Can Rap be food for the soul? Or is it simply discord that tears down the essence of what it means to be a whole human being? This was the heart of a recent debate between a friend and I where I earnestly blurted out, “C’mon brother, you’re arguing from a position of ignorance, have you ever listened to…” artists like LeCrae, Tedashii, and D-M.A.U.B?
My great thanks to Ryan Manion for co-authoring this blog with me. It would not be nearly as educational without you, my friend. Let’s do this more often.
Now, before you tune this blog out, take a minute to understand the culture brewing around us! Hip-hop/Rap Culture is a powerful force in today’s American society. And if we foolishly believe it’s secluded to the ‘hood’, we’re missing what’s going on around us with the youth in suburbia. And we’re certainly not speaking the same language of those living in the darkness that is overcoming our public schools. We need to educate ourselves on this, so we can know how to speak to the youth about it. Thanks to my friend for challenging me on it! So, I’m going to ask you a favor. Listen closely to the lyrics of this song, even if you can’t handle the “beats.” I’ll explain later why this is important.
Some may dismiss this music as amateurish, but if we are willing to think beyond what we have been conditioned to think about rap through the constant inundation of our wider “superculture” – a term coined by ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin in his book Micromusics of the West – we might be able to actually hear what is being said to the audience. To dismiss this music on the grounds that you simply cannot connect or that it doesn’t appeal is to willingly disconnect ourselves from a powerful voice to many of today’s youth and general population. As people whose faith informs our living and our care for our community, isn’t this irresponsible?
Different genres of music are crafted meticulously by talented artists to evoke different emotions in people. Whether your heart enjoys the soothing or majestic nature of “Western” classical music or the intensity of metal, the message your mind is exposed to matters. Artists such as T.I. or 50 cent do not provoke positive and edifying messages in the wider populace, but is this the case for artists who use rap for more uplifting purposes? Should we disregard them because they fall into a similar genre as these artists? Dismissing an entire genre is to disregard the complexities not only of music, but also of human emotion and deduction. From this angle, my previous point about the discord of rap music dishonoring the human condition would seem to be moot. The discord actually heightens our understanding of the human condition. Heavy metal was – and in some circles still is – considered to be demonic music, but there are many examples of it being used for positive social change – ie: Freemuse Report by Mark Levine on the subversive use of the heavy metal genre to give voice to oppressed brethren in the Middle East and China. This also can be the case for other music genres, including rap.
So, next time your friend asks you to take a listen to a rap song w/them. Ask them if the message is positive or thought-provoking. If they can honestly say yes, it might be worth a listen. I can guarantee you it will help you communicate more effectively with today’s youth. So please do watch and especially listen to the following track by Bobby Ray set to a Kobe highlight reel and look up more of his work. He is a champion… as am I. And I want to teach the youth how to be champions, not losers. Most rappers are teaching them to be losers, but the only way we can deprogram the losing mentality and replace it with the heart of a champion is to learn the art form, and be able to speak about it fluently. Otherwise we’re not speaking the language of today’s youth! It’s a scary proposition to lose a generation. Let’s not let that happen!