"Ignorant" Hip-Hop: Why It Doesn't Deserve Its "Bad Rap"
You’re at a party, and a friend suggests that you play some rap. You turn on your iPod and start playing a song by Future. Immediately you are met with a backlash of “I’m definitely not drunk enough for this” and “Turn this ignorant s**t off” comments from the rest of the partygoers. Feeling ashamed, you are forced to switch the song to something tamer, maybe a little Mac Miller or Drake.
I have witnessed this happen many times, and I would guess that many of you have either been on the giving or receiving side of this musical bullying yourselves. Throughout the beginning of the 21st century, we have seen a growth of this “ignorant” form of hip-hop in mainstream, as well as underground circles. Rappers such as Future, Chief Keef, and Gucci Mane have been considered ignorant for many reasons, including their references to gang violence, heavy drug use, almost unintelligible rhyme schemes, and lack of lyrical sophistication. When compared to the lyrical prowess of rappers such as Aesop Rock and the Wu-Tang Clan, whose vocabularies have rivaled that of Shakespeare, it is easy to see how one could dismiss these stereotypically simple, perhaps uninformed rappers.
However, we cannot completely dismiss these artists as being “ignorant” or unworthy of our listening. On the contrary, many of these artists have a lot to say behind their slurred words and auto-tuned gangsta rap styles. Many have grown up in impoverished areas and have experienced hardships that most have not, such as daily gang violence outside their bedroom windows, the death of close friends, and the absence of parental figures. What these rappers have to say about their experiences is extremely valuable because it provides the rap community a way of looking in from the outside at certain marginalized communities. Many times, the styles that these rappers use display the hardships they experience in their environment, and are an expression of their daily struggles. In other words, these sounds are what they have grown up with and what they believe depicts their life.
Chicago rapper Chief Keef is considered by many to be one of the most “ignorant” in rap today, because of his inconsistent flow, use of violent and gang related slurs like “bang bang” and “scudda,” and sometimes unusual language. However, he is consistently reminding listeners about his troubled past and what he has done to better his own life and the lives of his loved ones. For example, on “Finally Rich”—a song that on the surface may seem simplistic and uninspired to some due to his slurred style and subtle gang references—Keef has a lot to say about how he has grown by being a rapper. He says, “So I gotta take care of my squad…/So I could take care of my momma/ So I could take care of my daughter/ and take care of my brothers (I’m finally rich),” showing the listener that Keef is responsible for more than just his own livelihood. Parts of Chicago are not easy places to live, thus the burden of making sure his people are accounted for is always on Keef’s mind.
These rappers also have extremely sentimental moments that talk about real life loss and love. For example, in Chief Keef’s “No”, he talks about being rejected by a girl he cares about. He asks her, “Is there something I gotta know?” throughout the entirety of the song, which is answered by song’s title. His autotune-drenched R&B feel could easily be dismissed as unmusical and impersonal, but he experiencing a great deal of inner conflict throughout the song, wondering where he went wrong in his relationship. In Future’s “I Won”, he talks about praising his Fiancé, Ciara, as a trophy, and goes on to talk about memories he has of being with her. Although the lyrics are raunchy, Future is being genuine and displays a profound love for Ciara to the point of worship.
Other rappers have songs like these that are consistently praised; Drake and Frank Ocean, for example, are consistently lauded for songs in which they talk of unrequited love and loss. Just because other rappers may display these messages nuanced behind talk of gang violence and a less mainstream sound does not mean we should kick them to the curb. So, next time someone puts on Future, or Chief Keef, listen to the lyrics. Try to find the underlying message in what these rappers have to say because they are expressing themselves, as all other rappers do, in the way that they do best. I bet you’ll find artistic aspects that you would’ve never expected.
Image source: Rolling Stone