On a lovely drive home from a dinner with my Uncle, my partner Rene’ and I enjoyed some conversation while being serenaded by my Sirius XM radio in the background. However, when one of my favorite Hip Hop songs came on, “Why You Always Hatin,” by YG, I just had to turn it up and send out a quick Snapchat (yes, I know I am not 14 but we shall get back to that issue in the conclusion).
These few brief moments did not go over too well with Rene’ who immediately launched into a diatribe concerning “real music,” as in, Hip Hop slash rap is not real music. I, for perhaps the first time in my entire life, became the defender of all things Hip Hop…not really knowing fully why.
Please understand the context of our conversation; Rene’ is a very well respected voice teacher who really knows not only the inner workings of the voice, but she knows music in general. If she were to offer her opinion upon, say, sports or cars or even a sports car, I would not really care too much for it and would only feign attention. However, she does know music—really knows music—to the point that her opinion matters greatly to me and I want to know, not only what she thinks, but why she thinks it.
And so the conversation ensued.
So let me summarize the basis of both our positions. Hip Hop, in her informed opinion, is essentially not “real” music for five reasons:
- It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity.
- It, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.”
- There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading.
- The loops are repetitious.
- It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women.
The basis of my counter argument essentially rested on the understanding that every generation in the last 100 plus years has uttered similar complaints about the music “the kids are listening to these days” since the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.
Of course, this in and of itself does not counter her arguments, specifically. I suppose this really could be the generation in which the above observation is actually correct—yet I would counter this: Every generation has made this same claim. So let us take each reason and break it down.
It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity and it, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.” This really begs the question, what, then, is art and what makes one art form any more or less valid than another? Of course volumes could be, and have been, written on these questions alone, so, in order to expedite this process, I asked God (google) what is art?
“…it is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Would Hip Hop music fit this definition? Well, whether it is degenerate in nature or not, it does take a certain amount of creative skill and imagination (just deriving the word, “ho” from “whore” does take somewhat of a creative knowing of English lexicon, yes?) and it definitely is appreciated by millions while evoking an emotional response in some way, shape or form, even if the reaction is in the form of disgust. Therefore I like to apply the, “can I do it?” test. Like any art form that is unappreciated, quite often the “haters” believe it is very simple and easy to do. As in, “hey, I could easily do what Jackson Pollock does…he just splashes paint around.”
So what about an “artist” like Pollock who is known for simple splashes of paint on a canvas? I believe such an artist is analogous to the “Hip Hop as art” debate as his critics sound very much like Drake’s, or, hey, even YG.
Rob Woodard writes: One of the things I find most interesting about Pollock’s art is how it continues to be controversial. When his work is discussed many of the old complaints quickly surface – “It’s just the flinging of paint!” and “Hell, anyone could do that!” – while others will passionately defend Pollock with extravagant claims regarding his talent and value. This leads me to believe that Pollock’s detractors, be they of his time or ours, are largely wrong – for it’s hard to see people getting so worked up over an artist, more than 40 years after his death, unless there’s something in his work that truly matters.
Not sure anyone will be debating the merits of “Hotline Bling” in 40 years, but you get the point.
I would contend that such controversies concerning the nature of art will never cease and the “art” of Hip Hop music is no exception. I would argue that, regardless of one’s view on the matter, it is FAR more difficult to create than most would think -and that any good artist makes an artistic creation seem easy and effortless. The fact of the matter is that excellence—in any endeavor in life—is always the product of very hard work and dedication.
I believe to create a song, any song, that millions of people enjoy and pay money for—for whatever reason—is not at all easy and takes a particular skill set. Otherwise, as they say, everyone would be doing it.
There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading. The loops are repetitious. I cannot find any source that would suggest that something is art based on melodic composition, or lack thereof, and repetition. As I think about it, are not most of the great songs throughout history somewhat repetitious? I have never heard any songs, in any genre, more repetitious then say, Hey Jude or Let It Be, by the Beatles while they are considered one of the greatest bands in the history of music.
So, alas, we tackle her last, and I believe most valid, critique: It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women. I will not even attempt to defend certain Hip Hop slash rap lyrics…the key word being “certain,” not ALL. However, just like any art form—be it painting, film, sculpture…you name it—there are obscene versions of it. That said, I will concede that unlike these other art forms, obscenity is much more prevalent in the Hip Hop world.
I would go back to my, “can you believe what the kids are listening to these days?” argument. Cutting edge music and youth culture in general has always been about pushing boundaries. It just so happens that pushing boundaries in 2017 takes a whole different strategy than in 1997 (did Madonna really kiss Britney?); 77 (Fonzie could not wear leather on Happy Days); 57 (Elvis shook dem hips); or 27 (face it, flappers are hot). Simply, it takes more and more to be walking that fine line of really pushing the “socially acceptable” envelope.
So, in conclusion, I do listen to Hip Hop music and I do have a the aforementioned Snapchat…mostly for professional reasons while keeping up on the communication channels the younger generation engages with today. I do find it interesting that whether it concerns social media or music, the younger generation is the first to discover it while the older generations eventually do come around and appreciate these things as well. Just ask my kids when I was the oldest dude on Facebook circa 2006…now my parents are the primary generation using this “cutting edge” social media.
Hip Hop music is certainly not for everybody, yet neither is country, jazz, blues or classical. Perhaps one day we can live in world where Hip Hop lovers (say Fetty Wap) and, for example, musical theater lovers (Jason Robert Brown), can drive in the same car in peace and harmony…as long as they listen to talk radio.
But that is an entirely different controversy.