The controversial position of hip-hop’s role in society and the decline of socially conscious rap music was the topic of discussion at a panel of celebrity speakers in the rap industry Tuesday night.
In an informal sit-down sponsored by the University Lecture Series (ULS), Chuck D, Da Brat, Karrine Steffans, Bridget Gray and Byron Hurt opened up about their personal experiences and personal gripes with hip hop today.
Gray, an acclaimed freestyle poet, set the tone for the discussion by reciting her “Letter to Hip-Hop,” which called out the industry for turning men into pimps and women into “hos.”
Despite the harsh opening note, it became clear as the night went on that the panel still holds hope for today’s
hip-hop culture and think it’s up to society to change it.
Noting the role that record companies play in the negative stereotypes in today’s hip-hop, Hurt spoke on the responsibility of artists to remain true to themselves and resist pressures from record executives.
“In contemporary rap music, a lot of rappers aren’t being true to who they are,” Hurt said. “Rappers are trying to get a record deal, singing the same repetitive things in their music.”
The panelists agreed that if record executives weren’t forcing the gritty, derogatory lyrics upon artists to sell records, there would be a more open forum for meaningful music to thrive. They also agreed that the rap music today is perpetuating the stereotypes that African-Americans have faced throughout history.
“I think the largest wave of music is being given to us on purpose to perpetuate the level of ignorance that was given to us 400 years ago,” Steffans said. “In general, we are the only people that are adding on to the atrocities that have been done to us.”
The discussion also revolved around the misogyny and sexism in rap, and the patriarchal attitudes in society the panelists felt fueled the unequal treatment of women.
“How big can something be when it doesn’t include women running things?” Chuck D asked, noting the difficulty in naming more than a few female producers and rappers.
Both Da Brat and Gray spoke on the roadblocks that exist for female emcees unwilling to sex-up their image. They said those hurdles aren’t just due to pressures from record companies, but also come from consumers who fail to respond to quality records from female artists.
The panelists closed by saying the fate of hip-hop, and popular culture in general, rests in the bodies and minds of individuals who need confront each other to break out of the boxes society creates.