Hip-hop is dead.
That’s what rapper Nas proclaimed on his latest CD. However, with rappers like him, hip-hop is not dead – yet. But it’s getting there. After 30 years of rising popularity, rap music is now struggling with shocking sales decline and increasing criticism from within its own culture about the negative effects hip-hop has on society.
People are wondering what happened to a culture that once had greats such as Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy, who gave blacks a means to vocalize their feelings about the harsh realities of racism, poverty and prejudice. Now, rappers make songs about money and “hos.” The socially and politically conscious messages are gone. All that is left is superficial nonsense.
According to the Associated Press, rap sales declined 21 percent for 2005, and for the first time in 12 years, no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of 2006. A study by the Black Youth Project, a research project exploring the attitudes, actions, and decision-making of black youth, showed that a majority of youth think rap is too violent. Last year in a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press, 50 percent of respondents said hip-hop is a negative force in American society.
Hip-hop is being blamed for such things as teen drug use and increased sexual activity among young girls. People feel the black community is suffering because of the way America perceives it due to hip-hop culture, which causes black youth to adopt unbecoming attitudes and images. But the criticism of hip-hop has always been present.
The late C. Dolores Tucker was a black activist during the ’90s who crusaded against rap’s habit of degrading women. During this time, she had few allies within the hip-hop community. Even young black women did not see the problem. “Many of us weren’t listening,” said Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting, an author and professor at Vanderbilt University. “She was onto something, but most of us said, ‘They’re not calling me a bitch, they’re not talking about me, they’re talking about THOSE women.’ But then it became clear that, you know what? Those women can be any women.” That revelation, coupled with the criminal aspect of rap that has taken a drastic increase since its early days in the ’70s, is causing people to cry for a change. In the ’70s, some rap groups may have rapped about drug dealing and street violence, but the rappers were not criminals themselves. Today, rappers such as 50 Cent and Young Jeezy boast about being shot and talk about dealing drugs as if it’s admirable. Because the record companies feed the public so much gangsta rap, quality rappers such as Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and newcomer Lupe Fiasco – whose rhymes are not all about shooting, pimping and dealing – are not placed in the spotlight.
Nevertheless, rapper David Banner said people do not want to hear positive music. Banner told the AP that even his own fans rejected the positive songs he made – like “Cadillac on 22s,” which was about staying away from street life – in favor of songs such as “Like a Pimp.”
“The American public had an opportunity to pick what they wanted from David Banner,” he said. “I wish America would just be honest. America is sick … America loves violence and sex.”
Sex and violence saturates television shows, movies and music. But the lack of balance is what’s causing problems – there simply is not enough positive to balance the negative. Though some argue its just entertainment, hip-hop is still influential. It is no longer just music. It has evolved into a phenomenon that is dictating the way people live their lives. Go to any nightclub in Ybor for evidence.
I grew up listening to hip-hop, but the love I once had for it has changed because the music does not speak to me anymore. Every song sounds the same. The talent, except for a few rappers, is gone. I find it harder and harder to support a culture that disrespects my fellow women. Hip-hop may not be stone cold dead, but if necessary changes do not come, it will continue to need life support.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.