As I lay on my mattress (laptop open) with Track #1 from Reasonable Doubt playing loudly in my head, I start to ponder about the direction that America is taking music. As many do when they think about music, I start to shake my head. But not because I don’t like what is happening. But because the scene is so much more dynamic and beautiful than it has ever been. And then I look at Twitter.
“If stringing words together makes you a genius, then my 5 y.o. is Robert Frost“- Uneducated Twitter User
This is what I read. It was in reference to the subject of Kanye West, arguably one of the greatest minds to ever be at the top of his field. The same Kanye West that continually tries to push the envelope in the culture. The same Kanye West who won something like 21 Grammys. The same Kanye West who is considerably brash, and gets written off as “ranting” every time he decides to elaborate on a subject. The same Kanye West who made perceived perfection such as “College Dropout” and “Graduation” but also experimented (not to mass acclaim) with such sounds as “808’s and Heartbreak” and “Yeezus“. The same Kanye West who helps keep Hip-Hop the most spoken about and scrutinized culture of arguably all time… So I replied.
“Hip-Hop is so much more than just “stringing words together.“- @BlackErrolFlynn
Yes, I said it. Hip-Hop is a practice that many might percieve as just stringing words together… but it is actually way more than that. To the naked eye, Hip-Hop is a drumkick, a subtle melody all overtaken by some person (who most likely is Black in this day and age) who is rapping (which by definition is a slang term for talking) over all of that in some sort of rhythmic fashion. However, to the trained eye it takes on a very different connotation. To a believer in the culture, Hip-Hop is living, breathing art. Not just art in the sense of walking into a museum and seeing some sort of recreation of a work of DaVinci because the original is too delicate to risk keeping in human reach, but art: Revamped. Refined. Renewed. Beauty in audio form. Hip-Hop allows people to transport themselves to a place that they have been in their lives or wish to be- just for a few minutes and a few seconds, maybe even shorter. Hip-Hop is grandeur. Hip-Hop is a blessing. That is the reason it takes on the connotations that it does; the reason it remains under such a magnifying glass. Hip-Hop is the perfect storm of Black culture, the exhibition of expressive genius, and musical skill and relatability. That’s why it remains the most scrutinized practice in the world.
“At my arraignment, screaming, ‘All us blacks got is sports and entertainment! Until we’re even…‘”- Shawn Carter
Let’s say you have three types of people on the gradient when it comes to the understanding of the culture of Hip-Hop. There is Type 1: The “I don’t get it.” crew. The people don’t understand exactly what makes it so attractive. The people that think it’s barbaric, chauvinistic, misogynistic, n*ggerish… . Should people attempt to convert this kind of person? No, because that is the part of the population that gives love to the rest of the musical genres. Of course, the people that don’t like to watch the NBA watch Nascar, you must respect that. Give them their space, because Hip-Hop itself is a beautiful contagion. If they don’t like it, their brother, their cousin, or maybe even their child will.
Then there is Type 2: The “I’m a fan” crew. These are the people that show up to the parties in the snapbacks and the throwback jerseys and argue with you about why Tupac is the greatest of all time. They’ve listened to Ready to Die countless times and have Illmatic on vinyl somewhere in their house. you should have a respect for these people because they help keep Hip-Hop afloat. They realize that what they are hearing on the radio may not exactly be “Real Hip-Hop”. But they will gladly attend a Drake concert because “he is very good when he focuses on rapping.” They might attempt a drunk freestyle here or there, but they definitely don’t practice. They just love watching. Because it is beautiful.
Then, Type 3: “The student of the game“. They’re going to get it however they can; either they just want to be heard or they are trying to get signed or whatever the case; you will see a Youtube freestyle over “Shook Ones” coming from them. Their love for Hip-Hop knows no bounds, and their knowledge of Hip-Hop itself expands far beyond that of just lyrics. They know whats up, and you can see their influences in their verses. Your friend may not exactly be the greatest, but they have a deep love for Hip-Hop and they can see themselves doing it in a couple of years.
Regardless of whether or not there are more than three types of people in reference to understanding Hip-Hop culture (because there definitely are), this is apparent: Hip-Hop is way more than just “stringing words together.” It is an institution, a work of art… a deep abyss of beauty and stylistic galore. It should not take a documentary exploring the origins of founding fathers such as Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash in order for people to understand that it is the most powerful force in American music to date. The issue is, because of the way that the game is set up today, it is incredibly difficult for it to be stolen away from Black culture, as Rock & Roll, Blues, Country Music, and Jazz were once all stripped away from Black culture. Not many people can do it. White, Black, Asian, Spanish, down the line. Hip-Hop is way more difficult than just recitation. Yes, there are definitely forces which try to embarrass and marginalize the foundations of Hip-Hop because they wish to hide the significance and hold that it actually has over the world. Yes, the gold teeth, the twerking, the guns, all of it has been parodied, mocked and insulted. A huge part of that is because Hip-Hop is almost impossible to fully understand.
People do not have Hip-Hop broken down to a science yet because it takes more than just inorganic instrumentation. Your mouth is the instrument, and how you relate to people matters just as much as how you rhyme “bottle” and “model”. There needs to be a soul present- that is how human beings connect. Just like the other pioneers in the world of “Right-Brain”, people need to note that there are those genius qualities that are present in Notorious B.I.G. Kanye West does hold those same traits as a MichaelAngelo. Jay-Z is like that of a Walt Whitman, and Duke Ellington… Nas is DaVinci. But because we’re living through this time, because we are the most critical people in this Digital Age, no one gives that respect to the practice. America, we are watching greatness.
Just as Black culture is the most scrutinized and sullied perception-wise, Hip-Hop (which goes hand in hand) is the most scrutinized. The NBA (just over the NFL) is the most criticized and most talked about profession in all of sports. Think about the questions you see everyday- “Will LeBron be the greatest?” “What happened at Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run Tour this week?” “What is a “shmurda” dance?” People are so obsessed with the culture that when those individuals who might have a clue to how to go about operating within those kinds of realms but don’t exactly look like they “belong” (see: Johnny Manziel, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, etc.) it is the biggest news, the biggest story. “Money Manziel”. “Macklemore with his Grammy”. “Iggy Azalea twerking”. All of that is HIP-HOP. All of that is Black. It should be recognized as a beautiful and vastly revered practice amongst intelligentsia, NOT a barbaric and low-brow hobby that everybody tries- A lot of people try it because a lot of people love it. The lessons to be learned about life, the realities, the skill… everything about it is beautiful. Give it a shot, you might like it. There is definitely something for you.