Suppose you’re standing on the sidewalk, minding your own business, and a car flies past you, splashing dirty puddle water all over your shoes and pants. Having seen the ordeal, a passerby approaches you, but instead of offering some napkins, or at the very least some sympathy, you’re greeted with, “You should really be wearing clean pants.”
Believe it or not, that was a metaphor for hip-hop. For as long as hip-hop has existed as the potent musical and cultural force that it is, it’s been critiqued by outsiders for its subject matter. Whether it’s violence, drugs, women or poverty, hip-hop has consistently been slandered as gratuitous shock content, glorifying violence, drug use and the objectification of women. Of course, hip-hop has its problems and outliers, but the various perspectives on much of that subject matter are exactly what makes hip-hop so beautiful, and such a valid representation of its contributors.
As T.I. pointed out during a recent appearance on The Daily Show, hip-hop is a direct reflection of the circumstances that produced the artists you’re hearing. And while it should be noted that Tip’s defense of the themes within hip-hop was one of the more eloquent I’ve heard in recent memory, the fact of the matter is he shouldn’t have had to offer it in the first place.
Well first of all, I think that people need to take into consideration that hip-hop traditionally has always been a reflection of the environment the artist had to endure before he made it to where he was. So, if you want to change the content of the music, change the environment of the artist, and he won't have such negative things to say.
While host Trevor Noah clearly understands all of this, and was just attempting to provide some insight for The Daily Show demographic, his line of questioning—setting aside the need to play devil’s advocate—is a reminder that after 30-plus years of explanation from brilliant minds like T.I.’s, there is still a large portion of society that has either made no attempt, or is unwilling, to take hip-hop seriously as the form of cultural documentation that it is.
In 2016, I have a hard time believing that the people making the argument Noah referenced in his question aren’t aware of hip-hop’s true intentions, and I’m left to come to terms with the fact that hip-hop is just a very easy scapegoat for a very complex issue. I’m careful to not make generalizations regarding a culture that I consider myself a guest in, but framing hip-hop’s attempts at documenting the plight of its participants as anything other than a symptom of systemic oppression is ignorant at best, and deplorable at worst.
All due respect and props to T.I. for brilliantly representing everything that makes hip-hop what it is, but let’s not forget that he’s just the latest in a long line of artists who have had to defend the very tool they’re using to fight for the freedoms of expression that the people making these arguments are already enjoying.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: YouTube