Does respectful hip hop/rap music exist?
- by Crispin Hawthorne
- Aug, 2 2023
Demystifying the Idea of Respectful Hip-Hop/Rap
It's an agreeable premise that the hip hop/rap genre has received its fair share of eyebrow raises and hearty criticism. The lyrical content, which often dips into the realm of societal taboos, can sometimes overshadow the brilliance of the genre. But let's take a moment to put our judgemental cloaks aside, dust off our preconceived notions, and delve into the fascinatingly diverse world of hip hop. To address the elephant in the room - yes, indeed, respectful hip hop music exists! Do allow me, Crispin, to take you on a journey through this lesser-explored side of hip hop.
Roots and Evolution of Hip Hop/Rap
Before we begin, it's crucial to take a glimpse at the roots of hip hop. Born in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York, hip hop emerged as an artistic response to socio-economic struggles, racism, and youth rebellion. It began with MCs (masters of ceremonies) spinning narratives over beats, representing their experiences, beliefs, and stories. And let's not forget, they were doing so in a rhythmically intoxicating, catchy, and digestible form. Since then, the genre has grown, transcended borders, and morphed into various styles, some of which have garnered less than favourable opinions.
Now, while it's true that some rap lyrics feature explicit content, it's also essential to understand the reasons behind it. Many rappers who resort to such language do so to highlight profound injustices, societal problems, or to rawly express their personal experiences. However, the genre is not solely defined by provocative lyrics. I remember attending a Public Enemy concert in the late 80s; the energy was palpable, the lyrics thought-provoking, and the rhymes a creative example of storytelling. Where was the disrespect? Nowhere in sight! Instead, there was possibly an overflow of respect for the community, culture, and real-life experiences.
The Voice of the Subdued: Respectful Hip-Hop in Social Issues
Let's take a musical excursion to explore how hip hop and rap have respectfully and powerfully shed light on social issues. Rappers have been vocal about police brutality, capitalist oppression, urban poor life, ethnic prejudice, and more, offering a microphone to silenced voices. For instance, Kendrick Lamar's 'Alright' has been praised as a civil rights anthem in the Black Lives Matter era, full of hope and resilience.
In my own encounters, I've gleaned so much more understanding of social strife through rap lyrics than any news report. I can still recall listening to the Canadian native Drezus, whose songs like 'Warpath' showcase the plight, struggles, and resilience of the Indigenous folks. Instead of a disrespectful rant, it’s a melody of respect for his people and their history. Hip hop, through these pieces, respects, represents and reveres unheard narratives, making it a critical tool for social justice.
Positive and Respectful Themes in Hip Hop
While it's easy to generalize hip hop as a disrespectful genre, let me steer you towards the lanes where respectful themes thrive. Numerous artists focus on positivity, love, unity, respect for women, mental health, personal growth, and more, producing content that encourages, supports, and uplifts.
Take, for example, Common's 'The Light.' Here, you'll find yourself submerged in expressions of love, respect, and admiration for women, quite the contrast to the frequently criticized misogyny in rap. Or dip into the verses of Logic's '1-800-273-8255,' a poignant portrayal of fighting depression and finding hope that has touched, and possibly saved, countless youths battling mental health issues.
I can't help but bring in a story from my personal vault. Years back, I found myself grappling with life's tumultuous waves when I happened upon K'naan's 'Wavin' Flag.' The pure resilience and hope imbued in the lyrics helped me paddle through my dark times, reinforcing my belief in the power of positive and respectful rap.
Respectful Hip Hop - More Than Meets the Eye
Inclusive language, conscious lyricism, and themes that promote unity, empathy, and progression constitute respectful hip hop. Artists like Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, J Cole, and others have built successful careers around respectful hip hop, proving it not to be an anomaly. If you extend your musical library beyond mainstream chartbusters, I promise you'll find a world of hip hop and rap that's far from disrespectful.
It's like wandering through a bustling city. Montreal for instance, where you will find the usual hustle and bustle, noisy traffic, but just a few turns away, it houses tranquil parks, vibrant art scenes, and historic sites brimming with unspoken stories. Similarly, the hip hop world also comprises multiple lanes, some noisy with hard-hitting lyrics and themes that may be initially off-putting, while others quiet, dwelling concentration and respect.
To wrap up, yes, some hip-hop/rap songs contain explicit content. However, to dismiss the entire genre as disrespectful negates its diversity, storytelling ability, and its capacity to give voice to those often left unheard. Respectful hip hop does exist, not in the shadows but in plain sight, waiting to be discovered and appreciated.