Whenever Hip Hop is mentioned in the same breath as violence, drugs and sex people defend the art well by explaining that the roots of Hip Hop were tales of struggle and triumph. Hip hop, however, quickly adopted the materialism, psychotic tales or depravity and bullshit, but that’s what the masses have become attracted to. It amazes me how Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common never became the superstars their conscious creativity should’ve allowed them to be, because they have the skills on paper to match any rapper in terms of delivery, flow, style and of course lyrics. However, the consumer says, no. The more famous top sellers, people like Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, 2 Chainz and Migos have all learnt to direct their music to the demands of consumer taste. Part of the problem is the type of package conscious rap comes in. When it’s at its lyrical peak a lot of conscious rap comes across of preachy and judgemental. The beats aren’t the best and the rappers delivery is usually laboured, more thought out but less poetic. On the rare occasion we are blessed with artists like Kendrick Lamar and J-Cole, whose music has stood out amongst the vast consumption of degrading rap, and provided us with hot beats, conscious lyrics and passionate delivery.
We know that the ghetto is filled with violence, drugs and depravity and a lot of rap music celebrates coming from this struggle. So we’ll hear the typical rags to riches tale from most rappers with the path they portray to us filled with hyper-masculinity, being mentally strong and flirting with the darker social issues most of us only hear about on the news, when in reality these paths are lined with victims of trauma, an abundance of fear, depression, stress and plenty of other mental issues. However, the music is packaged in a way which seems cool, paranoid schizophrenics dressed in Prada and psychotic murderers driving Rolls Royce’s creates symbiotic acceptance. There is something that we as consumers like about these horrendous stories and unscrupulous characters. It’s that whole mafia, horror movie or rollercoaster complex where the thrill of experiencing something dangerous is appetising as long as there’s no real danger to yourself. Consumers are able to escape their world and explore a world of fear and debauchery through the safety of a bulletproof looking glass.
As society immersed itself in consumerism, money became increasingly important to everyone. However, it was worshipped by those who had the least of it. That’s why the worst crimes happen in the poorest places and at the base of most rap music today is money, or the lack of it. As a society we can relate to rappers who talk about money because we too enjoy being consumers and chasing that paper, but the rapper who says money isn’t everything isn’t as relatable. We know that a rapper refers to a woman constantly as a hoe and himself as a pimp is misogynistic. The violence in rap music is justifiable as soon as the streets, ghetto or any type of hardship is mentioned because that gives a reason to hurt. Selling drugs is just a diluted version of hurt, with a quantifiable conclusion so that too is understandable. However, when Mos Def breaks down what’s wrong with society its more theory than fact. The theories are strong but never concrete because there’s various reasons to why things are so fucked up in poor neighbourhoods. Compared to a story about selling drugs these theories hold less validity and require the consumer to self-reflect and think. If you sell crack you’re a drug dealer. If you shoot somebody in the head you’re a murder and if you beat your girlfriend up you’re a woman beater. There’s no nuances to those stigma’s and that’s why they’re so raw and real. The consumer knows exactly where he stands with Bobby Schmurda but not so much with Mos Def.
The immediacy of ignorant rap music is also what makes it so attractive to the masses. That’s why radio trumps books, and tv trumps radio and movies trumps tv. The brain has to work less because the gaps are being filled in by the art form your consuming. How she looks, how fast the car was going or how deep the blue was is easier to understand if it’s shown, but when its written the brain has to imagine/create which requires a deeper thought process. When ignorant rap or pop music works best, it’s easy to absorb, direct and has a catchy beat. Conscious rap is too much work for most people’s brains and the top selling rappers know this. Speak ignorant shit and you may get noticed, but layer the ignorance/simplicity over a nice beat and ensure the delivery is tight and repeat it….and you have a hit. The power is really with the producers and production teams which is why they get such a big cut of an artist’s deal. As stated before there are anomalies in the rap world such as Immortal Technique, Logic and Lupe Fiasco who seem to reach a wider audience but have found it hard to meet superstar status due to the content of their music. It’s not bad to like music which is violent, but it is important to know where a story ends and real life begins. Conscious rap will always provide the moral support needed to help ensure the Hip Hop culture stays connected to its roots. But if you want an actual example of how the industry can skew an artist’s music into a certain direction listen to Kanye West’s first album and listen to his latest. The creativity might be consistent but the content has slowly become less conscious, more consumer orientated but still just as creative.