Jevon Nathaniel Graham, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Hip-hop and rap is a form of art. It’s the perfect composition of rapper and an instrumental, but also an extension of what it means to be Black in America. To understand how Hip-Hop plays a role in black culture, one must first understand what Black culture is, which can can be defined a number of ways, but every definition stems from the history of Blacks in America. Naturally, this history starts with Africans coming over as slaves and their struggles as a people fighting for freedom, equality, and justice. Now in America, Blacks have come a very long way but the journey to equality is not quite finished, and Hip-Hop is how the culture tells its story of struggles, past to present. Various styles of Hip-Hop depict what it means to be black in America, including subcategories such as: storytelling, trap, and pro-black.
One could say that storytelling plays a role in all Hip-Hop, but not all Hip-Hop is necessarily storytelling. Storytelling is a style that can cover a vast array of topics and perspectives; this is because the style is based off of real life events in a person’s life. To perfect this style in Hip-Hop, the artist must understand how to bring forth their stories of “Blackness,” or stories that are widely relatable to African Americans. For example, the rapper J. Cole is widely known for his storytelling capabilities. In his song 03’ Adolescence he tells a story of being fatherless, feeling inadequate growing up, and admiring his drug dealing acquaintances even though he was looking towards college in his future. In urban communities, some often turn to drugs in order to support their families and serious issues like this are able to be points of discussion led by the storyteller.
The pro-black style of Hip-Hop is fairly self-explanatory and similar to storytelling. This style not only focuses on the stories associated with being African American, but also on the divide between White and Black culture; often blaming White America for the condition of Black America because of the long and controversial history. Kendrick Lamar is an artist that frequently utilizes this rap style. His style is a combination of the streets and civil justice, which comes from being raised in gang-infested Compton, but also having a strong educational foundation on civil rights leaders and their movements. I believe HiiiPower is one of Kendrick’s greatest musical works. In the beginning of this rap, he names several civil rights leaders, then goes into saying how if he saw the world as Martin Luther King saw it, his parents would be proud. The song itself is full of allusions of how Blacks are still enslaved mentally and the need to break away from this condition.
Trap, compared to storytelling and pro-black is on another side of the spectrum. Trap differs from the other styles for multiple reasons, one being that instead of complex metaphors and relatability, trap music focuses mostly on an addicting instrumental and catchy lines. Secondly, trap normally doesn’t have a positive and uplifting vibe. In many cases trap showcases the acceptance of negative stereotypes in Black society by embracing the ideas of blacks killing blacks, selling drugs, and dropping out of school. The style is created from the acceptance of a certain lifestyle and implies that there is no need to do better in life; that doing drugs, selling drugs, getting money, and having sex with many women, is a fine life. There are people who take these messages and incorporate it into their lives, making it their reality and leading the community down a negative pathway.
Each and every one of these styles of music comes from one single source, a sense of “Blackness.” Storytellers are just saying that they want someone to vibe with their stories, while pro-black wants the listener to wake up and lead a better lifestyle, and trap just wants the listener to enjoy the position they’re in to the fullest through drugs and women. However, I feel the only style that is negative to the community is Trap. Trap music itself perpetuates the notion that there is no hope. That as long as you are on top, it doesn’t matter if you are a crab in a barrel. It also implies that there is no point in trying to break free from the barrel that confines you, or make it better; in this analogy, the barrel is the urban community.
Since trap music sends out a message of hopelessness for the Black community, there is only one way to fix this issue, and that is for the community to educate themselves and their children on what the reality of America is. The lifestyle that is portrayed by trap artists is one that leads to death or incarceration under normal circumstances, despite being glorified by the artists. Educating people on the truth is so important because everyone sees “fame” and forget about the negative effects this kind of lifestyle has on individuals and their communities. In the end, music is an art form and its words have an impact.