Since the release of Straight Outta Compton, diverse audiences have sat in front of the movie theater’s wide screen to revel in the plight of three young black men and their controversial music.
Before I get into this column, I want to reassure you that this is not a spoiler alert or a movie review. Rather, it’s a cultural, conscious pondering: What happened to rap culture?
I use word “culture” instead of “music” because rap began as an expression of outward circumstances and a representation of inequality, economic struggles and art.
Straight Outta Compton hones its lenses on N.W.A’s three founders: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. It backtracks to a time when drugs were ravaging minority communities and “gangsta rap” was still taboo. Although N.W.A’s lyrics were sometimes volatile and sexist, the three young rappers birthed another layer of social commentary within their music, and their purpose became clear.
A few decades before their time, rappers were branding themselves with their originality.
From the first popular hip-hop trio, Sugarhill Gang, to the ferocious lyrics of younger rap artists and DJs, such as Run-D.M.C, LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest, rappers were boldly dominating an industry by responding to their environment.
Rap groups such as Kid ‘n’ Play and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince even merged hip-hop with entertainment by acting in popular movies, such as House Party and the television series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Even female rap artists such as Lauren Hill, Queen Latifah and MC Lyte empowered women, not with their sexuality, but with their musicianship.
Today, many rappers have decided to shed that conscious persona and instead dress themselves in vanity and clichés. I understand that the underlying message of rap music always embraced an alternate facade that rappers use to boast about money, sex and fame, but when that faulty characteristic overpowers and manipulates the trend of rap, that’s a problem.
When rap broke through stereotypes and rose to popularity, it gave artists a chance to experience the same success as music artists from other genres. Many of them started their own labels and produced their own music, which is highlighted in Straight Outta Compton. Instead, what I listen to today speaks volumes about the tradition of rap being sacrificed for fame and money.
I also appreciate the rap artists whose love for the music romances their messages. Artists such as Lecrae, who raps about social inequality while teaching his fans how to not fall prey to pressure, and Kendrick Lamar, who doesn’t forfeit the nature of inner-city neighborhoods in his lyrics but uses it so others can gain cultural insight, still echo the voice of an undaunted culture.
And to the struggling rap artists, producers and DJs whose muses may be misunderstood by a materialistic industry, but are still striving for their artistic expression: I respect you.
As our country still faces some of the trauma that inflicted the pioneers of rap, the platform for rappers is becoming trimmed by social media arguments and shallow lyrics.
Sure, we can go to parties and ‘nae nae’ and ‘whip’ the night away, but afterward then what? The mic is still waiting to “witness the strength of true knowledge.”
Shanae Hardy is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaeH@CentralFloridaFuture.com