Young rapper Saint, one half of the duo PiRo, gives his views on the shape of the rap industry
O.T. Genasis, Meek Mill, Rae Sremmurd, 2 Chainz, Waka Flocka Flame. Some of the rap industry’s biggest names that stand at the forefront of what we know about it. The main attributes to this class of rappers? Explicit content, such as derogatory depictions and objectification of women, the useless yet constant overuse of coarse language, superficial topics that relate to acquisition of expensive material goods, banalisation of drug sale and use. These are the rap industry’s representatives on the internet, on television and on the radio air waves. But why?
It boils down to the listeners.
For starters, there is a stigma that success is only worthwhile and looked up too if you ‘Started from the Bottom’. It is the assumption that as a prequel to being an artist, you did what it takes to get out of your daily struggle, by the only means available to you; i.e. selling crack cocaine on the streets of your neighbourhood. Regardless whether the rap artists we see today are speaking out of experience or just lying to their public in order to appropriate themselves with that image, the fact remains that this is a reality that surrounds mostly the rap industry – as opposed to the indie rock, pop, country, rock and other industries.
What does this have to do with the listeners? Simple. It’s what they’re looking for. For some reason, there is a sense of contentment with listening to someone say something along the lines of “Went from hustling in these streets, to ballin’ in my new sneaks”. That is the image that is portrayed to anyone that doesn’t have any knowledge of the game. Ask anyone you know doesn’t listen to rap what their idea of it is, you’ll find the answer to be something similar to “superficial nonsense with an appreciation for women, money and drugs.”
There is, however, a flipside. These ‘artists’ that are the faces of rap today are only the tip of an incredibly large iceberg. Underneath all of the nonsense lies an endless variety of rappers that manage to make a name for themselves without compromising the values of any dignified and self-respecting human being. This comes with the example of rappers like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Mick Jenkins, Joey Bada$$ and many more.
Kendrick Lamar, currently the most recognized rappers in the world, is a prime example of how to send an actual message for change. After getting recognition from his second studio album “good Kid, M.A.A.D. city”, released by the legendary Dr. Dre’s label Aftermath and nearing the 1.5 million sold records mark, allowing it to go platinum, he basked in the glory of creating what is now going to go down in Hip-Hop history as a classic. In early 2015, he released “To Pimp a Butterfly”. This album in its entity is a message to not just the population, but the government bodies and institutions, as to the awareness that needs to be brought to the institutionalized racism in the United States. However, its controversial content doesn’t only accuse the white man of tarnishing the reputation of black people through media and stereotypes, but also points a finger at the black youth that they don’t help their own cause by adhering to what is assumed of them. For example, in the song ‘Blacker the Berry’, there is a passage at the end that proves this. It goes as follows:
“So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”
Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day
Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
Or watch BET cause urban support is important
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street
When gang banging make kill a n—a blacker than me?
The point made here can be applied to the rap industry as whole. While there are so many rappers that advocate and preach their upbringing ‘in the hood’, they seem to be oblivious to the general social impact it has on the rest of the community they claim to represent and wish to better.
- Cole is another rapper who brings up a different rapping style in regards to topics. Signed to Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation, he has had struggles with his boss to fulfil the requirements to make at least one song that is capable to making it to the radio, hence his creation of the summer 2011 hit single ‘Work Out’. After getting countless negative comments for it, being called a sell-out and other things of the like, he came out 2 years later with his second studio album, ‘Born Sinner’. While not being completely up to par with Kendrick’s of the same year, it still got him the recognition he’d been waiting for, taking off guard many of the listeners and attracting a new wave of fans through songs and lyrics. He preferred talking about a different reality, one many of his listeners can relate to. On the song ‘Crooked Smile’ at album, he talks about the constant daily struggle women go through to impress men and other women. This is highlighted when he says:
“Love yourself girl
Or nobody will
Oh you a woman? I don’t know how you deal
With all the pressure to look impressive
And go out in heels
I feel for ya,
To find a man that’ll for you”
He then goes on to talk about the effort women make to become appealing. As a whole, the topics of injustice, homophobia, women’s rights, industry criticism and much more, are approached and explored. On his third album, “2014 Forest Hill Drive”, his song Love Yourz even managed to save a Chicago homeless man from committing suicide.
As an artist myself, it comforts me to see that even if the superficial faces of rap still continue to stay relevant through their features on most of billboards top 100 tracks, people like J. Cole, who attended one of the protests against the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict an NYPD officer responsible for killing Eric Garner, and Kendrick Lamar, are making room for themselves and trying to bring out the best of rap music by going back to what it means, rhythm and poetry. The stigma of being a gangsta is slowly dying out, with some rappers preaching their college degrees. It’s no longer about who is the toughest one in the game, it’s about who is smartest in the game. It’s about how many people can you reach and make a difference with. As the rappers we know today grew up and looked up to artists of likes of Notorious B.I.G., 2pac, N.W.A and Nas, I am relieved that I have people from my generation of music to look up to and admire, in a field that is wildly misunderstood by the general public.
Hear more from PiRo on their Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/piro_official and Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/piro_official