The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Should Hip Hop be considered art?

As the president of the hip hop student association I feel it is my obligation to defend hip hop against those who choose to discredit it as an art form. In order to do this I have created a survey in which I hope from a large sample of students I am able to understand what people think of hip hop and more importantly some, especially the older generation, why some do not consider it music. I don’t think it is a matter of people not liking hip hop--that I dont care about. Many people like different things, some people like country some don’t like Strawberry ice cream. I believe that the majority of reasons why people don’t like hip hop is because there reasoning is clouded in ignorance perpetuated by the mainstream media.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being ignorant. Everyone is ignorant on many issues. Ignorance is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of the honesty within our humanity.

In general, there are three reasons why most people oppose rap and hip hop music in general. Most of the reasons are not simply they cant get into it but are more complicated. Many people who dont like rap believe that rap is not music. I remember having a discussion about this with my grandma who studied music in her youth. She could play the piano as well as other instruments. She told me that rap was not music because the beat repeated an thus it lacks creativity.

Tangentially speaking, I do not have the pleasure of engaging in rich dialogue with my grandmother because her memory is fading and her intellect is not as powerful as it used to be. At any rate, this is one argument me people use to argue why they don’t listen to rap and more importantly don’t consider it a legitimate art form.

The second reason is that there are many people, due to lack of information, who think rappers only care about pleasing themselves. Drugs, violence, misogyny, and materialism/creed and a kaleidoscope of other negative images is usually what comes to the average American mind who despises hip hop.

Lastly, many critics of hip hop think that rap is talentless. They think to themselves. “How hard is it to rhyme?”
Although I could write several books in defense of hip hop culture I will limit my arguments by putting my main arguments in context of what author “Jay Dubya” aka John Wiessner well-known author, wrote in an essay entitled “Rap is not Music” criticized hip hop for the aforementioned points.

It isn’t just the older white generation of academics who are criticizing hip hop. Graduate student Thomas Chatterton Williams has made it abundantly clear that he believes the only good that comes from hip hop is that those who are in the process of making hip hop benefit economically through job creation. He also states that unless you are defending hip hop in academics “to the point of Absurdity” like Michael Eric Dyson hip hop is not beneficial instead it’s destructive to “black dignity.” In an interview with Tony Brown Williams said that it is an issue of anti-intellectualism. He used Kanye West “College dropout” as an example.

This criticism is pervasive through academia the media and other mainstream outlets. The criticism is not without its merits. But an honest scholar would have to look at this issue in all its nuances. In both of these scholars analysis they do the intellect a disservice by using a sample of mainstream artist as a representation of culture that spans four decades.
Before I totally destroy these critics’ arguments I am glad that they said what they said. If hip hop has any chance for a future it needs external critics like this who can expose some of the shortcomings of the culture without being constraint by political correctness.

With that being said lets look at hip hop in the context of Jay Duba’s article. The first argument he makes is that hip hop is not music;

(Music is) organized sounds in the form of notes that then result in a smooth blend of rhythm, tone, and pitch that when united, is quite pleasing to the ear. Rap is not music. The unpleasant-sounding horror is chaotic dissonance and certainly not elegant consonance. Rap is veritable noise pollution that is tastelessly amplified from a cumbersome boom box.

Dubya continues

Why isn’t “Rap Music” genuine music? Because Real Music possesses two authentic characteristics: it has grace and beauty, two marvelous components that “Rap” sadly lacks. Rap tunes usually are nothing more than one monotonous beat

First of all we should agree on what Music is. Generally speaking music consist of three parts; Harmony, Rhythm and Melody. I’m not a musicologist but I would argue that hip hop posses at least two of these qualities. Rhythm signifies repetition. There is a repetion of the sound in music that is why music is different than noise. Albeit some hip hop tends to have a repetitive beat that is only so that the rapper can rap. For something to be melodious it has to be pleasing to the ear. Some people might not find Country or heavy metal to exhibit this feature does that mean they should not be considered music?

Dubya’s clearly does not understand the complexity of hip hop music. The simplicity of his argument makes me yearn for at least one copy of Scratch magazine. Does Mr. Dubya know about Grandmaster Flash and what he went trough to create his “noise pollution”

“Not enough people have been told the details of the story of hip hop. If you were to hear how I came up with the idea of taking one piece of music and repeating it over and over again, you’d look at me like “So?” But if I told you how I did it, how many times I stayed in my room and many needles I broke…it might be a bit more interesting.”

I consider myself an expert in most music, but I can still look at a Jazz historical program and say “Why did he blow the horn like that, how did he slip the finger like that and come up with that sound?” (Vibe history of Hip Hop) GRANDMASTER FLASH

Hip Hop is truly innovative. Does Dubya know who DJ Kool Herc is and his contribution to hip hop;

“Herc wondered what would happen if he got two copies of the same record and cut back and forth between them in order to prolong the break or sonic climax. Unwittingly, he stumbled upon the breakbeat” (Vibe history of hip hop)

It is not just hip hop that was influenced by Herc’s musicianship but also dance, techno and other music.

What is the point? The point being is that hip hop music is more complicated then Dubya is making it out to be. Has Dubya ever heard of instrumental hip hop? Many hip hop producers/djs who produce instrumental hip hop are not constrained by “One Monotonous beat” instead Hip Hop DJs like DJ shadow and RJD2 use a collage of samples to produce their own unique music. Some might look at sampling and say that it is nothing more than stealing from other people’s music. I beg to differ. Yes if you sample the entire song but uses numerous albums to create his music.

Think of it like a chef. Suppose that a chef uses several ingredients for a recipe. Suppose that I were to look at how he used the spices and I looked at other chef techniques and how they used a combination of ingredients to get a unique taste. For example if one chef combines cumin with onions in garlic and mixes it together with curry powder, if I incorporate this into one of my dishes should I be accused of not being original even though that is just part of my finish product?

Another example is writing. Authors use ideas and writing that came from other sources in order to promote their ideas. The point being is that hip hop is criticized for sampling other music yet if you take that same standard and apply it in other areas it doesn’t make sense. I believe that there is nothing wrong with taking a variety of elements that come from different people and incorporating into one’s art. To me I find, Shadow’s work aesthetically pleasing:

“Shadow created a deep, endlessly intriguing world on Entroducing one where there are no musical genres only shifting sonic texture and styles. He (Shadow) created the entire albumn from samples almost all pulled from obscure, forgotten vinyl and the effects is that of a hazy half familiar dream….the multilayered samples and genres created something new.”

Writes music critic Stephen Thomas.

Another issue debate is should turntablism be considered an art?
I wont get into this in too much detail but I suggest looking at DJ Q-bert for more information. Qbert is perhaps one of the best representatives of the art of turntablism. DJ-Qbert is known for numerous new scratch techniques as well as tutorials on DJ history.

“He invented the first musical annotation system for scratching, battling and composing on vinyl” (wikipedia)

Another example of the raw creativity of turntablism is in 2001 when a DJ known as Scratch Bastid juggled two records together to create the Imperial Death March from Star Wars. It may not be music to Dubya’s ear but he cant deny the inventiveness.

Finally Dubya seems to forget that there are many hip hop artist who use live instruments like the Roots or K-OS. In fact if you look on the linear notes of one of the latter’s album you will notice that the first tract is produced in collaboration with the Canadian Orchestra.

Lastly, I wonder what someone like Dubya makes of hip hop violinst Miri-Ben Ari?


Now let me move into another criticism Dubya and others like him have about hip hop. According to Dubya the actual act of rapping is talentless. It takes no skill. But let Mr. Dubya’s words speak for themselves;

Rap Music” is essentially non-creative no matter how creative its performers think they are in writing it or in presenting it. And the rappers have the unmitigated audacity to describe themselves as “artists.”

Real Music usually has singing associated with it but Rap only pretends to be music

Most rappers can just robotically shout, yell, holler, drivel, rant, slobber, prattle and babble in rubbish junkish mechanical non-poetic lyrics that lack imagination

Certainly it doesn’t take much of a genius to concoct lyrics that come up with diabolical rhyming words for “ditch and witch” and for “duck and luck!”

Were should I start. There are some rappers who use simplistic nurse-style ryme schemes but there are many hip hop artist who are more complex when constructing ryme schemes. Many use different literary techniques in their rymes. For example Gift of Gab used alliteration in his song “A to G” where he literally uses words for the same constant for the first line then goes to the next line using words from the second constant in alphabetic order. He does this while also rapping faster each time.

There are two ways I evaluate a rapper’s style. The first is the delivery and the second are different rhyming techniques. Many underground rappers don’t simply rhyme one syllable with another many have poly-syllabic rymes. For example in one song an artist writes

Throughout his LP “the big Picture” Big L usually rymes using two words throughout the whole album.

Ayo, I shoulda been out I'm deadly when I pull the pin outKeep frontin', I'ma try yo' chin out I knocked a lot of men out
Made singles wit' a fifty on top
L tryin' to have the city on lock

“So I start/ to/ build/ a Bridge/during my Ag/no/stic pil/grim/age” Sage Francis

“My lyr/ic/ism/ Amplifies/ every/ letter written/” Canibus

Another tool commonly used is internal ryming schemes.

Killa cobras that hova overa jehova in motorized autogiros and sycamore rotors, hydrogen paraoxided and gaseous vapors/ technically these words shouldn’t even ryme on paper

Canibus 101

Also notice how he incorporates terms used to describing writing into his verse.


Do you know how to paraphrase?/Do you even understand what the narrator is trying to say?/The climax explodes/; nobody can foreshadow my flow/ Figuratively the language is too dope/ Academic journals print my lyrical quotes/ They show parallelism in all the albums I wrote"

“The lyrical inimical is miserable because I've built a citadelOf syllables that made me invincible”
On the Sabbath/ I write preplanning/ for the Planet/Drawin' mechanics/, suspended in space as holographic/

There are many rappers who take words and ryme them together even though initially the might not seem to go together

Tears slid from his eylid He got silent, then he said violent) (Sporty Theives.


nervous wreck

circus net

broken dreams

no job openings

I'm like a wasp in the hospital lost
Stingin everything I come across in the halls

Notorious BIG

“MY slow flow is remarkable

I'm trying to grow it back again, it was an accident I had my back against the fan and chopped it off in Amsterdam

No reason for your mans to panic You don't wanna see no ammmmbuuulances Nas "Made you Look"

Battle rappers are known for this

“Firebender/Al-qaedia member” (Dizaster)

Pineapple/ryme battle/ white castle”
“A less distinguished version/of an English person”

hearing it

One rapper uses word association to make his lyrics more creative

“Internet GROSS/exaggerations of the truth is often stranger than fiction novel think groups

Tales from the CRIP walking on the planking sales

Life insurance for the living dead BEAT box away your

Work away for your summer job HUNT the best deal under the sun block

Any concept of time SHEETS of acid rain

Lean solutions for the dangerously over WEIGHT WAIT just a minute

Vegas how I come aCROSS section part of town

Kick this one for my DJ red ALERT the masses of what I say

The microphone for help wanted dead or aLIVE from New York Saturday Night Fever running high


Pay attention to the wordplay

Thus my mind spoke on Jedi pedestals and roasting demos semi seminals who try to test testicles of this mc's quotables By summoning the smoldering murdering minister thats mastering mayhemslaying day out & day in out'spoke'n like a dayton Rim that be keeping 'em staggering through lyrical pattern and traveling through my abdomen unraveling at the speed of a javelin still reppin' Vatica

here he plays of the name of rock bands

The puertan rican does his thing"I hate the police so much i'll probably assasinate stingmy system of a down-Rages against the machineTie you up in a slipnot and hold Alice in chains in her dreams
Yo punks you wait... I punctuateMy karma's the commaThat puts you inside of a comaHyphen, dot, dot, semi-colon, leave you semi-swollenQuestion mark, you pregnant?
Oh you're not? I love you, period.

A lesser known artist who uses internal ryme scemes is L’Roneous

Another technique that rappers use is that some of them will separate the syllables and place emphasis on the last one

Big L
“I throw slugs at IDI—OTS”
“Got no love for City-Cops”

NAS Made you look

same hand that you hoop with
Swing around like you stu-pid

panic stric-ken, she'll remain stuck On a titantic sin-ken, shes tryin to stay up (Sage Francis Broken Wings)

Cannibal Ox

Eh yo, I'm a black man with an Af-ri-can/ Drum in my chest that beats on the opposite of the right

IMAGERY-many rappers are very descriptive—

using a lot of images in their rap song.

EDAN Beauty and The BEAST

The numbers they fall off the clock midnightAt the museum an apple is stolen out of a still lifeYou see 'em, stand by the mirror with no reflectionA point five appears on your shirt for half stepping……..Planets of the solar system now trade places

Statues and national fame become faceless
Great lakes evaporate and leave no traces
The man with the mustache reveals the three aces
Briefcases open to expose sheet music
The thief hears the piece performed and weeps to it
Master violinist plays the solo one handed
Another example of a song by a hip hop artist rich in imagery is Saul Williams Robeson

I slept once, the dream has yet to end
It was a purple evening such as this
the curtains had been pulled by a hand unattached
I lay propped on a pillow of eagle feathers on a couch
look how Def Jux rapper AESOP ROCK vividly describes his urban environment
I was sitting on my fire escape and I SAAAAAAW sturdy bridges, decorated with dirty pigeons, a vagabound begging for three pennies and a princess, a junky tourniquet surgeon urging the needle in, a batty senior citizen flashin that aweful teethless grin.

Lastly Mr. Dubya returns to the same arguments rehashed by other critics of hip hop. That hip hop promotes black stereotype. To a certain extent this is true. There are many artist whose work is mainly defined on such one-dimensional stereotypical themes as violence misogyny or creed.
In addition, there is this problem in hip hop known as anti-intellectualism. This is perhaps a larger American problem. Just look at how people discuss politics. The whole way that the newspaper is written is done in such as way that it is simple and the reader can get everything he needs in the first sentence. The media today is so fragmentized that it is hard for people to pay attention. This ultimately will lead to a “dumbing down” of America.

Nonetheless this is true for hip hop in the mainstream. In a study on Music and intelligence by grad student Virgil Griffith Griffith studied SAT scores and musical preferences. Surprisingly he found that Lil Wayne listeners had the lowest SAT scores. Should that surprise me? Honestly with lyrics like “I gotta mansion with 10 bathrooms and I could SH#$% all day.”

Two years ago Sam Fulwood from the Plain Dealer wrote an article about a panel discussion on Black Masculinity at Myers University. One of those in attendance was a young black woman who wanted to know how she can convince young black men to value education. She said that many of the young black men who do read are often viewed as weak. She said that there was once a boy she dated who aspired to be either an athelete or a rapper.

A good song that rebels against this theme is Lupe Fiasco’s “Dumb it Down”

“You didn’t go to College Obviously/ That’s why you speak with an ungodly terminology” Canibus

This clearly shows how hip hop as its presented in the mainstream is clearly having a negative impact on young black men. However I must point out that I believe is obvious. It is not the artist that should be blame but the media that should be held culpable. In one of my classes I look at the Hip Hop media. I looked through several different magazines listened to the radio my conclusion was that you seldom hear a song or see an artist that doesn’t promote a stereotypical image. The same artists are constantly played on the radio stations over and over again. Another example is BET. For the last few years BET has nominated hip hop artist who are popular regardless of their skills or creativity. The question is if the media gave as much exposure to alternative/underground rappers as commercial or mainstream artist would consumers buy their music?
is both heartless and soulless. Standard love songs show respect and consideration for a member of the opposite gender but most contemporary Rap lyrics promote a hedonistic “me first” ghetto survival theme that is cruelly perpetuated upon its afflicted listening audience.
It is shallow and hollow linguistic jargonized anger-oriented ghetto garbage. “Rap Music” is analogous to looking at a rainbow having only one dull color.

This is perhaps something I feel the most passionate about.
If there is anything MR.Dubya is incorrect about it is certainly this.

Tere are many artist who dont promote a
Hedonistic "me first" ghetto "Survival" theme
Dubya compares rap to a rainbow with one color
Let see how that holds up to reality. Allow me to illustrate this with numerous examples

Remedy "Never Again" Josh Martinez "Deny" both of these songs are about the holocaust.

Aesop Rock "No Regrets" throughout this song Aesop Rock chroncles the life of a young girl whose love of art defines her even until she becomes elderly and is put in a nursing home.

  1. Last Empeor "One Life" Last Emp questions what happens when people die
  2. Jean Grae "My Story" is a story about going through an Abortion. There are several songs by male hip hop artist that same to have an anti-Abortion theme. The best example of this is by an artist known as Qwel.
  3. Chino XL "What am I" Trying to figure out how to define himself because he is biracial
  4. Eyedea in this song eyedea takes the listener on ride as he describes what is happening to him after he dies.

Another great artist that attempts to challenge stereotypes through his music is Murs; on the song "THis is for" Murs raps;

"You dont have to sell drugs or make the NBA/ITs easy to get a grant and get your MBA/Young people there is more than one way"

"in brotherly love" Murs says to his younger brother

"We have to fight to show that our youth is intelligient/so keep it gangsta in your CD changer not your residience"

The strongest evidence against mr dubya that rap is "me first" is that there are alot of hip hop songs written in third person

Eyedea "bottle dreams"

One of the better known underground artist Talib Kweli uses this in a song called "Four Women" where he describes the lives of four different black women from different times in history.

Many hip hop artist have used hip hop as means to question authority, religious, political etc.

In a song by rap artist K-Rino called "Grand Deception" he raps about the imagery behind the back of the dollar bill and its connection with masonic symbolism.

Another example is KRS-One's critique on Christianity;

The truth about the cross, and the cross's historyThe cross was created by the Roman governmentIt's only purpose and use, is cap-i-tal punishment But Jesus Christ, was all about the revolutionWhile the cross was used as Jesus Christ's executionSee what if Jesus Christ, was hung upon a tree Upon every church wall, that's exactly what you'd seeIf Jesus Christ, was shot in the head with no respectWe'd all have little gold guns around our neck

RASS KASS goes even further

But, I've fallen from your grace A billion paths to take, but which one is truly straight?

In the song Nature of a Threat. Rass Kass details how Western Civilization dominated other cultures starting with greece.

Defending Islam Immortal technique raps;

A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond and Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu'ran

There are numerous allusions to politics in hip hop;

Sage Francis "Conspiracy to Riot"

Providing entertainment for the status quo.

Then once every 4 years they pander to the black vote. Oh, religion ain't a tool of control?
Then why they pull the God card once they're losing in the polls?

Foolish. I know. We're victims of circumstance. It ain't coincidence we're children of the worker ants. While those in power ain't never owned a pair of dirty pants But they're quick to kill your health insurance plans.

In one of Francis's better known songs "Makeshift Patriot" he criticize the way the media sensationalized the events of september 11.

It's times like these I freestyle biased opinions every other sentenceMy journalistic ethics slip when I pass them off as objective

I've got exclusive, explicit images to present to impressionable American kids And it's time to show this world how big our Oedipus is!

Another song Francis questions eduation as a tool for brainwashing students on "majority Rules"

I got lectured once while eating breakfast for lunch Said dad to me "Reality is nothing but a collective hunchWhatever you want the truth to be, simply fool the masses Attack them mentally with tools of power like the Masters Get em in elementary school and college classesEventually you'll overrule their cowardly asses

the aformentioned rapper Immortal technique doesnt shy away from critcising foreign policy;

They bombed innocent people, tryin' to murder SaddamWhen you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran.....You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism?Human rights violations, we continue the saga El Savador and the contras in Nicaragua

Allow there are many rappers who incorporate homophobic themes in their lyrics there are others who are not afraid to show tolerance towards the gay community. the best example i can think of is Brother Ali's latest song "tightrope."

Hip hop says more on more issues than any other genre of music. While some hip hop is primarily meant to make you move your body there are many particularly in the underground scene who rap about the human condition. Alot of rap is intellectually stimulating. Listening to the aformentioned Canibus sometimes is like trying to put together a puzzle. Canibus is the equalivant of Dan Brown if he rapped.

For example one of his best raps Poet Laurette part 2. Canibus list a series of noteworthy intellectuals and concepts most Americans probablly never heard of. Its not just random gibberish or simply pretensiousness its more than that.

By looking at this song in further detail and suplemented by further research i learn that Klein Kluza are two scientist who influence Einstine and laid the foundation for "String theory" Stephen Jay Gould's work on evolutionary biology, Maddam Tussad's wax museum, David Hume's subjective but not too subjective philosophy and Joseph Heller's opinion on the power of the imagination. in the same song he quotes Russian philosopher Oupensky:

"Different methods interpreted into different forms/From entirely different perceptions and seen from different norms"

Canibus wants you to think about what he is saying when he raps

"Why consumers act like there afraid of intelligence speech?" Canibus ask on the song "One ought not to Think"

Why does a rapper like Canibus choose to use obscure refrences in his rap?

"The secret to creativity is hiding your sources," Canibus

It is abundantly clear that there is more to hip hop then mr Dubya's perception of it. One needs to happen is a revolution in the music genre its time for those who stand for something in hip hop to let their voices be heard. Unless the underground starts to take control of the media that dictates the culture nothing will change and people like Mr.Dubya and others like him wont have to go far to prove their point.

I have been an aficionado of hip hop for the past 7 years and I'll be damn to see it become a reincarnation of a minnistrel show without a fight.

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