Hard to think it right?
Many often make the mistake of labelling the genre of simply pertaining to ‘drugs’, ‘guns’, ‘money’ and ‘foul language’ (see The Roots: ‘What they do’ for complete list of stereotypical contradictions), but nowadays the genre and culture of hip-hop is a world wide sensation.
From jams in the park to a now multi-‘trill’ion dollar industry it’s influence expands into / over other genres, creatives and industries with no bounds.
Even when the most commercial of R&B or pop icons are dissected they can be seen to having influences whether it be musically, fashion, slang or straight-up clout. The typical anatomy of a hit single is usually a song featuring an emcee for a flash 8–16 bar verse. Producers such as Neptunes, Timbaland, DJ Premier, Salaam Remi and numerous others are eagerly being sought after by mainstream pop-artists to get ‘that sound’. I mean even Britney is saying ‘shit’ and ‘it’s Britney bitch’ these days…
But before we begin, I want to make a clear distinction that we are referring to ‘hip-hop’ and not ‘rap’, none of that money, cash, hoes, bling-bling shit. As KRS-one so often says:
‘Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live…’
It’s very easy to get caught up in the negativity of the genre but if you keep an open mind (and ears in this case) you’ll find, as in my favourite tv show Spartacus, you get to go past the obvious and only then is an entire universe of knowledge and learning introduced to you.
A dollar and a dream
The essence of hip-hop is to create something from nothing, that in itself serves as a very positive foundation.
Generally speaking hip-hop production tends to be up-beat, accompanied with hard hitting and thought provoking lyrics (depending on the artist). It invokes inspiration and fuels perseverance for anyone ambitious or determined enough to reach a goal.
It provides motivation to drive individuals to dream big and become go-getters. Sure most genres can and do the same, but no other genre can be as direct or representative of that struggle as hip-hop is. Tupac stated various times monologuing on various songs to youth motivating & inspiring them to apply themselves better, to become doctors or lawyers instead of thugs and gangbangers.
Hip-hop was alsoformed in a struggling environment: the streets, acting as a outlet or expression of freedom, so it almost becomes like theme music to the struggle with an added bonus message for younger generations to become better, to dream bigger, and then go out there and get it.
Message: Dream big — sky’s the limit
The likes of 50 Cent, Dre, Ice Cube, Master P, RZA and Jay-z are all prime examples of emcees who have come from nothing and successfully transitioned to become top business entrepreneurs with their own respective empires.
It’s no wonder that more and more hip-hop artists are becoming more independent and taking it upon themselves to run their own companies, labels and artists; thus encouraging others to become more business-minded.
“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” ~ Jay-Z
The nature of hip-hop is always competitive ergo the early days of ‘battle raps’ and ‘diss records’; in order to stand out from the crowd you had to prove yourself. You had to earn that number 1 spot before bragging about it.
Acting almost like a super-hero serum, listening to hip-hop morphs you into beast mode - ready for battle. It teaches you to embrace the challenge with no fear or doubt, instilling that winner mentality.
In 1988 and still relatively new on the scene, Rakim released a complete song on his sophomore album released a complete song called ‘No competition’ stating ‘Because I’m number one, competition is none’. The aura alone is electric, almost like Mike Tyson stepping into the ring. The same applies for KRS-One’s ‘I’m Number 1'. The emcees all brag about being the number 1 contenders because they believed. No one can believe your abilities if you don’t believe yourself and listening to hip-hop reminds you of that fact.
If you look around almost every passionate emcee is filled with that much self belief that it transpires through some sort of title, alias or song:
- Biggie: King of New York
- Rakim: The God / The God MC / Follow the leader / No Competition
- LL Cool J: G.O.A.T
- T.I: King of the south
- KRS-One: The Teacher / Number 1
- Ol’ dirty bastard: Big Baby Jesus
- The list goes on, you get the point…
Message: Believe in yourself — hustle harder than the competition
Hey young world
The art of storytelling through hip-hop rhymes is a skill only few have mastered well. It’s a perfect example of being imaginative with your craft, creative, thinking differently and paying attention to detail.
From the early days of Flash’s ‘The Message’ right up to the modern day — the bar of creativity in storytelling is constantly being raised; the vividness of Slick Rick, the intricate details of Biggie, the thrilling storytelling of Rae & Ghost, Nas and his ‘Memento’ inspired tale to simply name a few.
If we focus on Nas for a moment — in particular his “I Can” song. Not only does he come off as having fun on the song but was not afraid to try something different: spitting over a Beethoven infused beat (some might say well even), and also raise the bar to paint three intricate stories in three verses that incontestably appeals to the youth to becoming better, without a single curse or derogatory word.
“Read more, learn more, change the globe” ~ Nas
Book of Rhymes, One Love, NY State of Mind Part I and II, I gave you power, the list goes on.
Point being, sometimes in the daily struggle we forget to have fun and be creative — hip-hop reminds us not to take it so seriously sometimes.
Message: Be creative — think differently — try something different.
Streaming directly off creativity and storytelling, another way hip-hop can help you become a better person is by improving grammar, vocabulary and wordplay.
“Dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know that we riddled some middlemen who didn’t do diddly…” ~ Big Punisher
Street slang aside, a recent article published online compared hip-hop emcees vocabulary and number of unique words, specifically highlighting key members of the Wu-Tang, that far surpassed the likes of even Shakespeare.
True emcees that display lyrical wizardry with their lexicon never cease to amaze and will no doubt have you reaching for the dictionary. For me it’s similar to reading a book; the artist is the author that provides you with a larger vocabulary and abstract reasoning skills.
“Deception was defeated and deceit became deleted…” ~ Pharoahe Monch
Before Inspectah Deck unleashed that infamous verse on ‘Triumph’ back in ‘97 I didn’t even know who Socrates was. That one verse alone opened up a whole new world introducing younger generations to the larger part of (greek)philosophy.
That verse aside, the whole terminology of “dropping knowledge”, “drop jewels”, “School em” spans right off the example of emcees verbally boasting their intellect.
This has been taken to new heights of late with emcees now hosting lectures at universities. A worthy example is GZA, who has not only reigned supreme since his debut, hosting classes and lectures at top universities about hip-hop infused with education & sciences. His forthcoming release entitled “Dark Matter” was conceived for his love of the universe and greater knowledge and is a conceptual journey through time and space.
Let’s connect + politic
Pick a topic, hip-hop is mostly likely to cover it whether it be current affairs, religion, celeb news, the streets, fashion, politics, history etc.
Emcees such as Immortal Technique — the true Che Guevara of rap - manage to go behind the average to touch base on topics that far surpass the average emcee such as politics, government affairs, gentrification, imperialism and marxism to simply name a few.
This illustrates a clear example that once you pick the right artist, you can be educated about topics that are often foreign to your comfort zone as well as the politics of the bigger game.
A better tomorrow
So in conclusion, amongst the negatives could hip-hop be seen a positive influence? Could it a source of learning and help individuals to become articulate business minds, with creative flair, passion and drive? I believe so, let me know your thoughts….
If you syphon through enough of the dirt you’ll get the ‘jewels’, and on that note:
“Pick up the Wu-Tang double CD and you’ll get all the education you need this year…” ~ RZA