metaphor for the thoughtfulness of the black community that are so praised by society, and the “caterpillar” represents those still trapped in the ghettos, lamenting the hypocrisy of the white community for their lack of concern of those black people who aren’t celebrities or creators.
“My teacher told me we was slaves,” Vince Staples moaned on his seminal album, Summertime ’06. “My momma told me we was kings, I don’t know who to listen to, I guess we somewhere in between.”
If we look hard enough, hip-hop is uniquely dense in substance. If our school wants to be as diverse and inclusive as our mission statement calls for, we are doing ourselves a disservice by writing off the hip-hop genre.
If we ignore the genre, we are actively ignoring this segment of people within our own community. To say that everyone should like or religiously listen to the genre is nonsensical and pointless; music is obviously very dependent on taste. However, we are choosing ignorance if we write it off simply for its profanity or abrasiveness.
So, next time you hear someone mention the Public Enemy or Nas album they’ve had on repeat, try and reserve your judgement. And maybe ask if you can join them for a listen.