Why Southern Rap Music Sucks...
To my regular readers, I’d like to first and foremost, apologize for not having posted any relevant commentary in a long while. I took some time off from blogging to work on my first fiction novel (which is coming along fine, thank you). However, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t completely gone off the grid—I have been regularly micro-blogging almost daily on my Facebook , Tumblr and Twitter pages, as well as publishing updates to my previously published books). But because of several high-profile socio-political items that have made recent news, I thought it was time I came out of hiding and chronicle my thoughts on a couple of issues in the news on my various blogs.
As per my usual modus operandi, this posting is going to offend some who read it, which—as far as I am concerned—means my goal to provoke critical thinking beyond the reader’s passions is on the right track. In regard to this particular posting, I was moved to write up a follow-up to a multi-part posting I wrote a couple of years back “The Negative Influence of Southern Rap Music,” more due to a recent texting conversation that I had with a close friend regarding rapper Waka Flocka’s (or as I like to call him, “Whacka Flacka”) small-time attention-garnering decision to run for president of the United States.
As you might you able to tell by the previous paragraph, I don’t bother to hide my contempt toward Southern Rap music in general (of course there are exceptions to this otherwise bad genre of music, such as Outkast and one or two others). To me, it represents the breakdown of musical creativity in America. I can’t stand to hear it blaring at a decibel level just this side of shattering glass from the tricked out sitting next to me at the traffic light. I hate its lack of lyrical sophistication that was the hallmark of rap music that was originally taken over by the “coastal” music scene (West Coast and East Coast rap) of the 80s, 90s, and early 2,000s. More relevantly, I hate the neo-coonery…its imagery represents. The whole “I’m-a-proud-‘thug’,” sagging pants, dreadlocked, party-minded, getting high, “making it rain” mindset celebrates an undercurrent of black culture (as a reminder to my usual readers, I am black) that is partly responsible for the celebration and embracing of negative elements of the social fabric within the black community that has done more harm than good.
Sure, many purveyors of the negative racial stereotyping have become successful millionaires and semi-millionaires (heaven knows how or why…I guess what they say is true; there really is no accounting for taste). But at what expense? Millions of young black men across America have no clue that the “W” and “L” on the tags of their inner pants means “waist” and “length,” and not “below the butt,” thanks in part to the image that Southern rappers convey in their music and mannerism. And before someone attacks me by saying, but East and West Coast rappers sagged their pants too, the rare instances in those particular sub-genres of rap music when rappers did sag their pants, most of us older cats knew it was part of their act, their public personas if you will—they didn’t take such insanity to heart, nor did they attempt to play it off as desired behavior within the hip hop community.
And dreadlocks, once a symbol of cultural and spiritual enlightenment among people like Rastafarians and Black Israelites, have been appropriated by Southern rappers—who have spread the tread among the simple-minded who seek to look “cool” by blindingly keeping up with trends—have turned them into one more fashion statements that, if anything, symbolizes thuggery and an outward sign of criminal intent (if you don’t believe me, check out the news tonight in your local area and wait for the mugshots or video surveillance footage from a crime from a place of business). As someone who spent a great deal of time registering voters, volunteering in the community, and waxing philosophical with other like-minded individuals, it was—once upon a time—an expected personal treat to talk to someone wearing hair locks because I knew were about to have an enlightened (and maybe even quasi-spirited) conversation about current events, politics, spirituality, and issues of cultural relevancy. Now when I see someone wearing dreads, the only assumption that I can make is a boring conversation on how best to roll a blunt, the latest sample of white noise making its way up the R&B/Rap charts, or a face I expect to see in a newspaper crime log at some point (yeah, I know its stereotyping, but look at yourself in the mirror and tell me you don’t think the same thing…). I don’t apologize for not liking trend-followers and people who apparently cannot think for themselves outside of what’s “hip” and “fashionable.”
But I digress…
What makes Southern Rap so stupid and devoid of any redeeming music and/or cultural value? Well, a few things.
1. Lack of social relevancy.
It’s no secret that when rap first came on the scene, it gave a voice to young urban blacks who had no voice about our feelings and social concerns. Whereas many of us didn’t identify with Pop music (actually, I loved Pop music growing up), and traditional R&B music didn’t fully represent our generation fully, rap music talked about things we could identify with...”standing too close to the edge,” fighting the power,” and how cool our ability to out duel the other person in a battle of rappers was (instead of shooting first). Soon afterwards rap evolved from being simply a voice to an outlet for social consciousness. Groups like Public Enemy, X-Clan, and (to a lesser extent) N.W.A not only told us that our voices and ideas mattered, but warned mainstream America that many in the black community would not stand for injustice. In short, rappers nowadays don't tell stories anymore--not even their videos are entertaining to that point. Now, the subjects are about promoting the most unproductive aspects of (a) manufactured perspective of amounts to daily life is like for someone who's :made it."
Now, I know those who don’t (or won’t) agree will point out the one or two exceptions to this otherwise worthless genre of music (Kendrick Lamar and/Lupe Fiasco specifically), but generally I find Southern Rap music is all about frivolous hedonism, endless self-promotion, and promoting unrestrained sexuality (no wonder that part of the country has the highest STD rates in the entire country. “The ‘STD Hotspots’ Of America: Which States Are Most Affected By Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, And AIDS?”). In general, Southern Rap music is all about dancing and partying, without a hint of the social issues people—in particular, those in the black community—will face once the music, dancing, and partying stops.
2. Lack of originality.
This reason is kind of misleading on the surface. While the beats are truly original, the subjects are pretty much the same from track to track. I mean, how many different ways can one rap about “making it rain,” “killing/shooting a ni—a,” “strip clubs,” “smoking blunts,” and sex? Every “song” is pretty much about the same five or six subjects if you break them down (please, I invite you to do so…try to prove me wrong…). I have no idea who or which rapper are the hot items on the charts currently, but I will wager a week’s pay that those 5/6 topics are subjects of nearly every track on their CD’s.
And let’s not get started on the unoriginality of their stages names. How many “Lil,” “Big,” or “Young” rappers can you name? Trying to would be like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in a contest. It makes me wonder does anyone in the Southern Rap music genre ever wants to grow up. I would find it hard to believe since they all apparently want to be “LiL-” or “Young-something” (and let’s not forget the rapper known as “Juvenile”). If you want to give me an argument, at least make your names unique from rapper to rapper.
3. It’s Not Universally Appreciated.
Now to be sure, many people like this idiotic genre of music. However, universally liked is not the same as universally appreciated. How do I know this? Well, real music and true artistry tends to be imitated...into perpetuity. Great artists—or their songs—will be either used or remade in one form of fashion by others who follow behind them. We know this simply by the way that more traditional (read: “classic”) music is sampled. I can’t imagine that any of the crap on the charts, particularly Southern Rap beats will be sampled in 10 or 20 years. While they may be somewhat original, they simply are not memorable. Classic musical beats and melodies by the likes of Michael Jackson, David Bowie, or Earth, Wind, & Fire can bring forth oodles of remembrances upon being heard…enough where many artists think them to be worthy of being sampled, partly due to the images and memories of simpler times they evoke.
To pile on further, great (read: “real”) music is typically remade (“covered”) by future artists who often try to recapture musical lightning in a bottle. How many classic pop and/or R&B hits have been remade by others? You would easily lose count just trying to number those that hit it big (forget about the ones that failed to crack the charts…). Can you imagine someone trying to remake Waka Flocka’s “Round of Applause,” or Lil Wayne’s “Lilipop?” Their relative novelty wouldn’t make it musically or artistically practical, which provides the perfect segue into another reason why Southern Rap simple sucks…
What can I say about the electronic audio processor autotune that hasn’t been said before? Once a novel gimmick to make a particular song stand out, it has now become more of a crutch for wannabe “artists” who couldn’t carry a tune with a handle (yes, I have heard T-Pain actually sing without it…he’s not bad). Once upon a time, artists actually sang their songs (yeah, I know…hard to believe for anyone under the age of 20).
From my understanding, music producers like autotune for the same reason most business people like certain innovations; it saves money. More specifically, its use in most music (or what passes for such nowadays) saves hours of expensive billable time in the studio by cutting the need for retakes and retooling vocals whenever an artist hits a sour note. However, the result of its overuse is that it tends to mask not only vocal imperfections, but actually ability. In short, it saves production time and money at the expense of actual talent.
What’s more, there is something rather artistically counter-aesthetic about autotune. Not using a wholly natural voice to sing is a lot like a woman with butt injections or breasts implants. In short, there’s nothing like the real thing…no matter how much one’s sense of esteem is tied to “imperfections” of the real. As I think about this last point, I suppose a more apt analogy would be an athlete who relies on performance enhancing drugs, impressive (to some), but we all know it’s not him/her.
Yes, I am as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise that someone will defend the lack of redeeming artistic and/or social value of Southern Rap music by citing the standby excuse, “You’re just old.” To them I say, get the hell off my porch of musical appreciation…there is nothing to appreciate in yours!