Ironically, on this 10th anniversary of the death of the Notorious B.I.G. and given the considerable amount of attention given to hip-hop, especially here on Princeton's campus, a discussion is in order, one that does not make gross generalizations about an entire group of people as the views espoused in yesterday's column by Brandon McGinley '10 did. Several things shed light on how serious rap is for the diehard hip-hop devotee, from the creation of a symposium to stimulate intellectually grounded discussion on the music and its effects on society to the presence of a campus appreciation group for the genre.
The discussions usually take on the most pressing problems posed by the genre in today's society: its misogyny, glorification of crime and especially recently, its homophobia. It is true that in the case of violence and hip-hop, especially of late with artists glorifying their lives of crime (Young Jeezy, for example), people here on campus have been good at shunning these types of songs. Given the considerable majority in the black female population over its male counterpart on campus, however, the dialogue more frequently deals with derogatory depictions and the objectification of women in the music. Critics of rap music have been stating this for years, and the recent phenomenon of criticism from the youth of America now has statistical data to support it, with the Associated Press reporting an alarming slide in sales of rap albums measuring 21 percent between 2005 and 2006.
One would hope that the signs given by this data exhibit frustration on the part of our generation and the success of dialogue such as the one initiated in last fall's hip-hop symposium. It is true that a wealth of artists out there proclaim, at least on the surface, positive messages. A closer look at the singles charts and a step onto any dance floor blasting rap music, however, immediately renders that fact irrelevant. With the overwhelming popularity of songs such as rapper Ludacris' Grammy-winning "Money Maker," Bubba Sparxxx's "Ms. New Booty" and Akon's chart-topping "Smack That," among others, the message continues to be that sex sells, particularly at the expense of black women.
As a fan of club music, I would attribute the reason for this to people's general preference of hearing something that gets bodies moving on the dance floor, as opposed to getting minds thinking about the message. As much as the diehard hip-hop fan would swear to be concerned with more "socially conscious" rappers like Common or Lupe Fiasco over the likes of Jibbs or the Ying Yang Twins, even he/she would begrudgingly admit that "Kick Push" does not make for good club music.
Yet what bothers me most about these self-proclaimed hip-hop activists is how quickly they will come to vilify songs that they see as taking the genre back from the progress it has made, and these same people rush to the dance floor when the DJ plays even more ridiculous music. Their eagerness to "walk it out," to mimic revving up a motorcycle or even to lean and rock with it amuses me beyond measure. Now I will proudly admit, I have participated to a great degree in all of these recent dance crazes and thoroughly enjoy myself when their songs begin to play. In my mind, however, I know that songs like these and those that have topped the charts serve their purpose when I'm eyeing some lovely lady across the dance floor.
What I do not quite understand is the lack of honesty these hip-hop aficionados have with themselves, regardless of their gender. They may not be responsible for the national trends in music's popularity, yet to take one line in a public venue that the music has deteriorated over time does not match their actions when it really matters, or at least to me: in their social settings when on the dance floor. Sure, they may roll their eyes at the thought of having to shake their moneymaker like somebody's about to pay them, but you never hear the same fervent protests in the club that you do in these forums and panel discussions.
What's more, if anything is taking their beloved genre back, it is not the misogyny that has always existed in the songs of hip-hop idols like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Rather, it is the meaningless songs by one-hit wonders that consist of demands on its audience to lean back or, God forbid, to "chicken noodle soup." The opinion of the Baltimore Sun's Rashod D. Ollison that rap music has become increasingly minstrelized seems truer every time I think of these dance crazes. But if you tell that to someone here on campus, the depth of their denial and indignation will come as quickly as their urge to tell you that they are fans of The Roots or Talib Kweli, two artists I have never seen people dancing to in the club.
All I am calling for is an end to the hypocrisy that plagues so many people here when it comes to the genre. I have no problem with what these artists have to put out or with the portion of the public who realize the purpose that these songs serve. It is problematic, however, for someone who continually harps on misogynistic songs in public forums because it is the right thing to do to just turn around and embrace those songs as appropriate club music. What sense does this make? If only the hip-hop lovers would be real with themselves — maybe then I, as well as many others, would take what they have to say seriously. Walter Griffin is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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