More than any other genre of music, hip-hop is said to be responsible for the societal issues of the Millennial generation. Rappers’ glorification of life in the street is partly blamed for the high incarceration rate of young Black men. Misogynistic lyrics are seen as the culprit for Black women being reduced to bitches and hos in every day life. And the over-sexualized images of women in videos are designated as the reason that young women believe their booty has more value than their brain. It’s all hip-hop’s fault.
But maybe hip-hop is undeserving of its constant criticisms.
Today jazz is revered as one of the greatest genres of all times. However, just as rock and roll was coined the “devil’s music,” just as hip-hop is considered not to be music at all, jazz was also originally detested. It was a well-known fact that musicians of the 1940s and 1950s were heavily involved in drugs. Much of their life was spent playing music in nightclubs where drug life was rife. Some of the legendary jazz artists—Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker—struggled with known drug addictions. The difference is that, as influential as jazz was, it was not seen as the cause of everything wrong with the baby boomer generation.
The musicians our parents idolized did not lead exemplary lives. James Brown—women abuser. Ray Charles—heroin addict. Marvin Gaye—notorious womanizer. Etta James—heroin addict. But their music was respected without the assassination attacks on the art form, or their character, that many hip-hop artists receive.
As gruesome and vulgar as the lyrics of hip-hop can be—both necessarily and unnecessarily—hip-hop is poetry. Like every other genre, hip-hop is a form of artistic expression. The story may be unfamiliar to some, but it remains nonetheless real.
The influence of hip-hop culture on youth is undeniable. In the same way that rock and roll was associated with promoting sex and drugs, hip-hop is correlated with everything wrong with the Millennial generation. As easily influenced as children are, blaming the actions of rappers, their lyrics, and the image they portray for what is wrong with our youth, is a cop-out on addressing the root of some of the problems.
Hip-hop is often blamed when education, public policy, poverty, and the de-intellectualization of American culture should be held accountable. Hip-hop is the mirror in which American culture, Black middle-class American culture especially, detests the reflection that it sees. Be it in the pursuit of profit or class superiority, the message that the defamation of hip-hop at the hands of elders sends to youth is crystal clear. Black youth culture is disposable, and therefore, Black youth are disposable.
Parents have a far greater responsibility to raise their children then a rapper who half the time doesn’t even believe in, or live, the rhymes he spits. Indeed, some of the elements of the music are problematic. In particular, I take issue with the false image several of them present to the world. Case in point: Lil Jon, Plies, and others who all hold higher education degrees, but never rap about the importance of education. Yet I still cannot fairly attribute the societal ills that plague Black youth to hip-hop culture .
Many will argue that hip-hop artists have a public responsibility because children look up to them. And, unfortunately, our children have less Malcolms, Martins and Maya Angelous to look up to. Therefore, they emulate and inspire to be like the figures that are prevalent on their TV screens and radios. But at the end of the day, the music they are creating is not for children. Ultimately the greatest influence on a child should be the parents.
Rappers are entertainers who receive a large check for doing just that—entertaining. If Rick Ross’ “Teflon Don” is the soundtrack to a seven-year-old’s life, whose fault is that? Should we blame Ricky Rosay? There needs to be a bit more self-accountability regarding what our communities, parents, and extended families are teaching our children, instead of the trite argument that hip-hop has diluted our culture.
Hip-hop at its best encompasses beatboxing, graffiti, breakdancing, DJ’ing, bass, drums and oftentimes a depiction of a hard-knock life to which far too many of our people can relate to. At its worst it is misogynistic, sexist, coonery and the dumbing down of lyrical content. It is political. Revolutionary. Just a hot beat. Lyrical. And poetic.
But when accountability for the problems of our youth are being distributed, it must be done so fairly. Otherwise the discourse becomes moot with no real solutions.
Does hip-hop deserve all the blame for everything wrong with this generation? Speak on it.