theGrio: Is Hip-Hop Bad For Black America?

Source: Courtney Garcia / theGrio

Kendrick Lamar. Nicki Minaj. Childish Gambino. Chief Keef. From the profound to the profane, these rap artists represent the scale of hip-hop’s status quo. They are the heirs to one of America’s most authentically black art-forms, for better or for worse.

While rap music began as a voice of youth rebellion in marginalized communities, its present incarnation denotes an often times different perspective, one that may not be entirely positive for the African-American community. Though the genre has improved musically with the incorporation of new styles and sophisticated performers, the good is arguably matched by the bad. Talk of drug use, squandered wealth and hypersexual behavior permeates the text of some of rap’s top lyricists, and real life philandering creates a questionable parallel to the stories told in their music.

“Rap hasn’t been a revolutionary means of protest, if it ever really was, for more than two decades now,” says Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip Hop Culture. “What it is now is a mellifluous soundtrack to a certain kind of lifestyle that has its roots in the black and Latino ghetto. The voice of rap today is more sophisticated, yet ultimately shallower than ever before. It does not tend to serve or represent those marginalized communities well. What it does do is conflate the notion of black authenticity with street credibility.”

Williams grew up a middle class kid from New Jersey who idolized Tupac Shakur. For most of his youth, he strove to be more “street” in order to keep up with the “cool posse” – until he realized in college that there were higher pursuits. Perhaps that’s why one of Williams’ biggest gripes with hip hop is the weight it carries in the minds of youth.

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