Rap lyrics have been condemned for decades for their offensive subject matter. For some people the swearing was bad enough but some rappers tend to take it a bit too far. Misogyny, religion, homophobia, drug abuse, violence and even rape are some of the most prevalent topics that rappers have offended listeners with for years.
All this begs the question: which came first the chicken or the egg? Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Eminem, Tyler The Creator and Kanye West have been labelled the most offensive rappers of our time but they aren’t the only ones. Gangster Rap has, over the last 20 to 30 years, had a history of questionable lyrics that have left us cringing (It is GANGSTER rap after all)
Legendary 90s rappers 2 Pac, Biggie and the infamous hip hop collective N.W.A all conveyed messages of violence and crime in their music because that’s what they grew up being surrounded by. Rape, violence and murder were predominant in their society already, they were just being honest about it and addressing these issues. Was it wrong of them to bring the issues to light?
A lot of “experts” believe that the negative messages portrayed in rap music have desensitized us from issues that we should be sensitive to, but there is a lot of double standards in the hip hop industry from its consumers all the way to the people that make the music.
For instance Eminem is the highest selling hip hop artist alive but he is also probably the most offensive rapper too. Throughout his career he has recited lyrics with homophobic, suicidal and homicidal content. He has talked about killing himself, killing his mother, his ex-wife and his dad. He has talked about raping women, homophobia against gays and lesbians, beating women he’s been with, and his favorite topic of all, drug abuse. Despite all these misdemeanors he still remains one of the most respected, honored and critically acclaimed artists of the modern generation.
But all these things were his realities and he brought them to light with his honesty and “real” approach to his music which is probably why he is so popular even though his subject matter is offensive. Hence the question “which came first the chicken or the egg?” Eminem is a perfect case study because his lyrical content is what has made him so popular thus far. The subjects of domestic abuse, homophobia and misogyny have always been so there can we really blame him & all the other rappers for bringing these already existing topics to light? Some might argue that because of their social stature they are perceived to be promoting and condoning such behavior.
Eminem’s subject matter has been a topic of debate throughout his career. He even went as far as making several songs referencing how parents shouldn’t blame his music for their dysfunctional kids but instead how their bad parenting was the actual cause of their children’s rebellion. He released an album in 2009 called “Relapse”, which according to him was inspired by serial killers and the subject matter of the album strongly backed this up.
Take the “Bad Bitch” phenomenon, for example, the term is taken as a complement by females but the literal meaning of the word is very misogynistic and derogatory towards females but yet they have come to accept this as a term of endearment. Lupe Fiasco handled this topic in a song called “Bitch Bad”. The song is about how important the context of the term is and how low have women sunk in their self-esteem that they’ve also started calling themselves “Bad Bitches” (Thanks Nicki Minaj).
In all honesty we can’t blame rap lyrics entirely for our declining moral standards and deteriorating principles, but we can blame them for aggravating an already open wound and perhaps blame the older generation of rappers for influencing the new generation of artists. Rapping about an already existing issue won’t help resolve it but because of how powerful music is, it could used to help rectify the psychological programming and maybe eventually eradicate it.
Macklemore is the perfect example of a socially responsible rapper, in fact he and Eminem are a perfect contrast. Macklemore was the first rapper to publicly support gay rights and he even made a song called “Same Love”about gay rights and how the hip hop culture was groomed on homophobia and misogyny. He continues to try to break away from the stereotype. His music has been selling successfully and he is already a favorite among gay rights activist groups who have always had their snipers out for even a hint of homophobia from the hip hop community.
All in all, rap lyrics are offensive, even sometimes repulsive and down right distasteful but we, the consumers, still continue listen to them anyway. Who is really in the wrong here? Artists who exploit their freedom of expression or consumers who are hypocritical? At the end of the day these sensitive subjects have always existed and heaven forbid they continue to. So…which came first the chicken or the egg?
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