Rap amplifies overlooked voices

Don’t hate the rapper. Hate the game.Here’s the way Grandmaster Flash figured rap: “Let’s keep it underground. Nobody outside the Bronx would like this stuff anyway.”

He was one of hip-hop’s most notorious artists, and he was dead wrong.

Rap music, originally just one element in the wider genre of hip-hop, now has evolved into its own style with several sub-categories.

It has become a multi-billion dollar industry spanning fashion wear, movies, television, food and even automobiles.

But rap music is constantly under scrutiny for the harsh lyrics and violent, materialistic lifestyle of some of its more popular artists.

Rap has been called vulgar, violent, scandalous and derogatory by scholars, other musicians, media moguls and average Americans.

But I seem to remember – not literally of course – some of the same things being said about rock ‘n’ roll 50 years ago. Rock ‘n’ roll was thought to be the “devil’s music” that was corrupting the souls of American youth.

But what happened?

Rock ‘n’ roll evolved as musicians changed and people realized it wasn’t the likely cause condemning youth to eternal damnation.

Hip-hop is an art form.

It is a culture. It is a way of life. It is an escape. It is an expression.

It is all these things because in the 1970s and 1980s when rapping became popular, it first started in the slums of New York City in basements, on street corners and in parks, as a way for young people to build new identities and unearth the harsh reality of life for poor blacks and Latinos.

And today it is still all these things for a group of people we would not know or pay attention to if they didn’t rap.

When you are a college dropout like Kanye West, people aren’t lining up to hear your opinions on poverty and politics – and why George Bush doesn’t like black people. One of the most famous rappers, Tupac Shakur, is considered by some scholars to be a phenomenal poet, but his poetry would have been overlooked if he was just another thug from New York City.

Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons helped clothe Hurricane Katrina victims in its aftermath and currently works to use hip-hop to spread the word about poverty and HIV/AIDS.

P. Diddy was influential in getting young people registered to vote in the 2004 presidential election. Simmons, Diddy and other rappers like West, Common, Pharrell and Mos Def are not only doing charitable things in society, but changing the way rappers are depicted by dropping the baggy pants and sweatshirt look and promoting a “so fresh and so clean” image.

With the good always comes the bad, and the bad happens to be strewn across some of the top-selling rap songs. Ghostface Killah and other rappers, who tap into the “gangsta rap” sub-genre rapping about sex and violence, are horribly vulgar. Rap needs to be called out for its failures – without challenging some things, otherwise the genre would not evolve.

But critics should realize that some of the harshest disapproval of rap comes from within the hip-hop genre. More and more artists are starting to question, criticize and even make fun of the industry.

One of the best examples of this is rapper Nas’ album “Hip Hop Is Dead,” where he states “Everybody sounds the same/commercialize the game/Reminiscin’ when it wasn’t all business/They forgot where it started/so we all gather here for the dearly departed.”

But critics don’t look at Nas’ album or the underground “backpack rappers” flowing (freestyle rapping) because they love the art and not the money it brings.

They look at teens flocking to the Internet success of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” or DJ Khaled’s “I’m So Hood.”.

Like other styles of music, rap isn’t perfect. It’s not always good but it’s not always bad. The rap game is constantly changing. One day we saw baggy pants and rhymes about pimps and hoes to button down shirts and lyrics about P.I.M.Ps (Positive Individuals Making Progress). Who knows what the next frontier of hip-hop will bring.

The possibilities are endless.

Jenighi Powell is a junior international relations major from Austin.